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Lewis-Holyfield not an easy sell

The Associated Press

Boxing is not an easy sell at the moment, something the people behind Holyfield-Lewis II are finding out only too well.

Friday, November 12, 1999

Boxing is not an easy sell at the moment, something the people behind Holyfield-Lewis II are finding out only too well. The feds are crawling all over it. The scent of corruption is in the air. Even honest fights don’t smell much better.

People are being dragged in front of grand juries. Large men wearing sunglasses and bearing subpoenas turned up at Don King’s office doors not too long ago. Last week, prosecutors charged International Boxing Federation president Dr. Bob Lee and other officials with taking bribes from promoters and managers to fix rankings almost from the day he hung an ”IBF” shingle over his door.

And now the politicians are getting into the act. After decades of promising to do something about boxing, this week they actually did, sending the Muhammad Ali Boxing Act to President Clinton’s desk to be signed into law. It won’t ”get rid of the bandits and parasites in this sport,” as Ring Magazine breathlessly reported, but it might do some good down the road. And at least it’s a start.

Problems inside the ring are at least as daunting. There aren’t many fights out there with the ”ka-ching” of a big pay-per-view event. The hope that a welterweight might take over evaporated just about the time Oscar De La Hoya was polishing the dull edges on his uninspired loss to Felix Trinidad.

Among the heavyweights, the news hasn’t been good. The spectacle of Mike Tyson is wearing thin. A core audience would pay to see him brush his teeth, but most people draw the line for his fights at premium cable. The casino crowd doesn’t turn out like it used to, either, and cleaning up after him is less and less worth the expense or the bother. George Foreman is too old. David Tua and Michael Grant aren’t there yet.

Things are so bad that one of the wise guys on ”SportsCenter” closed a recent piece recapping all the bizarre incidents in boxing the last few years by practically begging ”Fan Man” – the goof who tried to parachute into the middle of the Holyfield-Riddick Bowe fight a few years ago – to reprise his act. Which brings us back to Holyfield-Lewis II.

It was the fight everybody wanted to see – the first time. It turned into a farce.

Holyfield is that rare athlete who can be called a ”warrior” without exaggeration, but he can be awkward and for a battle to occur, his opponent has to bring it. Lewis didn’t – he wouldn’t shed his cautious skin – even if he did do more fighting than Holyfield when they met in March at Madison Square Garden.

It was one of the least memorable fights ever, followed by one of the worst judging episodes ever, and then, by some of the lamest alibis you ever heard.

Holyfield blamed a virus and leg cramps – but only after his advisors ruled out ”The dog ate my homework.”

World Council judge Larry O’Connell of Britain, who scored the fight 115-115, apparently had trouble with the math. ”When someone said my scorecard added up to a draw, my heart sank,” he said. ”I was surprised as anyone.”

Eugenia Williams, the IBF judge who scored it 115-113 for Holyfield, was called before a New York state Senate committee investigating the bout. After a week of insisting she saw what she saw, Williams told the committee that maybe she was stuck looking at the back of a ringside photographer too often – and that, after watching a replay, she would have scored it differently.

So naturally, you’d think Williams would be rushing out to ringside in Las Vegas to work it this time, or at the very least, one of the first on her block to order the pay-per-view.

Think again. Nevada regulators have insisted on providing the judges and Williams has a prior commitment.

”The children come first,” she said Thursday, standing in the doorway of her Atlantic City, N.J. home.

In this case the ”children” are not hers, but rather the amateur boxers she trains at the Police Athletic League gym next door. They are scheduled to fight Saturday night in a competition in Upper Darby, Pa., and that’s where she’ll be.

Williams apparently has no more faith than the rest of us that Lewis will lay it on the line this time and risk great success or failure. But she admits she is not without that little bit of curiosity that afflicts real fans of the sweet science.

”Someone’s taping it for me. I’ll watch it when I come back.”

If only she’d done that the first time.

Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org,