Putting the trainer on trial

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Las Vegas

PEPE CORREA, who trains Lennox Lewis, shares with other persuasive men a gift for referring so casually to the very best credentials that most people never think to check him out.

When Correa is at a loss for an answer to satisfy persistent interrogators he favours a tactic developed by candidates for legislative office. 'As you know, of course,' he more or less says, 'my record speaks for itself.' It does no such thing, but because they are not entirely sure about Correa's achievements in boxing, and not wishing to appear ignorant of them, the audience concedes.

This is not to suggest that Correa is making a mess of Lewis's preparation for Saturday's defence of the World Boxing Council heavyweight championship against Tony Tucker at the Thomas and Mack Center here, only that he will have plenty to prove if a crisis occurs.

Some people detect arrogance in Correa's irritable responses, but a more likely possibility is that he is not as confident as he likes to sound. 'Who has Correa ever trained?' Tucker's trainer, Roosevelt 'Stacey' McKinley, asked this week. 'Sugar Ray Leonard? He didn't do no more than carry a bucket for Ray.'

Apart from being around when the curtain was coming down on Leonard's marvellous career, Correa's record is obscure enough to suggest that he is as much on trial as Lewis. 'I don't have to prove my methods,' he said blisteringly when it was suggested that Saturday's contest could come down to cornermen.

History provides plenty of examples to emphasise the importance of having a good man to lean on when the going gets rough.

Going into the 13th round of a contest for the undisputed middleweight championship against Thomas Hearns in 1981, Angelo Dundee sensed that Ray Leonard could not afford to risk the assessments of the judges. In common with the majority at ringside Dundee had Leonard ahead, but some curious decisions had been arrived at here, so he sent him out to pile into Hearns. When Leonard rose from his stool at the sound of the bell, Dundee slapped him hard on the backside and said, 'It's slipping away from you, so go out and finish him now.'

The savage beauty of Leonard's surprise attack put a lifeless glaze on Hearns's face, and although he lasted one more round it was impossible for him to remain undefeated. The scorecards revealed the extent of Dundee's wisdom. When the end came, all three judges, ludicrously, had Hearns ahead.

Dundee was no great teacher of boxing, but in association with Muhammad Ali he established that no shrewder force has accompanied a champion to his corner.

On the night that Ali - then Cassius Clay - destroyed Sonny Liston against all the odds to gain the undisputed heavyweight title, he almost quit on his stool when half blinded by a substance on Liston's gloves. Giving Ali a slap, Dundee sent him back out there.

A different sort of crisis confronted Ken Buchanan, of Scotland, at the end of the 11th round of a hard contest for the lightweight championship at Madison Square Garden, New York, in 1971. His left eye was closed and he would not have been allowed to continue for more than another round.

The man in Buchanan's corner was Eddie Thomas, his manager from Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales, and a past master in dealing with cuts. Thomas made a small incision in the bruising and squeezed out the blood; this enabled Buchanan to complete the contest and become champion.

Fights can be won and lost during the intervals between rounds, and because boxing is a hard business, the one sport that should never be spoken of as a game, it is sometimes necessary to chastise a participant sternly.

Marlon Starling was beating Lloyd Honeyghan out of sight for the welterweight championship a few years ago when he started to employ extravagant tricks to the displeasure of his trainer, Eddie Futch. Although naturally a gentle man, Futch was angry and made his feelings abundantly clear. 'Marlon, if you carry on doing those things, I won't be here when you get back,' he said.

Futch, in his 82nd year, trains Riddick Bowe, the true heavyweight champion. If and when Bowe and Lewis get it together, Futch versus Correa would be no contest.