PALMER PARK -- For the past month, England's Lennox Lewis, who owns one-third of the heavyweight crown, has been training in proximity to Riddick Bowe, the widely recognized champion from Fort Washington.
"I'm taking over Riddick's turf," laughed Lewis, the World Boxing Council champion who concluded his final workout at Sugar Ray Leonard's gym before embarking for Cardiff, Wales, last night and his Oct. 2 title date with fellow Briton Frank Bruno.
Asked if he had caught Bowe spying on any of his sparring sessions, Lewis said, "No, I'm certain Riddick hasn't been here. It's easy to spot a 300-pound buffalo."
Lewis was alluding to the weight condition of Bowe, who has a rematch with Evander Holyfield in Las Vegas on Nov. 26 for Bowe's World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation titles.
Heckling and jibes have replaced hooks and jabs while Rock Newman and Frank Maloney, managers of the respective heavyweight champions, continue to wrangle over the size of the purses for the match that would unify the crown.
"It's basically economics and politics," said Lewis. "They claim to have offered us over $10 million, but you can't trust a word Newman says. He's 'Bobo the Clown,' and Riddick is the 'King of Fallacy.' But it's the fight the people want to see, so I'm certain we'll get it on by next year."
Lewis acknowledges that he will not be accepted as the champion until he beats Bowe and/or Mike Tyson, who is incarcerated in Indiana on a rape conviction.
"Fighting Tyson for me would be even bigger than fighting Bowe," he said. "Tyson still has that aura about him."
In the meantime, Lewis keeps busy by besting the likes of Tony Tucker and giving the recycled Bruno a third shot at the title.
After his devastating second-round knockout victory over Razor Ruddock last October gave him instant credibility, Lewis looked lackluster in his victory over Tucker four months ago.
"Lennox was fighting Tucker at only 50 percent," said his trainer, Pepe Correa. "He hurt two knuckles on his right hand in training, but he told me, 'This is my first defense. No one's going to cancel this fight.' And he basically beat Tucker with one hand."
British bookmakers believe it should take little more than that for Lewis to whip Bruno, who was stopped by Tim Witherspoon and Tyson in his previous title bids.
"The incentive for this fight is to see who rules Britain," said Lewis. "I look at myself as being a world champion, and the man in England. I'm what is. Frank is what was."
Still, he respects the power of the hulking Bruno, who has accounted for all but one of his 37 victories by knockouts.
"Bruno even had Tyson in trouble," said Lewis, recalling the 1989 match that lasted five rounds. "But when he hurt him, he didn't know how to react. He was still more worried about Tyson hurting him."
Lewis expects Bruno to try just about anything to spring an upset.
"At times, he can be a dirty fighter," the champ said. "He likes to use his big forearms and rap you in the back of the head. But if he comes to fight me, it will be short and sweet."
Said Correa: "Lennox is only scratching the surface of his potential. He's one of the best defensive heavyweights in a long, long time, like a Jersey Joe Walcott. He's learned to set everything up with the jab. By the time Bowe says he's ready to take him on, Lennox will be a finished product."