Lewis must watchout for sand traps

Alan Hubbard warns the champion to keep his guard up in Las Vegas
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The Independent Online

Las Vegas is the place where no mission is impossible. It has its own Eiffel Tower, its own Statue of Liberty, its own Venetian canals, and at the aptly-named Mirage Casino there is an act named Siegfried and Roy who, for the past 30 years, have been making tigers and elephants disappear in midair.

Las Vegas is the place where no mission is impossible. It has its own Eiffel Tower, its own Statue of Liberty, its own Venetian canals, and at the aptly-named Mirage Casino there is an act named Siegfried and Roy who, for the past 30 years, have been making tigers and elephants disappear in midair.

The one thing Las Vegas has never had is a beach though, stuck in the middle of the Nevada Desert, there is obviously no shortage of sand. So they have now built one at the new Mandalay Bay Hotel, complete with its own rolling-surf sea.

The hotel's convention centre is where Lennox Lewis will do battle with his world heavyweight title challenger David Tua next Saturday night, but it is not the beach that Lewis should beware of, but the quicksands of boxing politics.

After his experience in his first fight with Evander Holyfield, Lewis is only too conscious that it would suit a lot of people if he were relieved of the two belts, the WBC and IBF, still in his possession. Some may think that Lewis has only to snap his fingers and Mike Tyson will come running, but it is not quite as simple as that.

A far more practical, and much easier to arrange, solution would feature Tyson v Tua, and that is the bout which figures most prominently in the minds of many of those who influence the fight game in the USA. Tyson and Tua, the former rugby-playing Samoan warrior who now fights out of Auckland, New Zealand, share the same promotional organisation, America Presents, and they also have mutual cable-TV network governors, Showtime. It would be convenient for them if Lewis, who has never truly found a place in American hearts, was no longer in the picture this time next week. America Presents have already dreamed up a tag for a potentially explosive encounter between their prize assets: TNT. Tua 'n' Tyson.

No doubt this is why Lewis and those around him will be watching points, quite literally, should arithmetic come into play at the Mandalay Bay. Not that we are suggesting skulduggery is afoot. But remember, this is the city of shifting sands.

Lewis need only recall what happened two years ago when, he says, he wuz robbed at Madison Square Garden against Holyfield, a result that prompted a federal inquiry. He certainly won't be expecting any favours and clearly hopes he can dispatch the 28-year-old Tua with the same disdainful brevity as he did his last twoopponents, Michael Grant and Frans Botha. But they won't be betting on it in America's gambling citadel. Tua is as tough as they come. He hits harder with his tree-trunk-honed left hook than any heavyweight around, and has never been known to wobble under the severest pressure.

Even Lewis' American trainer, Emanuel Steward, admits to being a trifle apprehensive. "I know we could be just one punch away from losing the championship," he says. "This guy can take you out with a single blow. Lennox may have to box his way out of trouble."

Of course, the big Londoner is more than capable of doing just that, but this will not be a comfortable fight. Tua is a creditable contender who, like Lewis, has been beaten only once. He has never been cut, hurt or even staggered. He has youth (at 28 he is seven years younger than Lewis) and ambition on his side. What he does not have Lewis' height or reach. Seven inches shorter than Lewis, even with his stand-up coiffure, he knows he is going to have to club his way inside the champion's 16-inch reach advantage and thump his way upwards.

His fight plan must be to catch and clobber Lewis early, as Oliver McCall once did to devastating effect. Tua's style is Tysonesque (which is why a brawl between the two is so appealing to American audiences). However, as Steward says, Lewis is head and shoulders above him in terms of skill and experience. But will this be enough to burst the bubble of the South Sea Islander?

Having met the "Tuaman" at his desert training camp recently I can vouch for his knuckle-cracking confidence. His gumption is as granite-like as his chin. He certainly won't do a Golota, and he refutes claims that he will be at home in Las Vegas because he is merely a one-armed bandit. "Other parts of my armoury are overlooked," he says.

So, thankfully, is his full name: Mafaufa Tavita Lio Mafaufa Sanerivi Talimatasi. That's what they still call him in Samoa, where the prime minister has decreed that the population should wear the "Ulafale", a traditional blood-red necklace made of sacred beads for the the week leading up to the fight.

The question is whether Tua will draw first bead on Lewis in a mission that, like the Mandalay Bay beach, is unlikely but not impossible.

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