Lure of Lewis keeps Tyson in the ring

Last big pay-night beckons Britain's world champion if he can resist challenge of South Seas warrior
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The Independent Online

It seems that Lennox Lewis will, after all, have at least one more drama to play out if he successfully defends his world heavyweight title against the squat Samoan warrior David Tua here on Saturday night.

It seems that Lennox Lewis will, after all, have at least one more drama to play out if he successfully defends his world heavyweight title against the squat Samoan warrior David Tua here on Saturday night.

At least this was the best explanation of the presence at ringside of a big man in a black leather coat as Lewis, with dainty steps and rippling fitness, went through a brief, tightly choreographed work-out. Stacey McKinlay is one of Mike Tyson's men, one of those boxing figures who normally blends unobtrusively with the fight-hall furniture. But here he scarcely had time to put down his mobile phone before he was surrounded by questioners. He reported Tyson, contrary to various statements including the fighter's own, was not retired and, yes, he wanted to fight Lewis.

"This is the fight Mike really wants now," said McKinlay, whose days in the Sugar Ray Leonard camp taught him much about the speed with which fighters can change their minds about retirement. Leonard lingered on, and took a terrible beating from Terry Norris in Madison Square Garden, because he couldn't stand to be out of the limelight. Tyson, it seems, simply needs the money and nowhere would be it be more copious than in a match with Lewis. Or, the boxing cognoscenti largely agree, more hazardously earned by a fighter who has been stripped down to his last asset of a puncher's shot.

There is a possibility that, if Tyson can be lured away from the charms of his favourite lap-dancing bar, he will appear in the ring here, leading in the Tua contingent, perhaps alongside Mika Masoe, the brother of a fighter in Tua's camp who will enliven a planned war dance by blowing a conch shell. Tyson's presence would be, we are told, a show of solidarity with a "fellow warrior". It would also help the hype no end. Apart from sharing warrior instincts, Tua and Tyson also have the same promoter, Dan Goosen, who declares that Tyson and Tua would make a great title bout.

McKinlay added: "I last talked to Mike two days ago and we discussed a few things, but none of them was his retirement. I've come here to take a look at Lennox. Obviously he is in very good shape and I would expect him to beat Tua, but if he makes any mistakes he could be knocked out."

Tyson's revised future, it now appears, includes a fight in Malaysia in January, possibly against the ranked David Izon, and serious negotiations with the Lewis camp.

Lewis was again ambivalent about his future plans, but the one certainty is that he will reserve a place in his diary for Tyson. It would, all the signs suggest, be a case of saving his last dance for the man who once paid him several million dollars to step aside. Did Lewis expect Tyson to agree to the fight? "Absolutely," he said. "He knows it's the biggest fight out there, the biggest pay-night available, and he's not going to turn his back on that. I don't really think it would affect him if I was to beat Tua easily. Tyson is a fighter and he needs the money. As I see my situation now, I'm the king of the hill and there will always be somebody who wants to come along and knock me off it. But as challenges go, after Tua, which I agree is a tough fight, I can only really see Tyson. There's a lot of money and a bit of history involved. Too much money, I believe, for the TV companies not to make a deal.

"I would expect to beat him, and close down an era. I would then hope that in time people would recognise me as the greatest heavyweight of the era."

All this talk of defining greatness, of moving beyond Saturday night and getting involved in some serious business, is being seen as outrageous provocation by the fiercely committed but generally amiable Tua, who says: "Lennox has proved himself a fine champion and there is no doubt he is a good man who has done nothing to damage the reputation of boxing. But however great a fighter is there is always a time when he has to move over, and this is the time for Lennox. It's my time. I kneel down before God and thank him for giving me the chance to make my tiny island in the Pacific so proud."

Tua's statement is received with great roars from the Samoan contingent in the sports arena of the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Though garlanded with flowers, they are a fierce bunch and shout even louder when Tua invites them all to a victory party. As the fight press office helpfully points out, the poet Rupert Brooke once described an idyllic, moonlit scene observed from a Samoan hut, and added: "Amongst it all are the loveliest people in the world, moving and dancing like gods and goddesses. It is sheer beauty, so pure it is difficult to breathe it in." The poet never saw a David Tua work-out. It is many things, but beauty does not figure highly.

With his shock of black hair, and more than 17 stone of muscled bulk on a frame just 5ft 10in tall, he moves around the ring with all the grace of a heavily armoured crab. But there is an authentic power and a resolution that was no doubt shaped when his hard-driving father had him fight adult opponents in a makeshift ring back on their island before the family moved to Auckland in New Zealand. "I have no fear, that is something I haven't ever recognised," says Tua. "I can look at Lennox Lewis and see a big, beautiful man with lots of talent and skill who has a much longer reach than me and plenty of power. But I know I can land punches on him, big punches - and I don't think he will like that."

Lewis acknowledges that Tua brings genuine power and accepts that he may well have to weather a few of his ferocious hooks. "I want to find out all about this hook, but not too intimately. If Tua follows my script, by coming in with his chin stuck out, it's over in a round. If he doesn't, it might go a little longer."

These may be the dog days of a heavyweight era, but there is no doubt a few last serious shots have to be fired. Between them, David Tua and Mike Tyson may yet enliven the last fighting days of a fine champion.