Lewis must think carefully before choosing future direction

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ORDINARILY, I'm inclined to let boxing, as an industry, shift for itself. I have enough problems without worrying about arguments between promoters, the outcome of Don King's fraud trial or which television outfit holds the upper hand.

However, I do admit to this recurring dream. In it, all disputes have been set aside and there is just one heavyweight champion. Nameless but undisputed.

Many in boxing claim to share the dream, including Jay Larkin of the American cable network Showtime which has Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson under contract.

When calling from New York this week, Larkin's pitch was that Lennox Lewis will be making a big mistake if he signs up with Showtime's powerful rival, Home Box Office, for contests in the has-been league of Ray Mercer and James "Buster" Douglas.

Although HBO would release Lewis to Showtime if championship contests against Holyfield and Tyson came along, Larkin sees no sense in the proposed alliance. "Lennox and his people have until 6 June to decide so there's still plenty of time for them to work out the value of independence," he said.

Larkin puts it this way. "If Lennox signs with HBO and goes on to become the undisputed champion, he would be obliged to defend under the terms of his agreement with them. But as a free agent he would be in a position to call the shots as Evander was after defeating Tyson. I've asked Panos Eliades [Lewis's main promoter] to think about this."

It is important to know where Larkin is coming from. As astute as he is amiable, he operates on behalf of an organisation with close links to King who cannot make Lewis a counter offer while contesting the charge that he defrauded Lloyds of London.

Making no stand for Larkin, one thought comes to me. It is based on the notion that Lewis has never ducked anyone. Holyfield disputed this recently when drumming up next week's mandatory defence of his World Boxing Association title against Henry Akinwande at Madison Square Garden in New York.

In the absence of excitement it was put to Holyfield that Lewis held him entirely responsible when negotiations for a unification bout broke down. Holyfield answered angrily. "Lewis should ask himself some questions," Holyfield growled.

Negotiations for a unification bout between Holyfield and Lewis fell through earlier this year when HBO failed to meet Holyfield's demand for a $20m (pounds 12.2m) guarantee. HBO offered Holyfield $16m plus everything over 650,000 pay-per-view buys. Accounting for King's cut, Lewis's purse of $12m put the contest out of reach.

Holyfield blamed Lewis. "If Lennox really wants to be the undisputed champion, he should do what's necessary," he said. "I took less than I wanted for my first fight against Tyson because I believed I could win and make more from a re-match. That's the risk Lennox should be prepared to take. Why should I take less money to fight him. I didn't work this hard to come down two levels to prove myself. The only thing preventing Lewis from fighting me is that it is easier to talk than fight."

There is no way of knowing how all this will work out but it would be wise for Lewis to think carefully before settling on a direction. Does Lewis really want to be known as the best man out there or will he settle for being a money machine? "It's for Lennox to decide," Larkin added. "His contests in the United States haven't made big money and people wouldn't be falling over themselves to watch him against some of the opponents HBO are proposing."

Not that Holyfield on his own is a big draw either; that was confirmed for Showtime last November when a title defence against Michael Moorer piled up losses of around $10m.

Tyson is the one sure-fire seller but there is no guarantee that he will return to the ring if, as expected, his licence is returned in July. "Everything that is said and written about Mike suggests that he is no great hurry to fight again," Larkin added. "And I think the group he is working with now didn't realise what they were getting into."

I have never felt it necessary in these matters to take one side or another. Larkin goes about his business in accordance with rough traditions but there may be more in his advice to Lewis than vested interest.