- The Washington Times - Friday, April 28, 2000

NEW YORK Heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis is pretty much the last man standing among the elite of the heavyweight division in the past decade.

Riddick Bowe is gone, brain damaged and now an ex-con. Mike Tyson is done for all intents and purposes, a cartoonish, pathetic figure having fought just 11 rounds in the past three years and reduced to facing club fighters named Julius Francis. Evander Holyfield's golden reputation hs turned to rust since his loss to Lewis in November by refusing to leave the sport as gracefully as he practiced it.

Lewis has outlasted them all and is now at the top of the division. His trainer, Emanuel Steward, doesn't see anyone in his way in the immediate future assuming Lewis gets past Michael Grant, his opponent Saturday night at Madison Square Garden for the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation titles.

"I don't see too much talent around," Steward said. "Once Lennox has beaten Grant, he can reign for three years if he wants to. I can't see any fighters coming through."

Lewis fully expects to beat Grant, who came back from a severe beating by Andrew Golota to stop Golota in the 10th round in November. Two years earlier, Lewis had knocked out Golota out in one round.

"[Grant] has not faced a boxer like me," Lewis said.

Lewis regrets not having fought all of his contemporaries, saying, "I wish I had the chance. I want to be remembered as the best heavyweight of my time."

Lewis feuded with Bowe, whom he defeated in the 1988 Olympics, but they never fought. After Bowe won the undisputed heavyweight titles from Holyfield in November 1992, he was supposed to face Lewis, the World Boxing Council's No. 1 mandatory challenger, coming off his second-round knockout of Razor Ruddock in October 1991. But Bowe refused and tossed the WBC belt in the trash can. It was awarded to Lewis without a fight, and for the next few years negotiations were on and off again for a Lewis-Bowe fight that would never happen.

Tyson also gave up the WBC title after winning it from Frank Bruno in March 1996 rather than fight Lewis, who had lost the title in a stunning two-round knockout upset by Oliver McCall in September 1994 but came back to be the No. 1 mandatory challenger.

There has been talk about a Tyson fight, but Lewis is doubtful it will happen. Tyson just postponed a scheduled fight with Lou Savarese next month, and many questions remain about his ability and desire to fight.

"Mike Tyson's going into movies," Lewis said, referring to Tyson's recent appearance in "Black and White." "I don't think he's too interested in fighting any more."

Also, Tyson fights for Showtime cable and Lewis for HBO, and neither network is about to let its man fight for a competitor. Lewis' commitment to HBO expires next year.

Lewis England's first undisputed world heavyweight champion in 100 years may have regrets about missed opportunities, but the future doesn't look particularly stirring either. Steward went through the list of possible opponents, and dismissed Holyfield in the process as well.

"David Tua is just too small," he said. "John Ruiz is ordinary. Evander Holyfield will never beat Lennox. The only one out there is Michael Grant. If Lennox comes through this, he has a clear field."

That doesn't mean Lewis won't be fighting any of these opponents. Lewis had become the undisputed heavyweight champion when he defeated Holyfield in their November rematch, taking the International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Association titles from Holyfield to go along with his own WBC belt.

But because Lewis has refused to fight Ruiz, the WBA's No. 1 mandatory challenger, a judge has ordered that he be stripped of the WBA belt when he steps in the ring to face Grant. Ruiz and Holyfield will fight for the vacant title in June, and Lewis could fight the winner next.

Also, Lewis is being forced by another court decision to fight Tua, the IBF's No. 1 mandatory challenger, by the end of the year or risk losing that belt as well.

Lewis-Ruiz? Lewis-Holyfield III? Lewis-Tua? It's not a very exciting year for the heavyweight division. Then again, Lewis has never been an exciting fighter one of the reasons he has failed to capture the attention of the American boxing public. He weighed in yesterday at 6-foot-5, 247 pounds smaller than Grant's 6-7, 250 in what will be the biggest championship fight ever. Lewis always has had the physical skills to fight well enough to win, using a powerful right hand and now a stiff left jab developed by Steward.

But he has never fought with passion or drama. Steward is hoping that the 34-year-old Lewis (35-1-1, 27 knockouts) can change that against the 27-year-old Grant (31-0, 22 knockouts), who is expected to try to force Lewis into an early slugfest.

"What Lennox has to do to make himself a dominant figure is to start a string of knockouts so that everybody will know that he is the best man, no matter who he is matched against," Steward said. "I think Grant will bring the best out of Lennox. Both have something to prove to the public."

Don't expect much from Lewis that we haven't seen before. He sees his experience however lackluster as a plus against Grant.

"He has a fast jab and good quickness," Lewis said. "But his biggest weakness is [lack of] experience. He hasn't been through what I've been through."

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