World of difference for Lewis

Harry Mullan reflects on a night for fall-guys in a derided division
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IT WOULD be difficult to know at which stage of the evening Lionel Butler felt worse: when Lennox Lewis blasted him through the ropes and out of the heavyweight picture, or when the weary loser trudged back to the dressing room to be told that his $825,000 purse had been frozen on court orders, meaning that he'd just been flattened for free.

The events in Sacramento last Saturday, and the similar and closely related happenings in Glasgow a few hours earlier, did the battered old business no good at all. In each case an overweight, untrained and unmotivated American was hammered by a superbly conditioned British heavyweight with world title aspirations, only to find his pay cheque the subject of legal proceedings.

Mike Evans, the jaded 36-year-old who lost to Frank Bruno in the year's most predictable mismatch, had apparently accepted the job without the knowledge of his estranged manager, whose lawyers tried vainly to secure an injunction preventing the fight from going ahead. The unfortunates who paid to watch what ensued in the Kelvin Hall would, with hindsight, have wished they had succeeded.

Butler's problems, while self-inflicted, are of a type familiar to unsophisticated and gullible fighters since Primo Carnera was manoeuvred into the championship nearly 62 years ago. Evans, like Carnera, trustingly signed away percentages of himself to virtually anybody who shoved a wad of "up front" dollars into his hand, until when payout time arrived he had to face the awful realisation that there was nothing left for himself.

But while one might properly feel sorry for Butler's financial incompetence, it is less easy to forgive the total lack of professionalism which brought him into the ring in such appalling condition that he had only a round and a half in the tank. This was, in theory, a winnable fight which would have projected Butler firmly into centre stage in the ever-changing heavyweight scene. Victory was worth millions, at least a percentage of which would surely have trickled down to the fighter, yet he could not be bothered to get himself into shape for the greatest opportunity of his career.

All week in Sacramento there had been rumours that he would not go through with the fight, and so the promoters took the precaution of signing up Ray Anis (originally named as Bruno's opponent) as a stand-by. In the event Butler turned up in the ring, but he did not do so in any meaningful sense other than his mere physical presence. His solitary contribution was a busy first round full of swipes and lunges, after which his appetite for combat evaporated as quickly as his stamina.

He did at least catch Lewis with one mighty thump in the opening minute which gave ample evidence that his record of 16 straight knock-outs was genuine enough, but Lewis took the punch reassuringly well and hit back immediately with a right hook and an uppercut hard enough to remind Butler that, however dismissively he had spoken of the Londoner during the pre- fight hype, he was indeed in the ring with one of the best heavyweights in the game.

It was not Lewis's fault that the opposition proved to be so inadequate. Butler was, on paper, the toughest comeback opponent the former WBC champion could have chosen, and he beat him with a brave, intelligent performance. His new trainer, Emanuel Steward, has made a difference, although in the early rounds some of the amateurish traits which have hindered him before were still noticeable.

His left jab would be an infinitely more potent weapon if he snapped it out straight and hard instead of waving the glove about like a conductor engaged in a particularly complex passage of Beethoven's Fifth. When he started using it properly, from the third round onwards, Butler's rapid defeat became inevitable as the jab banged into his broad face time after sickening time.

The satisfactory dismissal of a potentially dangerous opponent will have done much to restore Lewis's confidence in his first fight after the Oliver McCall debacle, although it will be galling for him to have to stand in the queue behind Bruno, who looks certain to face McCall in July. Returning to the ring after a shattering first loss is always difficult, and it is to Lewis's credit that he did not choose the easy path back. Chris Eubank, by contrast, will not need to expend much nervous energy in defeating the little-known Argentine Bruno Godoy, at the King's Hall, Belfast, on Saturday.

Their fight is officially only the chief support on a bill headed by the Ballymena welterweight Eamonn Loughran, who defends his WBO title against Angel Beltre, but even the most patriotic Irishman would concede that the greater concentration of public interest will be on seeing how British boxing's biggest ego can cope with the fact that he has finally been shown to be mortal after all. He claims that he has learned from the loss to Steve Collins in March, and he is shrewd enough to have done so - although I would still favour the dogged Collins to outscore him again when they meet in a rematch in Dublin in the summer.

Beating Godoy will not enlighten us greatly one way or the other, since the Argentine has lost to every man he has ever faced who had pretensions to world class, but Argentines are traditionally tough. Eubank, who will be having the first non-title 10-rounder in his past 20 fights, may have to go a few more rounds than he would choose, but it is inconceivable that he could lose at this level.