Akinwande is big, but his name isn’t | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Akinwande is big, but his name isn’t

Tim Parsons

Henry Akinwande may not be a household name, but the boxing world knows it well.

Those involved in the sport know Akinwande’s very tall. They know he has a tremendous jab. They know he’s never been beaten.

What they don’t know is how the No. 1 contender will respond after he gets punched from one of the hardest hitters in the heavyweight division. It’s a mystery Akinwande wants to keep unsolved.

“I’ve been hit a couple times, and I have been bruised,” he said. “When a fighter gets hurt, that’s when you can see if a person has guts or not. I don’t want to find out.”

However, with World Boxing Council champion Lennox Lewis waiting to meet him Saturday in a small ring at Caesars Tahoe, Akinwande’s chin and heart should be in for its greatest test.

“We’ll have to see how he reacts when he gets hit,” Lewis said.

It’s not as if Akinwande has compiled a 30-0-1 mark with 19 knockouts against a bunch of tomato cans. He’s knocked out Jimmy Thunder, Jeremy Williams and Alexander Zolkin. And he’s decisioned Axel Schulz and former WBC champ Tony Tucker.

“Akinwande is a guy who may never totally live up to his potential because we don’t have the caliber of fighters (in the heavyweight division) who can push him,” said his trainer Don Turner, who also is the top cornerman for Evander Holyfield, the World Boxing Association champion.

Turner did not include Holyfield in his analysis, refusing to even consider the notion of his two fighters facing each other. But if Akinwande upsets Lewis, it’s a match that would certainly be called for.

Akinwande wouldn’t mind fighting Holyfield.

“I will fight anybody,” the 30-year-old said. “To me the sport is like a game of chess. So if I have to fight my own brother, I will fight my own brother. Fighting is my job.”

Before the 6-foot-7 Akinwande beat people up for a living his sport was soccer. A native of Nigeria and a member of the same tribe as Hakeem Olajuwon, he played the fullback position. He said maneuvering his lanky body across the field was not a problem, but the team concept was. “Some guys don’t do their share,” he said.

When he was 13, Akinwande became inspired when he saw Muhammad Ali fight Joe Frazier on television. “I thought, ‘Man, I want to do this kind of thing.'”

While Ali also had a great jab, the similarities end there.

“Every heavyweight tries to emulate Ali when they start,” he said. “But you find out what is comfortable and you develop your own style.”

Emanuel Steward, Lewis’ trainer, admits Akinwande has a good jab, but said his fighter also has a good jab and can do more things off it.

“A lot of people say (all I have is a jab),” Akinwande said. “I don’t rely on the jab. I work on other things. It’s nice to have the jab, but I have other things.”

The 18-by-18 foot ring could force Akinwande and Lewis to disdain their jabs and mix it up on the inside.

“(The ring) is small, but it doesn’t make any difference,” Akinwande said. “You just need to find a way to find your breathing room, find your own style.”

Although Akinwande’s hometown is listed as Dulwich, England, where he resided eight years, since 1995 he has lived in Tallahassee, Fla. It’s a place he’s anxious to see again.

“I just want to fight and get the fight out of the way and get home. I’ve been on the road for two months.”

Akinwande hopes to be packing along a championship belt.

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