Graduate of a hard school

close-up; Kevin Lueshing; A world title contest is just another tough challenge for a man who has had to fight all his life
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The Independent Online
Kevin Lueshing has striking looks, a pretty wife, a 300-year-old listed house in Kent, and a world welterweight championship fight on Saturday against the International Boxing Federation champion Felix Trinidad in Nashville. But, he insists, none of that has anything to do with good fortune. "Boxing is not a sport you're lucky in. It's too hard for that.

"If I'm in a fight where the other guy is outclassed, then I'll do just enough to get rid of him. But I'm hard on sparring partners, because there's no room for compassion. I'm paying these guys pounds 80 a day, and I hit them hard to rouse their fighting instincts, to prepare me for the real thing. Pitter-patter sparring is no good.

"In America, you fight to survive. I once got badly knocked out in a gym over there. Egerton Marcus [a Canadian light heavyweight] came over and kicked me and said: `Get up - stop feeling sorry for yourself. Go and skip it off.' Over here they'd have been saying: `Don't worry Kevin you'll be OK', and I'd feel all secure. But that's no good. You've got to be hard."

Hard is an over-used word in Lueshing's vocabulary. He is a complex man, who talks without apparent contradiction about the gentle delights of fatherhood and the thrill of knocking out opponents in the ring; a sharply intelligent 28-year-old who was judged beyond educating at school, yet taught himself to read and write at 17; the product of a violent home who now campaigns actively for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

His was the classic fighter's background, with the added twist of an exotic racial mix. The second youngest in a family of six, his father is Chinese, his mother Jamaican and grandmother half Scottish. "My mother had it hard," he acknowledges. "I remember her leaning over me, to stop my father hitting me."

Lueshing senior, whom he alleges used to beat his children routinely with a belt, is at present imprisoned in Jamaica for fraudulently importing new cars as second hand. Earlier he had survived a three- bullet point-blank shooting.

"Before I had a kid of my own, I thought my father's way was normal. But do you think he'd hit me at 17, 18, at 25? Of course not, because I'd take his head off. Now I look at my daughter April, who's two and a half, and wonder `how could he have hit me, when I was a poor helpless child?' I couldn't dream of hitting her. I try to discipline her with my voice but she knows she's the boss. My father brought us up the way he was brought up, so it's down to me to break the chain.

"I try to live my childhood through April's. Christmases and birthdays were never big occasions for us. One Christmas we clubbed together to buy dad a present. We did paper rounds to get the money and we bought a foot pump for his car. We gave it to him on Christmas morning, and he just said: `I don't really need that'. My younger brother ran off crying his eyes out, and Dad said: `What's he crying about?' That's how cold he was.

"I was in a car crash when I was 14 - I went through the windscreen. I was on the operating table and my father stood over me. I could hardly see him through the blood, but he looked down and said: `Serves you right' and walked out. I was in hospital seven weeks, yet he never came to see me once.

"I never remember him saying `I love you' and I never said it to him - it was too hard. He bought me a watch once, and I went to kiss him and he slapped me. He said: `Men shake hands, they don't kiss'. He was a typical macho man; crying was never allowed. I remember he was beating my brother, who was about 15, and Errol wouldn't cry. Dad turned the belt around and hit him with the buckle until it snapped, but Errol still didn't cry until he came out of the room. Now, my brother's 31 and he still won't show any emotion.

"If dad told you to fetch a belt, it was no use picking a small one because you knew he'd only go and get the biggest one. He'd say: `Do you think you deserve this?' And you'd say: `Yes, dad, I do'. And sometimes he'd say: `OK, I'm not going to beat you this time.' Always the uncertainty. He could have had a great family now, but it's not my loss: it's his.

"There is a difference between respect and fear. I feared my father but I want my children to respect me. I can forgive him but I can't forget, because it's stamped in me.

"I was a bad kid, attention seeking. I did a lot of fighting and petty vandalism before boxing channelled my aggression. I left home at 16, lived in bedsits and slept on the floor at my sister's place. I started as a hod carrier and worked my way up to being a brick layer. I've got the gift of the gab, do a bit of modelling, some work as an extra. I've had bit parts in films, but you'd need that break. Hopefully, boxing will do that for me."

Lueshing credits two people with turning his life around: his wife Jacky and the disgraced financier Roger Levitt. "Roger is my commercial adviser, and he's been great for me," he says. "He's given me the confidence to believe in myself and not be intimidated by anyone. When he was going through his bad times I stuck with him. I trust him absolutely - I would give him all my money tomorrow because I know he would never do anything against my interests. He got me a terrific sponsorship deal with an American company.

"I'm proud of what I've achieved, I've got a house worth pounds 200,000, which the sponsorship paid for, and I'm still only a British champion. Boxing is a short career. Your next fight, it could be over, so even if you're getting pounds 100,000 that's still not a lot of money when it's got to last the rest of your life.

"I've been with Jacky for six years, since I turned pro. We moved in together the first day we met. She's shown me that you can love, and be loved. She bought me my first head guard, and went pounds 39 overdrawn on her account for it. I was only earning pounds 400 a fight when we met, so we lived on her wages as a hairdresser."

He is realistic about his chances against Trinidad, a fierce puncher who has knocked out 10 of his 11 world title opponents.

"One punch is all it'll take, either way. We are both big punchers, so it's never going to be a distance fight. If I get knocked out, well, so what? I won't cry about it. I'll come home, unpack my bags and start all over again. I'm being well paid, and losing is nothing to be ashamed about."

A history of British welterweights abroad

1917: Jack Britton v Ted `Kid' Lewis. Lewis, from Whitechapel, had held a tenuous claim to the title in 1915-16, but Britton beat him twice in April and October.Their third title clash, at Dayton, Ohio, was Lewis's night: he outpointed the American over 20 rounds.

1975: Jose Napoles v John H Stracey. Napoles, one of the division's greatest champions, was making his 16th defence and floored the Londoner in the opening round in Mexico City. But Stracey fought back so effectively that the referee had to rescue Napoles in the sixth round.

1980: Sugar Ray Leonard v Dave `Boy' Green. This match, at Landover, Maryland, should never have been made. Leonard wanted a quick title defence and Green, an outclassed battler from Chatteris, was the fall guy. He was knocked cold in the fourth by a withering left hook.

1983: Milton McCrory v Colin Jones. Jones, from Gorseinon, had fought a draw with McCrory five months earlier, and after a slow start seemed to have done enough to win in blistering Las Vegas heat. The judges voted against him, and Jones was never so effective again.

1986: Don Curry v Lloyd Honeyghan. Curry was rated the world's best pound for pound fighter, but in a deserted Atlantic City theatre, Honeyghan pulled off the finest overseas success ever by a British boxer,ACOaaaaaceeeeiiinoouuupounds Oo...--""`' battering the Texan into sixth-round defeat. It was the last time the undisputed world title was contested.