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Tall order for WBC champ

Tim Parsons

The tallest matchup in heavyweight championship history will take place in a smaller-than-usual ring.

Two-time World Boxing Council champion Lennox Lewis, who is 6-foot-5, will defend his title Saturday at the Caesars Tahoe showroom against 6-7 Henry Akinwande.

“The size of the ring doesn’t matter,” Akinwande said of the 18-by-18 foot ring. “Size is a mental thing.”

Nevertheless, it won’t be difficult for the big fighters to find each other.

The sports book at Caesars has taken this into account, predicting the scheduled 12-rounder wouldn’t go past 8 1/2 rounds. Each fighter says he has an 82-inch reach.

It will be the first heavyweight championship held at Lake Tahoe.

Both camps are expecting their man to be the aggressor.

“We think Akinwande will try to win by a decision,” said Lewis’ trainer Emanuel Steward. “He’ll try to use his jab and fight a safety-type fight.”

Akinwande and his trainer were tight-lipped about what type of fight they expected, but the Nigerian native indicated he thought it would be Lewis who would fight cautiously.

“If he is going to try to be the aggressor, then I will adjust my style,” he said.

Lewis, 30-1 with 25 knockouts, has proven himself to be one of the most powerful punchers in the division. However, it was a charging style that led to his only defeat. After three successful title defenses, he was knocked out by Oliver McCall in the second round in September, 1994.

After the loss, he employed Steward and has since won five straight fights, including a victory over McCall on Feb. 7 in his last bout to regain his belt. Steward said he has been trying to bring back Lewis’ aggressive style.

“He was knocked out when he was being aggressive,” Steward said. “That affected his aggressiveness tremendously. … In his last fight he still had problems, but his attitude and confidence level have been way up since this last camp.”

Lewis trained in Big Bear, Calif., which has an altitude of 7,500 feet, for seven weeks before arriving at Stateline last Sunday.

Akinwande trained about the same amount of time at sea level in Houston, then the past two weeks in Carson City and Stateline.

Akinwande’s trainer, Don Turner said although his man is not known as a big puncher, he could score a knockout. “He’s got enough firepower to stand up with this guy,” he said.

Lewis is nearly a 2-1 favorite.

Akinwande is 32-0-1 with 19 knockouts. He avenged the only mark on his record, a draw against Axel Schulz, with a unanimous decision.

A former European heavyweight champion, Akinwande won the World Boxing Organization title by knocking out Jeremy Williams in the third round in June, 1996. He defended his crown with a knockout over Alexander Zolkin and a Jan. 11 decision over Scott Welch.

Akinwande has relinquished his title in hopes of acquiring the more prestigious WBC belt.

Akinwande will earn his biggest paycheck – $1 million – on Saturday. Lewis will get $1.5 million.

The challenger’s best-known weapon is the jab, but Turner says his strength is his speed.

Steward said, “Lewis will neutralize his jab after a few rounds and will wear him down with power and combinations. His experience in big-time fights will be the difference.”

The winner of the fight is expected to next fight Michael Moorer or Holyfield.

If Akinwande wins, it will pose a dilemma for Turner, who also trains Holyfield. Earlier in the week, Turner said, “They are not going to get together.” When asked Thursday if Holyfield and Akinwande would meet, Turner acted annoyed. “Don’t put me on the spot,” he said. “I am going to have two heavyweight champions, period.”

The undercard features an impressive list of up-and-coming fighters who will be heavily favored to win their bouts.

Newly crowned WBC junior lightweight champion Justin Juuko of Uganda (28-1-1, 23 KOs) faces Jorge Lopez of Mexico (17-5-1, 14 KOs). Denmark heavyweight Brian Neilsen (34-0, 23 KOs), who defeated Larry Holmes, is slated to face Mexico’s Marcos Gonzalez (17-10-1, 15 KOs). Cuban defector and Team Freedom member Joel Casamayor (6-0, 5 KOs) will fight Salvador Montes (7-3-2, 4 KOs) of Pomona, Calif. And 1996 U.S. Olympic Team member Fernando Vargas (4-0, 4 KOs) of Oxnard, Calif., will meet Denver’s Eugene Lopez (5-5-1).


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