Lewis unsung in the Big Apple

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Lennox Lewis's New York invasion, as one acerbic local columnist predicted it might, smacked more of the Bay City Rollers than the Beatles. If Lewis is to get his summer challenge to Mike Tyson, the World Council heavyweight champion, it will not be through American public demand.

Lewis was booed from the Madison Square Garden arena after his debut here on Friday evening, having struggled to win a majority decision over the veteran Ray Mercer, who fought with a determination he has so often lacked.

That Lewis, both eyes swollen by the end of 10 hard rounds, gritted his teeth and prevailed in the hardest fight of his career, cut no ice in the Big Apple.

Lewis, 30, had been sold to New York as the complete heavyweight, a fighter capable of beating Tyson in two. Yet he drew with the 35-year-old Mercer on one scorecard and beat him by only one and two rounds respectively on the others. The hype backfired, big time. Lewis was viewed as the loser by most of the 17,000 crowd.

But while his performance was not Strawberry Fields, neither was it Shangalang. Lewis's stylistic improvements under the trainer Emanuel Steward were once more in evidence, although put to a stringent test by a 7-1 underdog and former alcoholic. Hampered by training in a 25-foot ring for a contest that took place in a 20-footer, Lewis was forced to stand and fight, which will help prepare him for harder nights ahead.

Mercer, at least, was impressed. "He told me that I was hard-headed and that I won the fight," Lewis said the following day.

"It wasn't great, but he proved that he can take a shot and I'm not sure Tyson can," Steward said. "Tyson's been fighting nobody, while Lennox has been winning tough fights. That could make the difference."

Lewis's contract with the HBO network allows him to fight Tyson on the rival station Showtime, which covers the bulk of Don King's promotions. However, HBO would rather keep it in the family and have Lewis face Riddick Bowe, who will relinquish the World Organisation title in the autumn.

Getting Tyson to the ring might prove difficult. King continues his legal battle against a New Jersey court's mandate that Tyson's next defence should be against Lewis. Even if the Supreme Court in New Jersey rejects his appeal this week, King will likely explore other avenues of escape.

Lewis's promoter, Panos Eliades, hopes that he will return to the negotiating table, but accepts the possibility that Tyson might vacate the WBC title "in about eight weeks' time" rather than be pressured into fighting Lewis. If that happens, Lewis would contest the vacant championship with Henry Akinwande, the unbeaten Londoner fighting out of Las Vegas. If successful, Lewis's first defence would be against Bowe, who meets the undefeated Andresej Golota on 8 July.