The wonder of Akinwande

Harry Mullan applauds the arrival of the latest heavyweight champion from Britain
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The Independent Online
Dr Robert Voy is no doubt a competent and caring physician, but I wonder whether he is worldly wise enough for the tough and cynical world of professional boxing. Dr Voy had been treating Mike Tyson during the build-up to his challenge for Bruce Seldon's WBA heavyweight title, which had been scheduled to take place in Las Vegas on Saturday, and it was he who advised Tyson to pull out after the WBC champion claimed to be suffering from bronchitis. "Mike's recovering," Dr Voy assured us, "but I do not think he is ready for a championship fight."

The fact that tickets for the event, priced between $400 and $1,000, had been selling as briskly as fur coats in Death Valley had, of course, nothing at all to do with the cancellation. Tyson will face Seldon eventually, but don't bet on it taking place in Las Vegas. In the meantime Tyson must be reflecting on the pounds 4m that he reportedly paid Lennox Lewis to step aside from his position as mandatory challenger. Even that windfall did not make Lewis the biggest British heavyweight winner of the week: that distinction belongs to the beanpole Henry Akinwande, all 6ft 7in of him, who knocked out the highly touted American Jeremy Williams in California to capture the vacant WBO version of the world title.

To the vast majority of the British sporting public, Akinwande's success confuses a muddled picture. Suddenly the man who could not even secure a crack at the British title is being spoken of as a legitimate challenger for one of the "real" world titles.

Don King, the man who says who does what in world heavyweight terms, was ecstatic about Akinwande's performance in the decidedly low-rent setting of the Fantasy Springs casino at Indio, California. "Henry was super sensational," King proclaimed, "that combination Akinwande put on Williams would have fried an egg in the desert. Only people from the jungle could do what Akinwande did. He's the first African world heavyweight champion and the first Nigerian heavyweight champion," which is as truthful a statement as King has ever made, bearing in mind that Akinwande was actually born in Dulwich, and that Herbie Hide, who was born in Nigeria, beat him to the WBO title by a couple of years.

King's geography and history may be uncertain but it is indisputable that Akinwande, after years of labouring on the fringes, is suddenly at centre stage. He will never be a dramatic performer but he can fight. He would tower over Tyson by at least eight inches, even accepting Tyson's generous estimate of his own height, and there is nothing more draining for a boxer than punching up at a much taller opponent.

Williams had once been a protege of the manager Bill Cayton and the trainer Kevin Rooney, the team that brought Tyson through to the championship, and he had been groomed as Tyson's natural successor. The fact that he lacked a chin capable of withstanding anything more threatening than a safety razor shattered that illusion, but Akinwande deserves credit for a job efficiently done. He can look forward to making serious money, and since Hide successfully returned to action last week under the promotional banner of King's British partner, Frank Warren, a match between Akinwande and Hide could be a possibility.

First, Akinwande must accommodate his mandatory challenger Alexander Zolkin, of Russia. "If Boris Yeltsin sends me a telegram asking me to do something about it, I might just consider it," said King - and if that sounds outlandish, remember that this is the man who talked President Mobutu into financing Ali v Foreman in Zaire and persuaded Ferdinand Marcos to cough up for Ali v Frazier in Manila. What's the betting against an Akinwande v Zolkin confrontation in Red Square in October?

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