Rarely A Pay-per-view Draw, Lewis Seeks Smashing Win

Posted: November 11, 2000

LAS VEGAS — He is a former Olympic gold medalist, the BBC's 1999 Sportsman of the Year, the current world champion and, some say, the best heavyweight of his era. And when his career is over, he believes history will count him among the all-time greats.

Tonight, 6-foot-5, 249-pound Lennox Lewis, the first British-born heavyweight champion in more than 100 years, towers over the division like no European before him, having beaten every legitimate challenger but two - American Mike Tyson and Samoan David Tua.

Lewis (37-1-1) will attempt to erase Tua from that list when they meet in a scheduled 12-round bout in the sold-out, 12,000-seat Event Center Arena at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. And Tyson, who may or may not be retired, may or may not be next.

Tua, despite his No.1 world ranking, his 37-1 record, and his awesome string of 32 knockouts, is a 7-2 underdog. And despite never having been knocked off his feet, the squat, 5-10, 245-pounder is an even-money bet to be knocked out.

The boxing world has been slow to accept Lewis, 35, even in his native England, but now even his biggest critics have softened. He may not have the charisma of an Ali, or the mystique of a Tyson, but Lewis hasn't lost in six years. And until someone proves otherwise, he is the No.1 heavyweight in the world.

Tonight's bout, the last on a four-fight, $44.95 pay-per-view card that begins at 9, represents Lewis' third title defense since he dethroned Evander Holyfield a year ago and became undisputed world champion. (Holyfield has since regained the World Boxing Association title.) Lewis also was World Boxing Council champion briefly in 1993-94, and again in 1997 when he stopped Oliver McCall and avenged his only loss.

About the only disappointment in Lewis' 11 professional years has been his inability to stimulate the excitement that translates into big box-office numbers. Only one of his fights, the first meeting with Holyfield 20 months ago in New York, ranks among the top 10 pay-per-view attractions. Six of Tyson's bouts and five Holyfield fights rank among the top 10. Tyson-Holyfield II (1997) ranks No. 1 with 1.99 million buys.

Tyson, 34, who at one time could command a million sales regardless of his opponent, no longer is an automatic booming success, but probably remains the most compelling pay-per-view draw.

Tyson's recent bout with Andrew Golota attracted about 450,000 buys, his career low, according to Jay Larkin, executive producer and senior vice president of Showtime. Barry Gould of TV Sports File, a Connecticut firm that tracks the television sports industry, said his sampling showed the Tyson-Golota figure to be closer to 300,000.

The biggest pay-per-view fight, everyone agrees, would be Tyson vs. tonight's Lewis-Tua winner. Many industry officials believe that the charismatic Tua, only 27, could inherit the role of pay-per-view king if he defeats Lewis.

Mark Taffet, senior vice president with TVKO, which has Lewis under contract, believes that the champ, if he wins tonight, is the premier TV attraction.

"Lennox Lewis is the one and only champion, the undisputed champion, and everyone ... has to come through him," he said. "And I think the economics are going to follow that rule."

Neither cable executive would attempt to estimate the number of sales for tonight's fight, but in the current pay-per-view market, seemingly depressed by dissatisfied consumers and high recurrence of theft, 500,000 seems out of range.

Lewis will receive a purse of $8 million. Tua will get $2.73 million.

Jay Searcy's e-mail address is jsearcy@phillynews.com

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