Lewis team battles to protect belt

LENNOX LEWIS, who on Wednesday night was dethrone as the World Boxing Association champion without so much as taking or throwing a punch, may no longer technically be the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, but his advisors have made it clear that they, at least, are not prepared to accept the decision without a fight.

Lewis's promoter, Panos Eliades, yesterday confirmed he would be making moves to try to prevent other contenders fighting for the vacant title.

After a New York judge stripped Lewis of the belt, it would appear that the Evander Holyfield-John Ruiz fight in June will count for the World Boxing Association championship. But Eliades has other ideas. "We're trying to get an order to prevent anybody else fighting for the belt until an appeal is heard," he said.

"If they [Holyfield-Ruiz] fight for that title and Lewis wins the appeal, who's got the belt? We are trying to expedite the matter, but the paperwork will not be in before Lewis makes his next defence."

That is against America's Michael Grant for the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation titles at Madison Square Garden, New York, on 29 April.

Eliades added: "We don't expect a decision until a long way down the line. We are talking about months, not weeks."

It took Lewis seven years to unify the titles with his points victory over Holyfield in Las Vegas in November in the re-match that followed the controversial draw in New York eight months earlier. Yet, after 146 days, the title is once again split.

Lewis is virtually certain to fight South Africa's Frans Botha at London Arena on 15 July, if Grant is overcome. That would be Lewis's first appearance in Britain since losing the WBC crown to Oliver McCall at Wembley Arena in September 1994.

Then the time will be approaching for Lewis to defend the IBF title against the top contender David Tua. Eliades will have to start negotiations for that fight from 1 August, then will come the WBC's mandatory challenge, making it difficult for Lewis to fit in a meeting with Mike Tyson - if it can be set up. With the title now split, perhaps Tyson might see the way ahead as a third fight with Holyfield - if he beats Ruiz. It would certainly have huge appeal for American audiences.

Meanwhile, Lewis must concentrate on the Grant fight and his manager, Frank Maloney, said: "He's prepared himself mentally and now he's got to pick himself up again.

"In the 10 years to unify the belts, he's had a lot of ups and downs. The WBA title was won in the ring and unfortunately it has been taken away from him in a court room."

Several prominent figures in the British boxing scene spoke out in support of Lewis yesterday. Henry Cooper, the former British and European heavyweight champion, said: "Boxing doesn't need this. I am a great believer that world champions only lose their titles in the ring. Lennox has dodged no-one and has fought all the logical contenders. You can't say he is taking easy fights.

"The problem is there are so many people with fingers in the pie these days. If you unify the titles there are fewer people involved and so less money to spread around."