LAS VEGAS -- It's time to put the World Boxing Council heavyweight title belt back where it belongs -- in a garbage can.
The WBC's heavyweight champion, as nice as he may be and as much undeveloped talent as he may have, has no more right to hold that title than a kid out of the Golden Gloves. Off his performance against Tony Tucker last Saturday night, Lennox Lewis is what Pete Rademacher would have been if Floyd Patterson hadn't gotten up off the canvas -- an amateur impersonating the heavyweight champion of the world.
If you are Rock Newman, manager of Riddick Bowe, you step up right now and say, forget the Jesse Ferguson fight. Bring on Lennox. You don't make excuses about Bowe's rib or his wrist or his bunions. You lay it right out: For the good of boxing, we've decided to pay Jesse Ferguson a suitable amount of money to step aside so we can go right into the fight the public wants to see.
Because if Lewis -- or Bowe, for that matter -- gives any more performances like this, no one will want to see them fight each other. Lewis got the title without fighting for it and defended it in much the same fashion. He showed glaringly amateurish flaws that were missed, or ignored, in his spectacular KO of Razor Ruddock last October. He hit Tucker with the same shots and Tucker, a former drug abuser, just grunted and came back for more. To his credit, Tucker gave all he had, which wasn't much. But Lewis must have more than he showed, or we've all been fooled again.
"He's just a baby," said his trainer, Pepe Correa, when Lewis' shortcomings were pointed out after the fight. That is exactly the point. Being heavyweight champion of the world is a man's job. Through the miscalculations of promoter Don King, who overbid for the fight using Showtime's and Steve Wynn's money, Lewis got paid $9.1 million for Saturday night. He is boxing's answer to the millionaire utility infielder.
Lewis has a good jab, but doesn't use it. He has a long reach, but prefers to punch from out of range, to lunge and leave himself wide open, and to drop his hands and thrust his head forward. Any fighter with reflexes left would have slapped him back to Kitchener, Ontario.
And when he throws his best punch, the unorthodox overhand right that knocked out Ruddock, he telegraphs it by raising his right fist above his head like a schoolboy asking to go to the W.C. At other times, he poses in Kung Fu style, like a character who has seen too many Bruce Lee movies.
Incredibly, in terms of polish, Lewis may be the most amateurish heavyweight champion since Primo Carnera. Even during the Don King Death March of the late '70s and early '80s -- that procession of fractional champions Mike Weaver-Michael Dokes-Gerrie Coetzee-Greg Page-Pinklon Thomas-Trevor Berbick-Tony Tubbs-Tim Witherspoon-Bonecrusher Smith-and-back-to-Witherspoon -- all were finished professional boxers. Lewis is the first champ to be getting on-the-job training.
Lewis did drop Tucker, something Mike Tyson couldn't do, in the third and ninth rounds, but couldn't finish him. Worse than that, by the end of the ninth round the 34-year-old Tucker had taken control and Lewis took the rest of the night off. On my card, I gave Tucker the last three rounds because Lewis simply stopped fighting.
"I didn't want to punch myself out," Lewis said. "I used the art of boxing. I guess I should have finished him."
At least that would have saved him the indignity of being booed and whistled at in the final round, when he chose to sit on his lead, dancing out of punching range as Tucker, his legs gone, gave futile chase.
Can you imagine Bowe not trying to knock out an opponent in the final round? Or the last three rounds? Bowe nearly was gone at the end of the 10th round of his fight with Evander Holyfield but came back to have his best round in the 11th, decking Holyfield. That is how you close a show, not with prancing and posing and showboating a la Sugar Ray Leonard, another Correa-trained product.
Lewis is teachable and could get better in time. But he also may look at his bank account and decide, no improvement necessary. In that case, he is ripe to be knocked off.
Holyfield outhustles him and -- don't laugh -- George Foreman, Tommy Morrison and Larry Holmes may have a shot against him. Even Oliver "The Atomic Bull" McCall, King's last remaining heavyweight not in prison, can't be counted out. King probably is in the offices of Showtime right now, pleading for another $12 million for the next purse bid.
But before it gets to that point, Newman and Bowe have to act. Ferguson's a nice guy, he's honest, he turned down the alleged bribe from Ray Mercer and all that, but a fight between him and Bowe is unnecessary. Nobody cares. There still is some interest in Lewis-Bowe, if for no other reason than Lewis' stoppage of Bowe in the 1988 Olympics. Few think Lewis is capable of repeating that feat.