Tua takes the stage as Lewis bides time

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The Independent Online

While intrigue continues to gather around the future of world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis here, he can be excused a certain envy for the blissful, if brutal simplicities of his latest challenger, the fierce Samoan David Tua.

While intrigue continues to gather around the future of world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis here, he can be excused a certain envy for the blissful, if brutal simplicities of his latest challenger, the fierce Samoan David Tua.

Lewis at times resembles more the Prince of Denmark than the emperor of boxing as he weighs the motivational value of being the master of a world he appears to have outstripped in all but for the residue of Mike Tyson's wild aura. "Tua," says Lewis, "is at that stage of his career and his life when nothing is compli-cated. He knows his strength, which is power, and he knows that this is his big chance to make all his dreams come true. So everything is quite simple. Of course, there is the question of whether he is good enough, but that is something he can't afford to go into too deeply."

Lewis's manager, Frank Maloney, is at pains to dampen talk of Lewis's impending retirement if the prospect of a Tyson fight remains on the shelf much longer, but what he cannot do is dislodge the picture of Lewis at his ultimate crossroads and Tua carrying about as many competitive dilemmas as an inflamed wolverine. You can almost hear the undergrowth parting as the 28-year-old Tua bursts into a room. He says his ambition has never been more intense and "focused" and adds, "I'm also having a whole lot of fun".

He spent his day off on Sunday working with the Samoan drummers who will feature in his ring entrance here at the Mandalay Bay casino hotel on Saturday night. "I could have hired some professional musicians," said Tua, "but I wanted this to be a genuine reflection of who I am and where I come from. I grew up in a pretty tough area of Auckland in New Zealand, but I've never lost touch with my roots in the islands. I've always seen myself as a warrior."

Along the way Tua has acquired Lewis's habit of referring to himself in the third person. "The bottom line," he says, "is that I know I've done everything I can to be ready, and I'm satisfied with that. The hardest part is just waiting for Saturday night. This is where David Tua's mental toughness will come into focus. I pride myself on that toughness. I won't allow myself to look ahead or be distracted. I've never done that, I've just gone out and done what I had to to get where I wanted to be. I know I'm going to handle myself fine this week. I'm enjoying the spotlight; I am having fun.

"It's been a dream for so long to fight for the title. Now that that time is here, I want to soak it up and enjoy it. It is all part of the one thing, winning the title and understanding the significance of it. I'm blessed because of my focus. There's a lot going on, but when it's time for business, believe me I'll block it out and focus on what I have to do in the ring."

Such tunnel vision is certainly what the Lewis camp want for their man. The champion's trainer, Emanuel Steward, as always is talking up the potential of a challenger to forcibly separate Lewis from the deepest of his introspection, and on this occasion not without some justification. "Lennox is going to have to take some hard shots in this fight; he just has to live with this reality," says Steward.

Like Lewis, Tua has just one defeat on his record and in 38 fights he has neither been cut nor knocked down. His list of victims does not begin to compare with that of Lewis, but until his management went into the traditional zero-risk mode for a challenger approaching his big pay-night, Tua's power was much too formidable for some of the division's handier performers. His one defeat, which video review suggests was harsh, was a points loss to Ike Ibeabuchi, who some critics believe would be a serious player on today's stage if he wasn't in a local state mental hospital awaiting prosecution for sexual assault.

Tua, as a promotional film running on a giant screen in the casino lobby reminds battered refugees from the tables at all hours of night and day, can muster passages of quite volcanic power, and it may be that this has also engaged the passing interest of Lewis himself. Certainly there is a strong theory that he will move away from the outright aggression that destroyed his last two challengers, Michael Grant and Frans Botha, and seek to stifle Tua by jabbing and grabbing.

About one thing we can probably be sure. Whatever Lewis' doubts about continuing his career in the absence of a Tyson fight, he would not relish the idea of going down to a challenger who, for all his raw strength, he just cannot see in the same category of talent and experience as himself.

Lewis may wonder about the point of it all, but he is very sure about how he wants to leave a business which so many times delivered him cruel justice and scant respect. Says Maloney: "Lennox has the retirement option and how strongly he is considering it only he knows. Obviously, it is a very strong lever to apply to the Tyson situation. But one thing you have to remember is how much Lennox likes the idea of being world champion. It is something he pursued for so long against a lot of difficulties. Nothing dropped easily for him, and he wouldn't like any of his critics to have the satisfaction of seeing him go out a loser."

Meanwhile, the man from the islands exudes only the imperatives of a warrior. He reports, "I did my final serious sparring today and I thought it went very well. It was very intense, very hard sparring. I like that. But I'm glad it's all over. I'm glad all I have to think about now is the fight."

For Lewis, aged 35 and a traveller on a so much longer road, such simplicities are probably beyond him now. But the comfort for his supporters is that the record suggests he is simply too bright, too deeply knowledgeable in the business he conquered down the years to play Hamlet on Saturday night.