Lewis faces battle of psychology

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The Independent Online
On being informed that the differences between two rival promoters would be settled in court, a veteran American boxing manager, the late Bill Daly, stated a rotten preference for the hoodlum solution. "There was a time," he grumbled, "when if you fell out with a guy, you rolled a Molotov cocktail up his garden path. Now it's lawyers, lawyers, lawyers."

What the old reprobate would have made of affairs in boxing today does not bear thinking about. This week in New Jersey, lawyers acting for the former International Boxing Federation heavyweight champion, Michael Moorer, filed a suit against that organisation and its president, Bobby Lee. Moorer is claiming the right to a rematch against George Foreman, who took the title from him last year. "We've had enough of their crap," Moorer's manager, John Davimos, said.

Soon, it seems, Lennox Lewis could become involved in similar boring procedures. The contest Lewis is undertaking against Lionel Butler at the Arco Arena in Sacramento tonight - his first since the violent loss of the World Boxing Council title to Oliver McCall - is an official eliminator.

As Lewis and his connections understand it, the winner will go forward as the mandatory challenger should McCall succeed in a second voluntary defence, possibly against Frank Bruno. Panos Eliades, who has a considerable investment in Lewis, said: "Unless the WBC uphold that, we'll be taking action."

The troublesome factor in all this is that once Mike Tyson returns to the ring, probably in August, he will be named as the WBC's leading contender under a rule that provides former champions with special dispensation. Enter the great trickster, Don King, who began to regain control of the heavyweight division when McCall flattened Lewis. Now that he has tied up the WBC and World Boxing Association titles, King is sending in Butler to try and blast Lewis out of the picture.

Bearing this in mind, and the fact that the contract did not allow them to provide Lewis with a warm-up contest, his connections are understandably nervous. "Come Sunday, I'll either be a very happy or a very miserable man," said Frank Maloney, Lewis's manager, after Thursday's weigh-in.

When they were announced, the weights caused surprise, even astonishment. Even though he had not removed his boots, it seemed as if weights had been concealed beneath the loose folds of Butler's tracksuit since he scaled a massive 18st 10lb. Lewis, at his heaviest, was just 13lbs lighter.

One thought was that if they fall on top of each other, the result could be death by suffocation. It seems that Lewis, like Topsy, keeps on growing. Butler, on the other hand, was probably trying to raise misgivings in his opponent.

Appearing to be larger than he is was the first move in trying establish an advantage. The next was to pronounce that Lewis will not be able to withstand his fire-power. "I'll get him out of there quickly," Butler said. "He's never met a puncher like me."

This raises the question of how Lewis will react if he gets hit on the whiskers. When a fighter discovers that he is not impervious to punishment, a crisis ensues. Did the knock-out by McCall leave serious doubts in Lewis's mind? Will the effect prove more debilitating than he imagines?

Consequently, Butler's reputation as a crude brawler dictates the strategy drawn up by Lewis's trainer, Emanuel Steward. "We can be pretty sure of what Butler has in mind," Steward said. "Butler isn't built for a long contest, and I doubt whether he's in great shape, so he has to come looking for Lewis in the early rounds. As long as Lennox stays alert until the guy runs out of steam, there shouldn't be a problem."

A technical problem for Lewis is that he will find himself punching down against a man who is shorter by five inches. It was when amateurishly winding up to strike down at McCall, another comparatively short heavyweight, that Lewis left himself open to the right that ended the contest.

Steward is confident that he has cured that fault. "I don't think you'll see it happen again. I think what you'll see is a much improved fighter."

Lewis appears comfortable with the prospect of finding Butler square in front of him. "That's the way he fights and that's where I want him to be. Pressure? You create your own pressure. I'm relaxed. Confident."

It is impossible to tell how much arrogance contributed to the end of Lewis's winning streak, but the conclusion reached here is that it had some effect. To hear Steward insist that he has seen no evidence of it is encouraging.

Conversely, what Lewis may lack is that streak of badness which is essential to an outstanding career in the ring. "Sparring," a famed trainer, Charlie Goldman, said, "is like when the teacher gives you a word to take home and write down 10 times, so you will know it. In the examination, you only get one chance to spell the word."

Declining to make any predictions, Lewis walks around with an air of blissful contentment. "It's there for me to do," he said. "Since getting together with Emanuel, I've worked hard and learned a lot."

Enough to suggest that he will take Butler inside the distance, probably around the fifth round. Then, we can assume, it will come to lawyers, lawyers, flaming lawyers.