Undisputed champion left short of a title

Intrigue turns into confusion over the number of belts Lewis holds as IBF version disappears into the night because of missing payment

When Lennox Lewis arrived at his post-fight press conference in the Thomas and Mack Centre in Las Vegas on Saturday night, he held up two ornamental belts for the cameras. One, which he had brought to the fight, was his own World Boxing Council belt. The other, which he had just won from Evander Holyfield, was the symbol of the World Boxing Association's title. So where was the third belt, the final piece of the jigsaw that would allow him to be called the first undisputed champion since Holyfield lost the unified title in 1992?

When Lennox Lewis arrived at his post-fight press conference in the Thomas and Mack Centre in Las Vegas on Saturday night, he held up two ornamental belts for the cameras. One, which he had brought to the fight, was his own World Boxing Council belt. The other, which he had just won from Evander Holyfield, was the symbol of the World Boxing Association's title. So where was the third belt, the final piece of the jigsaw that would allow him to be called the first undisputed champion since Holyfield lost the unified title in 1992?

The answer was that Holyfield's International Boxing Federation belt had disappeared into the night some time after the fight, withdrawn along with the IBF's sanction after a last-minute dispute over payment of the sanctioning fee by Lewis's manager, Panos Eliades.

Four of the IBF's top officials, including its president, Bob Lee, were indicted two weeks ago on charges of taking bribes to falsify their rankings. With that in mind, and given the fact that Lee actually runs two versions of IBF, Eliades was reluctant to commit himself to an outright payment of the $300,000 (£187,000) sanctioning fee which gives a fighter the right to challenge for a title.

Lee founded the first version of the IBF, an ostensibly non-profit organisation, in the mid-Eighties. Aimed at challenging the supremacy of the WBC and the WBA, it had its headquarters in Newport, Rhode Island. Ten years later he set up a for-profit commercial body of the same name, with offices in Oregon, on the other side of the United States.

While Violet Lewis, the new champion's mother, sat quietly next to the new champion on the dais, Eliades and his lawyer, Patrick English, tried to make themselves heard above the derisive cackling of Don King as they explained their side of the events leading up to the disappearance of the belt.

"We met the IBF supervisor for three hours today," English said. "The IBF is in a state of flux, and we thought it was important to reach an agreement on how the sanctioning fee should be distributed. By 5pm we had reached an agreement."

Rather than pay the $300,000 direct to one or other of the IBFs, Eliades agreed to place it in an escrow account pending resolution of the body's problems, which he was led to believe would take place within 45 days. "It's important that the sanction fee goes to a decent organisation," he said. Lewis's connections signed a document to that effect, which was then returned to the IBF man, a lawyer named Walter Stone, for their signature to be added. No signature, however, was forthcoming, and therefore no money was paid.

"Literally one minute before the bout," English continued, "when the fighters were in the ring, I was approached by the IBF supervisor, who said he had received instruction from higher authority that he could not go ahead with the agreement."

The fight went ahead, and afterwards Lewis posed briefly in the ring with all three belts, his own and two of Holyfield's. By convention, the loser's belts are then handed back to him, while the sanctioning bodies present new belts to the winner. But by the time Lewis made his triumphal exit, Walter Stone had left the hall with his new IBF belt, leaving the champion with only two-thirds of the seals of his new office.

"Irrespective of these difficulties," Eliades said, "the world knows who is the undisputed champion. The way the IBF has behaved is a disgrace. Until the boxers got into the ring there was an amicable agreement. The negotiations were difficult, but it was amicable."

Then the room's attention turned, inevitably, to Don King. Defeat for Holyfield appeared to have meant that King, the fight's promoter and Holyfield's personal promoter, had finally lost his grip on the heavyweight division. But King's mastery of boxing politics is legendary, and the confusion over the IBF's decision aroused the widespread thought that if Lewis had not won the IBF title, then Holyfield must still be the IBF's champion, and therefore King would retain a hold on one third of the heavyweight cake.

King had attempted to draw attention away from what Eliades and English were saying by holding his own simultaneous mini-press conference a few feet away. Eventually, however, he turned his attention to their claims and joined the conversation. "I don't want to get drawn into this controversy," he shouted. "I've got enough problems of my own."

But he was not slow in pointing out where he believed the British camp had gone wrong. "You should have paid the money," he bellowed. "You're trying to take the law into your own hands. I'm defending America, where a man is presumed innocent until he's found guilty. What you guys did was wrong."

Someone asked him if he had been the "higher authority" who gave the IBF supervisor the instruction to withdraw the sanction.

"Noooo," he crowed, with a harsh grin. "I'm not the higher authority."

The question for Lewis and his camp seemed to be whether a title could be won in the absence first of the payment of the requisite fee to the sanctioning authority and second of the belt that symbolises the title. Lewis had certainly done his job, meeting and beating the holder of all the titles he did not already own. But his entitlement to call himself the holder of all three championships was suddenly called into question by the sort of tawdry technicality that exemplifies boxing's ability to bring itself into disrepute even at the hour when it seemed to have found some sort of way out of its recent problems.

Lewis, as he claimed, will be a good champion for the sport. Whether he is two-thirds of a champion or the champion of the whole shooting match will be settled over the next few weeks, and is bound to have a bearing on the identity of his next opponent. Lewis would like to face Mike Tyson, the greatest fighter of his generation, a man who once paid him $4m to step aside. But a further meeting with Holyfield, prolonging a turbulent series, is not entirely out of the question. It will certainly not be out of the thoughts of Don King.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
News
Comedian Ted Robbins collapsed on stage during a performance of Phoenix Nights Live at Manchester Arena (Rex)
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links