- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2000

LAS VEGAS Emanuel Steward is considered to be the best trainer in all of boxing and a man who often says what is on his mind.

In the days before his fighter, heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, meets David Tua for Lewis' World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation belts tomorrow night at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, this is what has been on Steward's mind:

• This could be Lewis' toughest fight.

• Lewis is one of the greatest heavyweights of all time.

Winning the fight would go a long way toward proving Steward's second claim. So far, few people are mentioning Lewis in the same breath with Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali or Larry Holmes.

Steward believes people should start thinking about Lewis in that elite group, particularly if he handles Tua.

"[Lewis] has a chance to be considered one of the best ever," Steward said. "And all along, I predicted that if he realized his potential, he would be one of the best. He has the size, the power and the boxing skills that would stand up against anybody."

At 6-foot-5 and 249 pounds, Lewis came in yesterday one pound lighter than for his last fight. (Tua weighed in at 245, second highest of his career.) Lewis, 35, does have the size, and with 27 knockouts in 37 fights (35-1-1), he has the power as well.

Under Steward's guidance for the past five years, Lewis' boxing skills have improved significantly, particularly his use of a powerful left jab that helped him defeat Evander Holyfield in their rematch a year ago.

What he doesn't have is the legacy that can put him among the greats. He doesn't have an impressive lengthy record like Louis and Holmes, or opponents who tested him as Joe Frazier did Ali. His record before the past year has been erratic.

Lewis first gained the WBC title by appointment, being named champion in January 1993, coming off his win over Holyfield in November, after Riddick Bowe relinquished the belt rather than fight Lewis, the mandatory challenger. He had three lackluster title defenses against Tony Tucker, Frank Bruno and Phil Jackson before losing the title in September 1994, when he was stopped by Oliver McCall in the second round.

Lewis had three fights in 1995, including a technical knockout of Tommy Morrison in six rounds. But his comeback was nearly derailed in his only 1996 fight, when he won a controversial decision over Ray Mercer. Many ringside observers believed Mercer won.

And even when Lewis won his title back from McCall, it was under bizarre circumstances. McCall had a breakdown in the ring, crying and refusing to fight until the bout was stopped after five rounds and Lewis declared the winner.

Lewis didn't gain much respect as a champion until his first fight with Holyfield in March 1999. It was declared a draw, but there was outrage over the decision as most observers believed Lewis won convincingly. He beat Holyfield in their rematch, finally gaining a measure of respect for defeating such a respected fighter.

Now Steward believes that if Lewis keeps doing what he has done over the past year, he will establish his legacy.

"I believe that if he fights regularly, like four times a year, and can win impressively, people will finally recognize that Lennox is a great fighter," Steward said. "He is at the top of his game now. Look at what he has done in the past year. He has fought three times, beating one of the all-time greats in Evander and knocking out quickly his next two opponents (Michael Grant and Frans Botha, both in the second round). This will be his fourth fight in a year. If he wins impressively like he has been, with a knockout, people will respond to that. That's what the public wants in a heavyweight champion. That's why people still want to watch Mike Tyson."

Tyson's presence hovers over this fight. The troubled former champion said before his fight with Andrew Golota last month, which ended when a bruised and bloodied Golota quit after two rounds, that he was going to retire. Few believe that, though. Tyson showed up at one of Lewis' public workouts in New York recently, and several members of Tyson's camp have been at Lewis' workouts in Las Vegas.

Beating Tyson would be the crowning achievement for Lewis, though Tyson has few of the skills that once made him a champion, except for his power. Steward believes the 28-year-old Tua (37-1, 32 knockouts) is a far more difficult challenge than Tyson would be.

"Tua has never been staggered, never been knocked down, never even been cut," Steward said. "We have a lot of fear and respect for Tua."

That is why a victory over Tua a clear-cut win, the kind that captures the attention of the public is so important for Lewis. He wants to punch his way into the same company as the greats of the division.

"I want to be remembered as the greatest heavyweight of my era," Lewis said.

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