Seconds ticking out on Lewis's dream

Former world champion must defeat King in court before rematch with Rahman can become reality
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The Independent Online

Cedric Kushner, the 20-stone plus South African boxing promoter at the heart of the American legal battle on which the rest of Lennox Lewis's career could well depend, had the beginnings of a spring in his stride when he left a federal courthouse in New York on Tuesday night.

This was not too much of a surprise, even though it has been said of Kushner, a former rock promoter, ferris-wheel operator and apple-picker, that "he is strangely immobile when he talks, perhaps conserving energy for the cumbersome task of walking." The fact was Kushner, who is fighting to prove that he, rather than Don King, has the right to promote the fights of the new World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation heavyweight champion, Hasim Rahman, and Lewis's conqueror in Johannesburg in April, had a good day in court. And this, after all, is a man who has said: "If I don't have at least two lawsuits going on simultaneously, I get the feeling I'm fading out of the business."

Kushner, to be precise, had had two good days in court ­ one in New York, where his defecting fighter Rahman was grilled extensively on his erratic behaviour, and switch to King, in the days following his triumph over Lewis ­ and one in the Supreme Court, which voted unanimously to restore Kushner's right to sue King in a racketeering lawsuit. As one of the Damon Runyon cast of characters crowding into the federal court exclaimed: "Jeez, even Bush didn't get a unanimous."

At one point the federal judge, Miriam Cedarbaum, complimented Kushner's attorney on his success with the Supreme Court, which some saw as further encouragement for a lawyer who had been going toe-to-toe with the new world champion, relentlessly pressing Rahman on why he had given no indication that he was breaking with Kushner through all the celebrations which followed victory over Lewis ­ indeed not all, until King had filled an army knapsack with cash.

Judge Cedarbaum called a halt to proceedings after Kushner had recounted all his dealings with Rahman and claimed that he had fulfilled all his contractual obligations, including the vital one of delivering the opportunity every fighter craves ­ the shot which can change his life, the shot at the world title.

The case resumes next Monday with another cast of colourful witnesses including Don Majeski, a New York-based matchmaker and expert on boxing politics including precedent in the matter of rematches, the Detroit promoter Bill Kozerski, who will talk about the ethics and the fine detail of boxing promotion, King and the manager of Lewis's business, Adrian Ogun.

Lewis's trainer, Emanuel Steward, has already told the court of the Briton's need for a quick decision from the court as he fights for his right to the rematch which was part of the contract signed by Rahman before the Johannesburg fight. Steward said that, at the age of 36, Lewis was entering a danger zone of fighters, a time when his physical powers could no longer be guaranteed.

A key issue in the case, which has the two strands of Lewis's right to a rematch and Kushner's promotional rights over Rahman, is whether the former champion had to the right to determine who his conqueror had the right to meet in an interim fight. Lennox's lawyers are insisting that he had the right to veto any proposed opponent, and that the whole argument has stemmed from Rahman's desire for a big money and, for Lewis, high-risk fight against Mike Tyson.

In all the labyrinth Lewis is hoping for what he believes would be a triumph for natural justice. He gave Rahman his chance, he wrote in a standard rematch clause and now demands his legal rights before the passage of time destroys his chances of fulfilling his ambition to leave boxing as a reigning champion. As both he and Steward pointed out to the court, time is marching relentlessly. Only four heavyweights, Jersey Joe Walcott, Muhammad Ali, Evander Holyfield, and George Foreman, have won the title after their 36th birthday.

Majeski will tell the court that Lewis's right to a rematch has not been affected by the Muhammad Ali Act, the legislation which came as a result of the campaign of the US senator and presidential candidate John McCain to protect the rights of boxers. "The Act," he says, "was designed to protect fighters, not promoters, and here is a case of a fighter demanding his rights." Since the formation of the WBC in 1963, the body has sanctioned a total of 29 rematches, and on several occasions the WBC president, Jose Sulaiman Chagnon, has made a point of praising Lewis's record as a champion and the way he has conducted his career. It means that in the early rounds in the federal courthouse, Lewis has shown up well. But then the later rounds have still to come, and even the most confident of his lawyers must feel a chill at the sight of Don King limbering up before giving his evidence.

When King beat a federal prosecution for wire fraud three years ago, he promptly sent the jury for a fishing trip and shopping spree in the Bahamas. Repeatedly, he has frustrated FBI attempts to convict him on tax evasion charges. Cedric Kushner may have had a spring in his stride as he left the courthouse, but nobody needs to tell him, as King lurks in the shadows, that is is still a little early for the Fat Man to sing.