posted on Dec, 9 2003 @ 07:57 PM
Evening Standard - London - December 9, 2003
MIKE TYSON didn't feel inclined to say much after watching Vitali Klitschko lay claim to a new world title challenge in New York on Saturday.
However, his sheer presence spoke volumes about the state of heavyweight boxing.
Klitschko was in full flow addressing the media following his tworound demolition of Kirk Johnson when Tyson made a quiet entrance to the room and
found an unobtrusive spot to listen some distance from the cameras and microphones.
Then someone happened to glance round and notice that the former undisputed champion wa s standing in the shadows.
In an instant Klitschko was left addressing rows of empty seats. The Ukrainian may be a big man, all 6ft 8in of him in his boxing boots, but Tyson
remains the bigger attraction.
The public loathe him more than they love him, the press regard him as shot, and he himself has admitted that self-esteem is all but non-existent.
Yet even at 37, when his ring rust is more obvious than that quirky tattoo, there is something magnetic about the man.
Heavyweight boxing thrives on characters like Tyson. Which is why it's not thriving right now, and Lennox Lewis must shoulder his share of the blame
It was just four years ago that Lewis ruled the world as Britain's first undisputed heavyweight champion in over a century.
Around his waist was strapped the belts belonging to the sport's three major sanctioning bodies - the World Boxing Council, the World Boxing
Association and the International-Boxing Federation - but the Londoner's greater prize was realising an ambition to impose order on a weight division
where chaos had previously reigned.
Lewis had mastered what he called boxing "politricks", the connivance and chicanery that had robbed heavyweight boxing of credibility and respect.
Today, Lewis retains just one belt, that belonging to the WBC. He let the others go without a fight and now the blue ribbon division is again on the
ropes with Lewis seemingly content to let it stay there.
In two years he has fought just twice.
Having demolished Tyson in June of 2002, he waited 12 months to take on Klitschko in Los Angeles.
The record book shows Lewis won in the sixth by technical knockout, but his challenger was ahead on the cards of all three judges when he was forced
to submit to grotesque cuts around his left eye. Now that Klitschko has established a right to another title shot following Saturday's powerful
beating of Johnson, will Lewis give him the satisfaction of a rematch?
Or will he let Klitschko - white, intelligent and powerful - go on to establish himself as an attraction to rival Tyson by fighting for the vacant
Boxing in general, not just the heavyweight division, requires an instant reply rather than further prevarication as Lewis considers the alternative
Lewis-Klitschko II would be huge.
The drama and controversy of the first fight, coupled with Klitschko's impressive display at Madison Square Garden, makes for an intriguing draw both
at ringside and in front of the television screen.
But if Lewis, at the age of 38, does not feel he's up to it, he needs to admit it now because there is so much else going on around the ring that
deserves headline attention.
The reality is that boxing, despite the carping of cynics who regard the health of the sport to be mirrored by the heavyweights, is alive and
Take this Saturday as an example.
In Atlantic City, Don King is promoting one of his mammoth bills featuring no less than eight world championship fights.
On this side of the Atlantic, at Manchester's MEN Arena, Frank Warren is predicting a sell-out crowd of 16,000 to see Ricky Hatton defend his
light-welterweight title against rated Ghanaian Ben Tackie.
This just two weeks after there wasn't a seat to be had at the Braehead Arena in Glasgow when Scott Harrison regained his world featherweight title
from Mexican veteran Manuel Medina.
In his foreword to the newly published Boxing Yearbook for 2004, Simon Block, general secretary of the British Boxing Board of Control, makes the
point that 23 professional shows were booked for September. That figure is seven up on last season.
Yet boxing still needs that vital heavyweight attraction.
Lewis could still be the main man if he has the right mindset. Klitschko has the potential to fill the void should Lewis quit.
What boxing needs is for the champion to make a decision.