By Clive Bernath
Preparation is everything in boxing. The noble art is like no other sport. In order to succeed in the square ring, a fighter must be in top shape, both physically and mentally and, just as importantly, be surrounded by a solid, close knit team. Lennox Lewis will not be afforded that privilege when he attempts to regain his undisputed heavyweight crowns against American Hasim Rahman in Las Vegas in the early hours of Sunday morning – no matter what spin he chooses to relay to the world’s media.
There will be no Panos Eliades, whose money and excellent negotiating skills, allowed Lewis to realise his dream of becoming undisputed heavyweight champ. There will be no Frank Maloney, nor will there be his brother Dennis. Promoter Eliades and Dennis Lewis were officially axed earlier this year. But Frank hung on until he was forced out last week.
All three had been instrumental in guiding the West Ham-born fighter to become Britain’s first world heavyweight champion of the last century. Over the last two weeks, Eliades has been sitting in a New York court listening to evidence in his $700 million lawsuit against his former fighter. Maloney, who was ousted publicly by Lewis last week after more than 11 years for refusing to sign a confidentiality agreement, is also expected to take legal action against the former Olympic champ.
This is not the ideal preparation for Lewis to say the least, as he prepares to meet Rahman, the man who knocked him cold in the fifth round of their WBC, IBF and IBO title fight in South Africa back in April. Lewis lost that fight for many reasons. The general feeling is that he was defeated by his own arrogance. He was under the delusion that all he had to do was turn up, knock Rahman out, retain his title, then start talking telephone numbers with Mike Tyson.
Well, that didn’t happen did it? We all know by now, the quietly-spoken Briton failed to train properly, preferring instead to concentrate on making movies, and then arrived in South Africa just 11 days before the fight, thus failing to adjust to the altitude. The heavyweight championship of the world is the most treasured and respected title in sport. And, to my way of thinking, Lewis completely disrespected the memories of those fine champions of the past, such as Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Rocky Marciano and Floyd Patterson, who sweated blood and tears to claim the ultimate honour.
Even before Lewis lost to Rahman, talk of him being inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame was rare, but the defeat in Carnival City surely erased any such aspirations the former champ may have had. The sad thing is that Lewis’s demise should never have got this far, had he kept faith with his old team.
Experience teaches us many things and one of those vital encounters is, ‘Why fix something, if it ain’t broke? Businessman Eliades took a massive gamble on Lewis when he was offered the contract of Lewis from the disgraced tycoon Roger Levett way back in 1991. As there is a court case being conducted at this time, for legal reasons I can’t delve too deeply, but what I can say is that if Eliades had not taken up the contract Lewis would almost certainly have been forced to ply his trade in America, and who knows where he would be now?
Lewis and Maloney not only guided Lewis to the heavyweight championship of the world by defeating Razor Ruddock in 1992, they picked up the pieces when he surprisingly lost the crown to Oliver McCall.
Eliades fought the streetwise Don King in court and won in order to get his man back in the world title picture and a rematch with the King-promoted McCall. Lewis won the rematch and was again crowned WBC champ. He then went on to defend four times before the controversial draw with Evander Holyfield in 1999.
Eliades and Maloney fought hard to get the rematch, which Lewis won unanimously on points. Yet Eliades and Dennis Lewis were then axed after Lewis’ defence against Frans Botha in London in July 2000.
Lewis promoted one of his back room staff, Adrian Ogun, to become his business manager, a man with limited experience in the cut throat world of professional boxing. Since Ogun has been in charge, Lewis chose to defend his crowns in South Africa of all places, where the altitude for even local fighters is unbearable, and lost his titles to Rahman in the process.
Ogun set up Lion Promotions with Lewis with the intention of promoting Lennox’s own fights, but sold the rights to the Rahman rematch to Don King, a man Lewis swore he would never do business with.
Lewis is now going into the biggest fight of his life burdened by the prospect of two financially crippling court cases and this would never have happened under Eliades and Maloney. Will Lewis’ mind be on boxing matters when the bell rings against Rahman? The answer will be revealed this weekend.