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Boxing hits rock bottom

Tim Parsons

At 6,200 feet, the sport of boxing on Saturday reached new depths. The first heavyweight championship held at Lake Tahoe was a horrible spectacle. A crowd of more than 2,000 at the Caesars Tahoe showroom, many who paid $250 for ringside seats, chanted an expletive after referee Mills Lane disqualified challenger Henry Akinwande in the fifth round for refusing to fight.

“This is a big disappointment to the whole world of boxing,” said the chairman of the Nevada Athletic Commission, Elias Ghanem, adding that Akinwande has been suspended and, pending a hearing, will have his $1 million purse withheld.

Just two weeks after a similar incident in Las Vegas, everyone with a vested interest in boxing was hoping the World Boxing Council Heavyweight Championship would go smoothly. With champion Lennox Lewis and Akinwande, each with a reserved and polite disposition, promoters were confident nothing out of the ordinary would occur.

“The image of the sport is on the line,” WBC spokesman John Morris said before the fight.

Instead, Saturday’s affair became the third consecutive heavyweight title fight in which a boxer managed by Don King was disqualified and subsequently suspended.

On June 28, Mike Tyson was suspended for biting the ears of World Boxing Association Champion Evander Holyfield. In February, Lewis regained the WBC title when Oliver McCall was disqualified after he broke down in tears and refused to defend himself.

At the Caesars Tahoe event, Akinwande repeatedly wrapped his arms around the champion. Lane began warning Akinwande in the first round. He took a point from the challenger in the second, saying “You got to fight or I’ll chase you.”

Lane finally stopped the bout in the fifth, setting off a chorus of boos from the crowd.

“I felt sorry for the fans,” Lewis said.

Rich Rose, the president of Caesars sports, said boxing should not take the blame for what occurred in the last two title fights.

“What happened two weeks ago and today were the actions of two men, not an entire sport,” he said.

A spokesman for HBO, which televised the event, was extremely angry after the fight.

“This sport is sick and it needs to get well,” said Lou Di Bella, the senior vice president of programing.

Marc Ratner of the Nevada Athletic Commission said he was “stunned.”

“I never dreamed this would happen,” he said. “I’ve had my share of bazaar things this year.”

On Friday, a law was passed in Nevada that empowers the commission to withhold a boxer’s entire purse. The money would go into Nevada’s general fund.

“This is a different ball game (from Tyson),” Ghanem said. “The commission will have to decide what to do. … We have quite a few questions (for Akinwande).”


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