King pledges world title rematch will be 'bigger than life itself'

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The Independent Online

Don King, the undisputed champion of heavyweight boxing, arrived in London with his wonderful road show yesterday and presented Lennox Lewis and Hasim Rahman to a stunned, but slightly bored audience during 60 minutes of talk. King's latest heavyweight fight will be at the Mandalay Bay casino in Las Vegas on 17 November.

Last week in Los Angeles, King was strangely absent when Lewis and Rahman wrestled their way across a TV set and on to the back pages of newspapers all over the world in an altercation which the promoter likened to an act of God. Yesterday, he was present and the two boxers were on their best behaviour.

"The heavyweight division has been lacklustre, cavalier and dubious, and now we have a big heavyweight fight,'' he insisted. "Thank God nobody was hurt last week, but now the entire world knows about the rematch, because this fight is bigger than life itself.'' Yesterday, King was playing to the type of naïve audience that failed to register alarm at his outlandish statements.

Lewis, who celebrated his 36th birthday on Sunday, issued his now recognisable challenges to Rahman but, for once, the boxer from Baltimore remained calm and composed but not dignified, because King had placed a tacky gold crown on his head. "The punch was a fluke,'' said Lewis, referring to the right hand that knocked him out in their world heavyweight title fight in South Africa in April. "I will get revenge and prove it was a fluke.''

Rahman has conducted himself in a low-key way since he beat Lewis, and yesterday he was quick to admit that he was growing increasingly desperate in the fight before delivering the final punch, and then went on to say that he still had a lot to prove. "I don't feel like the champion, but that is what this rematch is all about and I know that when we have finished this time, I will feel like the champion,'' he said.

King, who has often had total control of the heavyweight division, was in total control yesterday until the tricky situation regarding Lewis's long-term manager, Frank Maloney, who was absent from the press conference, was raised. Lewis insisted that he had not been invited and, asked if he was still his manager, said the situation was "being looked at''. However, King was quick to brief the fallen champion when the conference ended, and Lewis, sensing a scandal, insisted that Maloney would be in his corner when he meets Rahman again.

Maloney, who was away on other boxing business in the Midlands, appeared relaxed when informed of Lewis's comments and said: "I have no idea what is going on.'' There has been speculation for over three years that Maloney would be sacked.

Yesterday, Lewis kept his statements short and familiar but Rahman, once again, displayed signs of apparent sincerity and it was easy to believe him when he said that last week's altercation on the television set and the forthcoming fight did not unduly phase him.

"I've been through a lot in my life. I've seen a lot of blood, I've been in trouble and I've been in a lot of dangerous situations. This is just a world title fight,'' he said.

It was left to King to hype the event and he used quotes from Homer, Winston Churchill and Isaac Hayes to entertain his eager audience and his now well-known malaprops were greeted with cheers. It should be remembered that King loves an audience as much, if not more than the fighters he promotes and just three weeks ago he held a press conference in front of 62,000 people in Puerto Rico for next week's fight in New York between Phoenix Trinidad and Bernard Hopkins.

Even after 60 minutes, as Rahman and Lewis both stared dismally at the table, King was still talking, listing every hotel in Las Vegas and the rates available for all the 'Englishers' who will make the journey to watch the rematch that is now bigger than life itself.