Vintage show puts Lewis in a class of one

Tua totally outclassed in unanimous points decision as Tyson showdown looms for Britain's undervalued world champion
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Lennox Lewis likened himself to a good wine maturing into greatness. It may have been an immodest claim but only those who did not know what they were tasting could disagree here at the Mandalay Bay hotel in the small hours of yesterday morning.

Lennox Lewis likened himself to a good wine maturing into greatness. It may have been an immodest claim but only those who did not know what they were tasting could disagree here at the Mandalay Bay hotel in the small hours of yesterday morning.

There were a few. They booed at various points of Lewis's absolute mastery of David Tua, the man whose South Sea warrior fervour and fierce left hook were supposed to threaten the world heavyweight champion's empire. The reaction would have appalled Joe Liebling, the author of the classic Sweet Science, but then the game's legendary aficionado lived in an age when the majority of fight fans could be entranced by something more than unadorned violence.

Lewis did try a little extreme action, notably a ferocious left- right combination to the head in the ninth round that took the brave Samoan to the edge. But remarkably Tua, who has a neck that might have been constructed from a slab of basalt, absorbed the blows and Lewis said later that at that point he decided he was simply winning too easily to take any further risks.

"I was giving him a severe dose of 'boxingology'," added Lewis, who won a unanimous points decision. "There was absolutely no point in going for broke. In my mind I had won every round, and it would have been crazy to risk a fight which was already won. It would have been to play a mug's game."

The World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation champion graduated from the mugs' category quite some time ago. Six years ago, to be precise. That was when he allowed a right hand from Oliver McCall to deprive him of his WBC title at Wembley. Since then he is undefeated, has won 13 fights, 14 if you count the outrageously declared draw when he outpointed Evander Holyfield almost as comprehensively as he did Tua here, and this was his 12th successful defence of one version or another of the world title.

So much for the stats. The deeper story is that under the guidance of trainer Emanuel Steward, who was in McCall's corner on that night of misadventure, Lewis has improved to the point where the only sensible way to threaten him is by transAtlantic phone. With a record now extended to 38-1-1, Lewis is so far ahead of the field that the last intriguing question of his career concerns Mike Tyson's willingness to provide him with a fitting point of exit.

Publicly, Lewis is saying that he could fight for another two years, and names like Kirk Johnson of Canada and Vladimir Klitschko are being mentioned by his TV patrons, Home Box Office, in the absence of a concrete announcement by Tyson that he is ready to fight Lewis. Ross Greenburg, of HBO, said that Tyson's manager Shelly Finkel had not contacted him and, until there was a conversation between the two, Tyson talk was purely speculative. But the word is that HBO and its fierce rivals Showtime, who have Tyson locked into a contract, will almost certainly reach a compromise if one of the richest fights in history becomes a serious possibility.

Meanwhile, Lewis, who has fought four times in the last year, is saying that he intends to take a long rest, perhaps stretching out to next September.

This will give both television companies and Tyson time to get their various acts into something like shape. Lewis's act is clearly nudging competitive perfection. The judges agreed with varying degrees of emphasis. Dave Moretti gave Lewis every round but the third, when Tua landed a couple of left hooks which took so long to arrive beyond the chasm of a 14-inch difference in reach they provoked only fleeting introspection in Lewis. Chuck Giampa awarded Tua two rounds and Jerry Roth, astoundingly enough, gave him three.

What was not in question - at least for those of us who had Lewis taking every round with a combination of consistent jabbing, accurate and often heavy right hands and at times quite dazzling footwork - was that Tua had indeed walked into another dimension of a game in which up until this night he carried a formidable momentum. It had been based on the destructive power of his left hook and a remarkable ability to coax mobility from more than 17 stones attached to a frame just 5ft 10in tall. But the momentum died soon enough when Tua realised he had finally tangled with a fighter who had quite a bit more of everything a champion needs.

Tua lost everything but his dignity as Lewis made a mockery of the pre-fight speculation that his will would be broken by the sheer force and stamina of his smaller opponent. It was Tua who wilted and he had the grace to admit it was so when his promoter, Dan Goosen, sought to make excuses after the fight. Goosen wanted everyone to know that Tua injured a rib in training camp, and that the problem was re-activated by a heavy body shot from Lewis in the second round. Lewis was asked by New Zealand television if he was aware of Tua's problem. No, said Lewis, no more than anyone was aware of his own nose, knee and "hair" injuries. Steward responded more heavily, pointing out that when he managed Thomas "Hitman" Hearns in one of the greatest action fights of all time against Marvin Hagler, Hearns had broken his hand in the first round. "Tommy went on to contribute to two more of the most intense rounds ever seen in boxing, but when it was over he commanded me not to mention his injury. He said he didn't want to take away from Marvin's glory." Goosen looked like an altar boy swigging the sacramental wine but Tua joined in the applause.

"It wasn't my night," said Tua. "Lennox Lewis beat me and I have no excuses. He is a great champion."

How great? Almost certainly we will never know. With the comfortable dispatch of Tua, who had so enlivened the approach to the fight with his Samoan war shrieks and passionate talk of being locked into a destiny which would deliver him Lewis's title, the champion has confirmed his status as a man on his own.

Talk of opponents like Johnson and Klitschko induces nothing so much as a yawn. This is the tragedy of Lewis's career, which, when he was younger, and ironically more vulnerable, was bedevilled by the reluctance of champions like Riddick Bowe and Tyson to go against his relatively unshaped power.

Now Lewis has reached his competitive peak, Bowe is gone and Tyson and Holyfield are shells. Between them all, they could have made a heavyweight age to rank with some of the greatest. But Tyson only fought Holyfield when he had lost the best of himself as a fighter in prison and serial carousing, and if he ever gets in the ring with Lewis it cannot be in serious pursuit of glory but rather a cheque for around $30m.

It means now that only dust can gather on the great vintage of Lennox Lewis. Against Tua, he produced a wine of both rounded flavour and great delicacy.

Despite the smattering of boos, the effect was mostly heady. He read the barrelling Tua as though he was an open book printed in huge typescript. The boos, and the critical reservations, came because he did not take risks. He did not give the desperate Tua a chance.

Later, he was asked if he thought he had made real the words of his trainer Steward, who had once declared that his ambition was to make Lewis one of the greatest heavyweights of all time. Lewis said yes. Only that. He had, after all, been eloquent enough in the ring.