Lewis floors Golota

 

After more than eight years as a professional, Lennox Lewis probably produced the most significant win of his career as he blasted out the feared Pole Andrew Golota in just 95 seconds of controlled fury to retain his WBC World Heavyweight title in Atlantic City. Only four world heavyweight title fights have ended quicker throughout boxing history.

Ever since his devastating two-round victory over Donovan `Razor' Ruddock five years ago, Lewis (32) has failed to produce the rewards expected for his massive reserves of natural talent. Now, not only has he earned considerable respect on the America side of the Atlantic, he can anticipate the opportunity to realise his dream of becoming undisputed heavyweight champion at some point in 1998.

With WBA champion Evander Holyfield widely tipped to prevail over IBF champion Michael Moorer when they meet in Las Vegas on November 8th, a Holyfield-Lewis showdown seems likely next summer.

Golota's two fights with Riddick Bowe in 1995, when he lost on disqualification due to low blows after out-boxing the former champion, had established his notoriety and a position as a major draw, and the Convention Center was packed close to its 15,500 capacity on Saturday night. Fears for the future of boxing proved unfounded not because the 29-year-old from Warsaw suddenly accepted the Queensberry rules.

Rather more, Lewis never gave him a second to contemplate stepping out of line. From the moment Lewis snapped back the challenger's head with his ramrod left jab, following up with his most concussive punch - the overhand right - the result seemed inevitable. "I just wanted to make a statement to the world," the happy champion beamed afterwards. "I just wanted to prove my point that I am the best heavyweight in the world."

Doubtless the proud Holyfield will argue otherwise, but no man alive would have been able to better the punches which ended this contest with such telling efficiency.

Referee Joe Cortez, refereeing his 97th world championship bouts, had been under enormous pressure to ensure both fighters remained within the rules. Prior to the fight, in Lewis's dressing-room, he had told the champion: "We all love boxing, we want the cleanest fight we can see. I don't want any sort of street fight."

Lewis nodded solemnly. In the ring, his work was clinically correct. The near hysterical support from Golota's flag-waving Polish fans did nothing to upset the champion and, as Lewis stepped forward to survey his territory during the pre-fight announcements, it was clear Golota was intimidated.

Lewis described his game plan: "I had told Golota `Welcome to the lion's den'. I just wanted to beat him before he could commit any fouls, and once I hurt him I knew I had to take him out. I realised he was a bit tentative and waiting for me to do my thing. And I knew that he would never have seen my kind of speed and accuracy."

Emmanuel Steward had stressed the first minute of the fight would be decisive, saying: "When he feels the power of Lennox's touches, I think he will fold." But even the master trainer could not have envisaged that Lewis would perform so brilliantly. Scarcely missing a shot, Lewis worked for an opening with his jab and, when it came, increased the power of his attack with shattering hooks to the head which sent Golota to the floor for the first time.

His ice blue eyes betrayed his shock and panic before he jumped to his feet and was surprisingly allowed to continue, even though he looked barely able to avoid falling once more as he staggered forward on drunken legs.

Lewis bided his time, then unleashed another barrage of punches to dump Golota on the canvas where referee Cortez called a merciful halt. As the champion celebrated, Golota regained his senses to say: "I don't know what happened. It was an accident. I just got caught, what could I do? There was too much pressure, I was too nervous."

Asked whether the controversy over his disqualifications against Bowe and speculation that he would resort to the use of low blows had sapped his confidence, he said in his broken English: "A lot of things have happened. People talk about it too much, but I can't make anyone guilty because I lost the fight."

Golota left the ring, apparently not badly affected by his beating, but collapsed and passed out in his dressing-room with what his trainer Lou Duva described as "an anxiety attack". Fears that the night was about to be overtaken by another boxing tragedy proved ill-founded, but Golota was kept in the Atlantic City Medical Center overnight as a precautionary measure.

A spokeswoman said: "His CAT scans are negative. He's awake, alert and well orientated. In layman's terms, he is perfectly okay." Promoter Dino Duva predictably trumpeted Lewis as the best, while Lewis himself repeatedly lapsed into his favoured third person analysis: "Lennox Lewis is on a mission. People say `How long will he stay in boxing?' the answer is `As long as there is a point to prove'."

His next fight, after a suitable break, may be against the WBC number one challenger Zelko Mavrovic of Croatia, or the popular lumbering Scandinavian Brian Nielsen, who was originally rejected by the American Cable television network HBO, Lewis's principal paymasters, but who remains a big draw card in Scandinavia while having no earthly chance of victory. Lewis's manager Frank Maloney, smiling from ear to ear, had confessed that Golota was a dangerous fight he would have preferred not to take. But as he made his way from the celebratory champagne reception, he said: "Maybe Lennox is like a good wine, he gets better with age. His punches were so accurate, but he had a point to prove. Everyone had been doubting him and saying Go lota could beat him.

"I expect my phone to be hot for the next couple of days. Whatever happens, this is good for Britain and for boxing as a sport. Now I really believe if Holyfield beats Moorer, we will see a unification match next summer. Razor Ruddock might have been the best night of all for us, but this came close and we have waited a long time for it."

As Lewis said: "Now with (Oliver) McCall, (Henry) Akinwande and Golota out of the way, I've cleared the misfits out of heavyweight boxing." A case of mission accomplished, maybe.

Guardian Service