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Volume 68, Issue 150, Monday, June 23, 2003 


Lewis/Klitschko fight opens eyes

Cougar Pause

Ed De La Garza

Vitali Klitschko may have earned Lennox Lewisi respect, but he would have probably preferred his World Boxing Council Heavyweight Championship instead. Respect didnit come with a win and it may not come with a re-match.

After doctors stopped the fight because of a gash above Klitschkois eye in the sixth round, Lewis was able to walk away with his title. Lewis spun it after the fight Saturday night, but the Briton/Jamaican was nursing some wounds of his own.

The 37-year-old hadnit fought in more than a year (a win over Mike Tyson) and entered Saturdayis fight tipping the scales at more than 256 pounds. He had to alter his strategy after a planned bout against Kirk Johnson fell through just two weeks ago. But Lewis had to fight just to stay close to Klitschko. The 6-7 Ukrainian was leading in points (58-56) on all three judgesi scorecards.

Lewis spoke about willing to offer Klitschko a re-match -- after he talks to his people and watches a tape of the fight. Translation: he wants to be sure he hasnit lost a step and can win a re-match.

International Boxing Federation Heavyweight Champion Chris Byrd, who wanted to fight Lewis after Johnson pulled out, nearly called Lewis washed up during the post-fight press conference. He demanded a fight and wondered why the champion seemed to be running away.

"To me heis just stinking it up if he donit want to fight the major guys in the division," Byrd told Reuters. "I put my name in at two weeksi notice to fight Lennox Lewis and I didnit get one word back. Every time my name gets mentioned itis like cockroaches, someone turns the light on and they scatter."

Lewis, whois considering a big payday bout against Roy Jones Jr., argued no one wanted to see a Lewis-Byrd fight. It made his fans happy, but itis not necessarily true.

Lewis has fought the best fighters of his era, but he hasnit really been accepted like some of the sportis best heavyweights. He hasnit had a big rival. Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier -- and George Foreman, Ken Norton and Larry Holmes. Even Evander Holyfield had Michael Moorer, and to some extent, Foreman. Some of it is Lewisi fault.

It took him a while to live up to expectations and didnit turn into a good fighter until a little later in his career -- when Tyson turned into a disgrace and after Holyfield lost his ability. But the last thing he needs now is to end his career with one or more losses.

If Saturdayis fight hadnit been stopped, he could have lost. Of course, he thought he was just getting his second wind. He would have surely come back in the seventh round.

"I really wish the referee wouldnit have stopped the fight," Lewis said. "I wanted to knock him out for real."

He didnit cement his place in boxing history with a win over an over-the-hill Tyson. Looking vulnerable against Klitschko didnit help him win any new fans. Obviously, the bigger fight is Lewis-Jones, but a Jones victory would be bigger news than another successful title defense. Jones is smaller and would have to fight in a higher class. Of course heis supposed to lose.

Byrd, who beat Klitschko and forced him to quit in the ninth round of their bout, is the more worthy candidate. But he likely wonit even be Lewisi second or third choice. The Briton will likely go after the high-profile match against Jones or re-matches against Tyson and Klitschko.

Lewis should probably retire. He can go out with a win and go down in the history books with an impressive 41-2-1 record. He can leave holding one of the heavyweight belts. The only thing he canit leave with is respect.

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