- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2002

TUNICA, Miss. — If Panama Lewis didn't exist, Budd Schulberg would have made him up in a tragic boxing drama.
But he does exist, and he has 911 Mike Tyson's ear, which means that an already volatile, potentially ugly scenario for Saturday night's fight against heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis at the Pyramid in Memphis just got a whole lot worse.
911 Mike may just be crazy, but Panama Lewis is evil.
Panama Lewis is an outlawed boxing trainer, and his presence in 911 Mike's camp just days before the fight also raises serious doubt about how well his training has been going for the Lennox Lewis fight.
It has clearly irritated 911 Mike's co-trainers, Ronnie Shields and Stacey McKinley. Shields said that Panama had no official role in 911 Mike's camp. "He is a friend of Mike's," Shields said. "He came in yesterday and watched us train. I can't tell Mike who to be friends with. He doesn't have any official role, no, none at all, none at all. I don't know if Mike wanted him to come in or not. He's here. I don't know."
Asked if Panama had any role in the camp, McKinley replied, "No, none at all." But McKinley refused to answer any more questions about Panama, and when 911 Mike left his short and uneventful open workout yesterday at Fitzgerald's Hotel and Casino in Tunica, about 30 miles from Memphis, he huddled with Panama, who had his arm around 911 Mike.
Lewis has served time for what he has done in the boxing ring. While training Luis Resto in 1983, he took the padding out of Resto's gloves before a fight at Madison Square Garden against Billy Collins. Resto was not a big puncher, but that night in the garden his punches had enough power to break Collins' face, literally, and he brutally beat him.
Nine months later, Billy Collins was dead. Depressed and drinking heavily, he drove his car one night off the road and into some rocks. His father believes it was suicide.
Panama denied tampering with Resto's gloves, but he was convicted of second-degree assault, criminal possession of a dangerous weapon (Resto's gloves), conspiracy and tampering with a sports contest. He served two years in a New York prison of a six-year sentence and has been banned by boxing commissions from working in a corner or having any official role in a fight.
What he has to offer 911 Mike cannot bode well for Saturday night's fight. Panama Lewis trains fighters to win, at any cost, any way they can, with any trick they can. Resto was far from the only fighter to benefit. Lewis was working in Aaron Pryor's corner for his junior welterweight showdown against Alexis Arguello in 1982. Pryor looked exhausted, nearly out on his feet in the 13th round. Back in the corner, the television microphones picked up Panama asking one of his seconds for a special bottle "the one I mixed," Pryor came out with a remarkable burst of energy in the 14th round and stopped Arguello. Back in his dressing room after the fight, Pryor was seen doubled up in pain, rolling around on the floor. There were mixed reports about what was in the bottle, but Panama denied it was illegal. No urine test was given Pryor, and the bottle disappeared.
Yesterday Panama tried to downplay his presence. "I've got no role," Panama said. "I'm just a personal friend of Mike Tyson's. Mike Tyson has known me for many years. When a fighter like a Pryor or Tyson, they see somebody they respect and look up to, they get more confident. Mike has always liked me to be with him. Not just now. Always. I came to give him support."
They are kindred spirits, both outlaws in the sport and targets for their actions. Panama agreed that he and 911 Mike are in good company. "We've both been through it," he said. "But I told him one thing they talked bad about Jesus Christ, and he was our creator."
The evil was pouring out of Panama now. He couldn't stop himself. When asked if 911 Mike had called Panama and asked him to come to camp, Panama replied, "God did that. Allah. He made a call, come on down. Like 'The Price is Right,' come on down."
Ironically, Panama worked with Frans Botha, although he wasn't allowed in Botha's corner, in 1999 when the South African heavyweight exposed 911 Mike badly in the ring. Botha gave 911 Mike a boxing lesson for nearly five rounds, winning nearly every round on every judge's card until, with 10 seconds left in the fifth round, 911 Mike connected with a devastating right hand and Botha crumbled, finished for the night.
"He's much sharper now than he was in the Botha fight, Panama said. "He has the look of the old Mike. The hands are very quick."
We were supposed to see that quickness yesterday in 911 Mike's workout. But what we saw just cast more doubt about how ready 911 Mike really is. After much of the workout was closed, we were able to watch 911 Mike hit the speed bag for a brief time, with Shields stopping him numerous times to tell him how he wanted him to work the bag. Then 911 Mike did another workout with the maize ball to help him bob and weave, but again Shields spent more time telling him what to do, how to crouch and such, than 911 spent actually working out. You would think after 10 weeks of training, 911 Mike would know by now what his trainers expect from him from something as simple as hitting the speed bag.
911 Mike did not talk to reporters, but McKinley did. He called Lennox Lewis a "coward" for demanding all sorts of clauses in their contract to protect himself from 911 Mike's bizarre behavior. I doubt there is any clause in that contract about Panama Lewis. But there should be.


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