Risk lures Lewis to Manhattan

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reports from New York As Lennox Lewis and Tommy Morrison were violently defeated when defending versions of the heavyweight championship, their presence this week on an aircraft carrier moored off Manhattan prompted a notable cynic to suggest that the idea was to have them hitting the deck together.

This corresponded loosely with what the promoters of next Saturday's bout between Lewis and Morrison at the Convention Centre in Atlantic City had in mind when parading the contestants between an array of obsolete airborne weaponry. Bombs away and all that stuff.

Shortly, either Lewis or Morrison will become a museum piece in the heavyweight division. A corny sales pitch was not entirely misplaced, because there is enough on the records of both men to indicate that that the outcome of their encounter will not be determined by official calculation. Morrison comes with a big left hook but a suspect chin. About Lewis there is the question of whether a knock-out by Oliver McCall last year when defending the World Council championship has left him gun-shy.

No wonder that few in the boxing fraternity expect the contest to last more than a few rounds. It was supposed to happen two years ago when Lewis and Morrison were respectively the WBC and World Organisation title- holders, but Michael Bentt ruined the script by blowing Morrison away in one round. Lewis had to lower his sights after the loss to McCall. Had they fought on schedule Morrison would have made $8.2m (pounds 5.3m), Lewis a bit more.

The differential has been maintained but there is a reduction of $6m (pounds 3.9m) in the purses. "Probably did me a favour," Morrison could be heard saying while waiting for Lewis to put in an appearance. Since he could always be relied upon for a party, Morrison added: "I don't know if I'd be alive today. I don't think I could have handled all that money."

Since McCall sensationally took his title, Lewis has found himself looking in from the periphery of negotiations in the heavyweight division. From being the WBC's leading contender he now comes in behind Mike Tyson. Many believe he is taking a big risk against Morrison. Why put himself in with a big puncher is more or less the word in boxing.

Lewis thinks this to be beneath his dignity. "I've never ducked anybody," he said. "I've always been prepared to fight anyone out there. That's what boxing should be about. Trouble is that politics plays too big a part in the sport."

By implication that means Don King, who has control of titles put out by the WBC, the World Association and the International Federation and a big alliance with Mike Tyson. Current speculation is that Tyson will begin an attempt to unify the championship by challenging Frank Bruno for the WBC crown. That would leave Lewis with the miserable prospect of being frozen out for at least another year.

This underlines the risk Lewis is taking on Saturday despite the confidence expressed by his trainer, Emanuel Steward. "I've always had a soft spot for Tommy because he always comes to fight," Steward said. The soft spot Steward imagines for Morrison is on the canvas. "He won't last more than three rounds," Steward added, alluding to his man's power and Morrison's weakness in the mandible area.

In their nine months together, Steward claims to have seen a considerable improvement in Lewis. "He's shown me things I haven't seen in any other heavyweight," he said. In Steward's mind no heavyweight, including Tyson and Riddick Bowe, would last more than eight rounds against him. "I really believe that," he added.

Lewis refutes the notion that he looked anxious in two contests since losing to McCall, even against the limited if pugnacious Justin Fortune who was on Morrison's payroll as a sparring partner. "I can't win," Lewis said. "If I take my time as Manny wants, people say that I'm gun-shy. They are the same people who wanted me to blast out McCall."

Either way Lewis knows that if he doesn't get the job done on Saturday it's curtains.