Lewis the stone cold certainty

Two British showmen are poised to fulfil their American dream on boxing's big weekend. Harry Mullan reports
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The Independent Online
Lennox Lewis gives the impression of being a man incapable of malice, which is a wonderful social asset but a distinct handicap to a professional fighter. Even when he talks about what he intends to do to Oliver McCall, whom he meets in a revenge match for the vacant World Boxing Council heavyweight title in Las Vegas on Friday, he manages to make it sound as though he plans nothing more confrontational than a stiff set of tennis followed by tea and cucumber sandwiches. But then McCall, the most trouble-prone heavyweight since Leon Spinks was in his brief but lurid prime 20 years ago, makes headlines enough for the pair of them.

A couple of days after McCall inflicted Lewis's only professional defeat two years ago with the shocking second-round stoppage which cost the Englishman his WBC belt, the American was mugged in a St Louis housing project and lost his $1m pay cheque. (The cheque was returned to him next day: the mugger could cheerfully have handled $100, but had no idea what to do with $1m). It would have been interesting to hear Oliver explain to Mrs McCall what exactly he was doing on the wild side of St Louis at 3am, particularly since he lives in Chicago.

Since then there have been a chain of drug-fuelled farces and arrests, the latest coming in Nashville in December when McCall lost a split decision to a Christmas tree in a hotel lobby. One wonders why he chose the tree as a warm-up opponent, since it has fewer moves than Lewis and is distinctly more prickly, but the end result was that McCall was ordered back to the rehabilitation clinic from which he had only recently been discharged.

The episode has cast doubts on Friday's fight actually happening, and the European champion, Zeljko Mavrovic, is reported to be on standby should McCall fail the drug tests, have a punch-up with one of the Mirage's white Siberian tigers, or try to fly from the top of the New Stratosphere Tower. Where he is concerned, anything is possible - and it is no secret that his manager, the ubiquitous Don King, would dearly love to sabotage this title chance for Lewis, one of the very few heavyweights who have consistently resisted his approaches over the years.

In the meantime Lewis has been preparing in Arizona with the careful professionalism which marks everything he does. He speaks of the McCall rematch with the cold certainty of a man who has weighed up all the possible scenarios and eliminated them all bar one - decisive victory. But even so, tub thumping does not come naturally to him. "I'm not saying I'm going to go out there and look on the fight as easy," he said. "I made grave errors last time. I committed myself too early, and he was able to take advantage of this.

"But anybody I lost to in the amateurs I beat in the rematch, and it will be the same with McCall. I didn't even feel anger or disappointment when I got back to the dressing room after losing to him - just disbelief and embarrassment. I've watched his fights since then, and each time I have to remind myself that yes, I really did lose to him."

Much of Lewis's impressive assurance derives from the peace of mind he now enjoys through working with trainer Emanuel Steward, after early career problems with the regimental John Davenport and the volatile cheer-leader type Pepe Correa. Steward masterminded McCall's victory last time, but switched camps after Correa was sacked. "I don't have too much bad to say about Davenport. He was trying to teach me the American boxing style, the way he saw it. He took away my amateur style, which was to jump around, box and move, but now Emanuel is bringing that back to life because he says we shouldn't have got rid of it in the first place. But Pepe, Pepe was a man driven only by money. I have no respect for him because after a short while I stopped learning from him.

"I don't respect Pepe because he could blame everything on me and not take any responsibility himself. To me, a captain should go down with his ship. Emanuel is so much better. He speaks in a language I can understand. He has so much knowledge and experience that whatever situation arises, he's been there. He's a trainer of champions. I enjoy being with him because I see what he tells me and how it works. I'm just like an eager student.

"Everything is trial and error, everything is the learning process. Being champion will be different second time around. It will be controllable this time, for a lot of different reasons. I have something to prove now. There's a place in history that I am still nurturing for myself."