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Why mob left boxing for skating

Posted: Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Rats know a sinking ship when they see one. Maybe that's why the mob left boxing for ice dancing in such a rush.

Things couldn't be going much worse in the fight game. For the third time in a month, heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis threatened to retire and no one appeared the least bit interested in stopping him.

''What else is there for me to prove?'' Lewis said in an interview published Sunday by a London newspaper.

''That I can be Evander Holyfield and not know when to quit? Or prove that I'm stuck in the sport and won't get out until I'm speaking so people don't understand me?''

The problem, Lewis told The Observer, is there isn't even one fight worth his time. He's 36, incredibly wealthy, way too skilled for the pretenders, and uninterested in hanging around for long waiting for a contender to emerge.

Not long after rising young heavyweight Wladimir Klitschko needed six rounds to put away 41-year-old Ray Mercer, Lewis was attending a ceremony in London. Somebody suggested a bout against Klitschko, the WBO champ.

''Not tough enough,'' Lewis sniffed. ''It would be a waste of my time.''

Somebody then pointed out Lewis could be stripped of his IBF title in August if he didn't sign to defend against No. 1 challenger Chris Byrd. His response: big deal.

''I've already done everything that I really wanted to do in the sport,'' Lewis said.

A few days later, the champ turned up at Buckingham Palace to receive the Commander of the Order of the British Empire from Prince Charles. Mike Tyson's name came up.

''People don't want to see that again because of the way I destroyed him,'' Lewis said.

But at least he was willing to be bought.

''It's up to the TV companies. If they don't pay $30 million,'' Lewis said, sounding a familiar refrain, ''I will retire.''

What does it say about a racket when the biggest match on the horizon is no longer Lewis vs. Tyson, but Lewis AND Tyson vs. 71-year-old World Boxing Council president Jose Sulaiman?

That bout became a possibility after Sulaiman filed a $56 million lawsuit contending he sustained severe physical and psychological injuries when a real melee -- rather than the much more common staged variety -- broke out at a Jan. 22 news conference in New York to promote Lewis-Tyson.

''I know he was hit during the melee,'' Judd Burstein, Lewis' lawyer, said of Sulaiman, ''but it must have knocked some sense out of him because Lennox never touched him.''

Tyson's boxing adviser, Shelly Finkel, sounded similarly unworried.

''I'll have a lawyer handle it,'' he said.

Thomas Deas, Sulaiman's lawyer, said his client was caught between the fighters when the melee erupted. Sulaiman had several operations to repair broken teeth and damaged bridgework. The psychological damage apparently was inflicted when Sulaiman came to and was mistaken by Tyson for a member of the press corps.

''When he got up after being knocked out,'' his attorney said of Sulaiman, ''Tyson spat on him and threatened to kill him.''

In his prime, Iron Mike did that to just about everybody.

At the start of his career, people bought tickets to see skill and menace. Post-prison, it was fury. After awhile, it was no longer the fight but the freak show.

Now, Lewis has exposed even that last little bit. Tyson lost any claim he once had to greatness and now he's not even the baddest man around. He's just another working stiff, told when and where to show up and catch his share of the leather that's being thrown around.

He and Lewis were practically born to be rivals, the two best prospects in a generation brimming with promising fighters. Finding out which one was going to be top dog could have been a compelling, decades-long pursuit. They began circling each other as teenagers, clashing during a few sparring sessions in 1984, and then not again until June 8.

Nearly 20 years later, the outcome was never really in doubt. Tyson squandered his talent long ago; now he's misplaced whatever credibility he had left.

Lewis, who doesn't need the money, is apparently as bored as the rest of us at the prospect of a rematch. Boxing fans of every era watch their heavyweights grow old wondering whether they are any good. Beating Tyson was Lewis' last chance to convince this one; none of the fighters out there offer even that much.

''If they want me to fight those guys, they're going to have to pay me money just to get me back into training,'' Lewis replied when asked to make a definitive statement about his future.

''From now on, it's strictly a business decision.''

Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org



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