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Lewis Place in Boxing Up in Air

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Lennox Lewis might be considered one of the great heavyweights of his time if not for Oliver McCall's right hand.

The punch that stopped Lewis six years ago in London still haunts him in a way, even though he came back to win the heavyweight title once again.

Yet Lewis still has a chance for heavyweight greatness, and Saturday night's defense against David Tua could go a long way to making his case.

``Part of my problem is I'm too talented for most of these fighters,'' Lewis said. ``I make it look easy, so people say it looks dull.''

Lewis indeed has made it look easy in his last two title defenses, stopping both Michael Grant and Francois Botha in the second round. The performances came after two boring fights with Evander Holyfield that led some to question whether Lewis would ever take enough risks to look spectacular.

He's still cautious, though, and that could make for a long 12 rounds Saturday against Tua, who possesses explosive power but is not the type of fighter who can win a decision against the more talented champion.

``The only thing I have to fear is his left hook,'' Lewis said. ``I feel real confident about this fight. He's never seen a boxer like me.''

Lewis is a 3 1/2 -1 favorite to retain his WBC and IBF titles when he faces Tua, the No. 1 contender for both organizations, in a scheduled 12-round fight at the Mandalay Bay hotel-casino. The fight is expected to start about 11:30 p.m. EST.

The fight matches a superior boxer who can also punch against a challenger who fights in a style like Mike Tyson and has never been knocked down in his career.

``The only way for David Tua to win this fight is to knock him out,'' Tua said. ``I'm not the kind of fighter who can win this on points.''

Tua is one of the most attractive opponents left in the heavyweight ranks for Lewis, who at the age of 35 believes he is finally coming into his prime as a heavyweight champion.

Other than another fight with Holyfield — which offers little public attraction — or a fight with Tyson, Lewis is running out of credible opponents in the thin heavyweight ranks.

Tyson dropped in on Lewis' public workout in New York last week and claims he wants to fight the champion. But Lewis says he is prepared to finish out his career without ever fighting Tyson, just as he never fought Riddick Bowe, his early heavyweight rival.

``The shine has gone off of Mike Tyson. He's been beaten twice, and his fights have been basically traveling circus shows,'' Lewis said. ``I don't think it will play off my legacy if I don't fight him. How can you fight someone who doesn't want to fight, anyway?''

Lewis (37-1-1, 29 knockouts) will earn $8 million for his 14th heavyweight title fight, while Tua (37-1, 32 knockouts) will be fighting for the title for the first time. Lewis weighed 249 pounds at Thursday's weigh-in, four more than Tua.

Tua, a Samoan who lives in New Zealand and trains in Las Vegas, has held the No. 1 ranking for nearly two years. In that time, he stopped four opponents of questionable ability within three rounds.

With a shock of hair sticking five inches up from his head, and Samoan war beads around his neck, the stocky Tua seems at times more of a World Wrestling Federation character than a heavyweight contender.

But he can punch with the best of them, and if he can wrestle his way inside against Lewis, he has a chance of hurting the champion.

``It is my destiny to become the heavyweight champion,'' Tua said. ``The mistake they made with David Tua is they gave him a chance to mature and blossom.''

Tua's only loss is a 12-round decision to Ike Ibeabuchi, who was the top contender before sexual assault charges sent him first to jail and later to a mental facility. Tua stands only 5-foot-10 and weighed in at 244 pounds, but he has quick hands and devastating power.

``Don't just look for the left hook to knock him out. He can knock him out with anything,'' trainer Kevin Barry said. ``We've seen the best Lewis. But we have yet to see the best David Tua.''

Tua's camp made a point early of making sure Nevada boxing officials would appoint a referee who would not allow Lewis to hold during the fight. They believe they got one in veteran referee Joe Cortez, who has said he won't allow the fight to be marred by excessive holding.

Tua's chances hinge on landing big punches inside, while Lewis figures to try and box from the outside, using his long arms and seven-inch height advantage to keep Tua away.

``You have that classic matchup of David and Goliath,'' Lewis said. ``Only I'm no Goliath.''
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