Impatient Lewis eyes immediate retirement

Victory in Saturday's world heavyweight title defence may be Briton's last fight if bout with Tyson cannot be arranged

Whatever happens in Las Vegas on Saturday night, the odds are shortening on the possibility that it could be Lennox Lewis's last fight. Though David Tua, a freakishly proportioned South Sea islander, will arguably throw the most dangerous punches ever aimed at Lewis's head, his influence on the timing of a retirement decision by the 35-year-old world heavyweight champion could be as strong in an overwhelming defeat as an upset victory.

Whatever happens in Las Vegas on Saturday night, the odds are shortening on the possibility that it could be Lennox Lewis's last fight. Though David Tua, a freakishly proportioned South Sea islander, will arguably throw the most dangerous punches ever aimed at Lewis's head, his influence on the timing of a retirement decision by the 35-year-old world heavyweight champion could be as strong in an overwhelming defeat as an upset victory.

The key to everything is Mike Tyson's reaction to Lewis's performance. If Lewis handles Tua, whose style has some clear parallels with that of the young Tyson, with anything like the comfort with which he repelled his last two challengers, the No 1 contender Michael Grant and the South African Frans Botha, the chances of a $30m-plus (over £21m) paynight for a Lewis-Tyson collision could be severely retarded.

Certainly any hint of fresh foot-dragging by Tyson could snap Lewis's patience. He says: "Everyone says Tyson and me is a huge fight, but if this is so why isn't anything happening? When I fought Evander Holyfield agreements were made between Don King and Main Events, and the two TV companies [HBO and Showtime], so I don't understand why it can't be done for a fight with Tyson. I don't understand why HBO [which holds Lewis's contract] and Showtime [Tyson's television patrons, to whom he is deeply indebted] can't show the fight simultaneously. In boxing they say that if a fight is big enough, it goes on. We'll just have to see if this is true in this case.

"Obviously it is the biggest fight out there for me. I have other options, I can travel around the world - I could fight in South Africa on Nelson Mandela's birthday. But I have to ask myself how big are the incentives without a Tyson fight."

It is hard to escape the conclusion that Lewis, who has increasingly taken a hand in the management of his career in recent months, would find adrenalin elusive in a Tyson-less future following the Tua fight. Or to avoid a touch of speculation that Lewis might just have dwelt on the implications of another blow-out victory on Saturday night. Certainly there is no argument that Tyson was lured into a world title defence against Evander Holyfield four years ago largely on the strength of the latter's lacklustre performance against a blown-up cruiserweight, Bobby Czyz. The Tyson camp assumed Holyfield was finished and Holyfield observed before his first victory over Tyson that he would probably never have got the chance if he had not looked so poor against Czyz. When asked if he indeed had sprung a trap for Tyson that night in Madison Square Garden, Holyfield tends to laugh and shake his head and say, "No, you couldn't go into a fight like that." But his smile is enigmatic.

Though Lewis has been installed a firm favourite in the Vegas sports books - he is 3-1 on while Tua is available at 5-2 against - no one, least of all Lewis's trainer, Emanuel Steward, could be serene about the idea of Lewis adding anything to the fight agenda beyond the most practical route to a swift demolition of a potentially dangerous opponent. Many feel that Lewis will revert to type and fight cautiously under the threat of Tua's undoubted power. Tua, who is seven years Lewis's junior, stands just 5ft 10in but last fought at a staggering 18st 1lb, which is two pounds heavier than the 6ft 5in Lewis's biggest-ever fight weight. Steward disagrees with the prediction of a dull decision for Lewis dominated by his jab and a grappling suffocation of Tua's ability to throw ferocious left hooks. "There are bound to be some explosions with Tua's power," says the trainer, "and at some point of the fight I expect Lennox to be fighting for his life. I expect him to win but I also anticipate fireworks."

Lewis's manager, Frank Maloney, says: "Whatever way it all turns out, I'm sure Lennox Lewis will think his way through this fight very well. Obviously it represents more danger than any since he fought Evander Holyfield the first time. But everyone should know by now that Lennox has two great assets: power and great intelligence. The combination will be too much for Tua."

Maloney, whose passionate involvement in Lewis's career has survived his break with the champion's promoter, Panos Eliades, says that no one can really be sure about Lewis's instincts on the timing of his retirement.

"All I can say is that Lennox has always been in charge of his own destiny. He has let other people get on with the details of his career, but he has always had the last word. That is even more true today than when we all started off 11 years ago. The big question is how motivated he will feel if he beats Tua and finds that Tyson is just as far away as ever."

Tyson, amazingly enough, remains a dominating presence even as he inhabits the last remnants of a once fierce talent. He caused a stir when he made a brief appearance in New York last week as Lewis hyped the Tua fight in a public work-out, but he kept his thoughts to himself. Equally noncommittal is Tyson's long suffering manager, Shelly Finkel. Says one American boxing man: "The feeling is that the entire Tyson camp is waiting to see how the Tua fight goes. There's plenty of evidence that Tyson identifies with Tua, sees a lot of himself in a stocky, fierce-punching guy who knows only one way to fight. If Lewis whacks Tua like he did Grant and Botha, it might be game over for Tyson. The last question would be how much he needs a quick $30m?"

Certainly Tyson still needs money - and a lot of it, a situation not helped by the reported $3m settlement he was obliged to make with the British promoter Frank Warren after turning the Glasgow fight with Lou Savarese into a fiasco. Lewis clearly is his last big meal ticket, a fact underlined by the disappointing 450,000 pay-per-view sales for still another travesty of a fight against Andrew Golota last month. But for one reason or another, it is a meal ticket that at any moment could disappear like a quarter in a Vegas slot machine.

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