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Lewis fights in Tyson’s shadow

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LONDON — In Lennox Lewis' idea of a perfect world, an arena packed with his adoring countrymen would be watching him defend the undisputed heavyweight title Saturday night against Francois Botha.

Oh, and no one would mention Mike Tyson's name.

Unfortunately for Lewis, things aren't so perfect as he takes on Botha in a scheduled 12-round fight that will settle two pieces of the now fractured heavyweight title.

He's no longer the undisputed heavyweight champion, thanks to a court ruling. And the British public is not exactly swarming the ticket windows to pay some heavyweight prices to see their native son in what is likely his last title defense in England.

Then there's Tyson, whose fight in Scotland and subsequent comments about eating Lewis' children only three weeks ago threatened to overshadow what Lewis thought would be a triumphant homecoming.

It's all very irritating for the 34-year-old who most consider the true heavyweight champion, but seems to get less respect in his birthplace than the more affable Frank Bruno.

"I can't wait for this fight to be over with, so I can really answer some good questions about Tyson," Lewis said. "He needs to stop talking about my kids, how he wants to eat me, and let's step into the ring."

Whether Lewis and Tyson ever meet in the ring is as questionable as ever. Lewis has a mandatory IBF title defense against David Tua later this year, and the two heavyweights fight under contract for competing American networks.

Lewis will, at least, fight a man who fought Tyson when he meets Botha at the London Arena to defend the WBC and IBF belts he still holds. The fight will be televised by HBO on a delayed basis (9 p.m. EDT).

"It is kind of distancing in a way because I'm concentrating on Botha but most of my questions are about Tyson," Lewis said. "This is my focus now. First Botha and then we will find out if Mike Tyson is serious in what he is saying."

Lewis, coming off a second round knockout of Michael Grant that cost him the WBA version of the title because he wasn't fighting the top-ranked contender, gets another fringe heavyweight in his defense against Botha.

The South African who now holds U.S. citizenship and is a businessman in Las Vegas is best known for his January 1999 performance against Tyson in which he dominated the former champion before a crashing right hand suddenly ended his night in the fifth round.

"I'm not here to lie down," said Botha, who is ranked ninth by the WBC but unranked by the IBF. "I know that is what they're thinking, but that's not what I'm going to do. I'm here to take the titles away."

Lewis (36-1-1, 28 knockouts) is both heavy and a heavy favorite to retain his titles. He weighed in Thursday at 250 pounds, three pounds more than when he stopped Grant April 29. Lewis was a full stone heavier than Botha, who was 236 7/8.

"The McCall fight is history," said Lewis, who came back to become the undisputed champion when he beat Evander Holyfield last November. 'All I am interested in now is beating Frans Botha."

Lewis has said this will be his last title fight in England, which seems all right to British fans. They have greeted this fight with yawns and less than impressive sales for tickets highly priced at about $125 to $1,250.

That might be because Lewis, though born in England, fought in the Olympics for Canada and spends much of his time in Jamaica. His enigmatic personality has never caught on here and he has trouble selling tickets wherever he goes.

Still, trainer Emanuel Steward believes Lewis will go down in history as one of the best heavyweights of his time and should be given his due.

"The people over here in England should be very proud of Lennox Lewis and for what he has done," Steward said. "If he continues to fight for the next two years he will be respected as one of the greatest heavyweights of all time. He will get the credit later on when he stops boxing."

Botha, who showed against Tyson that he won't be intimidated, doesn't exactly see it that way.

"If I don't knock him out, it's going to be a terrible beating," Botha said. "I know I'm the sacrificial lamb. But I don't have any problems fighting in London, in his hometown. I'm used to being the underdog."

In an odd sidelight to the fight, the referee will be Larry O'Connell, the British judge who scored the first fight between Lewis and Holyfield a draw in a fight most thought Lewis won last year in New York.

"Larry O'Connell is a terrible judge but he may be a good referee," Lewis said. "I'm sure he will do a good job. I'd definitely be worried if he was a judge."