WASHINGTON -- When it was first announced that Andrew Golota would fight Ray Mercer next month, the punchline for their heavyweight match read: "Look Out Below!"
No explanation was necessary. Before Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield's ears, Golota was professional boxing's prized villain, earning that dubious title by biting the neck of Samson Po'uha and twice being disqualified for fouling Riddick Bowe with low blows in their two brawls last year.
The public's perception of the boxer born in Poland has not changed now that a back injury to Mercer has propelled Golota into a title bout with World Boxing Council champion Lennox Lewis on Oct. 4 in Atlantic City.
His reputation as a "dirty fighter" does not sit lightly with Golota, who would have an unblemished record of 30-0 save for his two "DQ's" against the badly battered Bowe.
"This is the toughest thing I have to carry around with me," said Golota, sounding almost remorseful for his past deeds.
"I am not Snow White, but I am also not a 'dirty fighter.' I want to show boxing fans how well I can fight.
"But people have to realize that boxing is a rough business. Everyone fouls. Even Holyfield. He butted Tyson in both their fights. Sometimes, you do things just to survive. But I'm not as bad as Tyson. He spit out his mouthpiece and bit Holyfield on purpose."
Still, no other heavyweight in memory ever qualified for a championship match by being disqualified in his two previous bouts.
"How lucky can we be to get this fight?" said Golota's trainer, Lou Duva, acknowledging that few of the top heavyweights would welcome the sight of seeing the Polish roughneck in the opposite corner.
Of course, it helped that Duva's son, Dino, has promotional rights to both Golota and Lewis, and needed only a week to arrange the match after Mercer fell out. A $7 million guarantee to Lewis for the pay-per-view fight helped speed negotiations.
"I really don't think Golota warranted a championship match coming off the two Bowe matches," said Frank Maloney, Lewis' London-based manager.
"But Lennox is not fearful of Golota. After watching the tapes, I think Golota will be a perfect opponent. It will be like a train wreck. Once he hits Golota on his big chin, it will be like glass shattering."
Said Lewis: "Golota only fouls when he gets tired and desperate. I'm not going to give him that chance. I'll knock him out early."
After Golota's second debacle with Bowe, Lou Duva lamented, "Andrew has all the tools. Why does he have to resort to fouling? He has to decide whether he wants to be a professional fighter or a barroom brawler."
Golota, now living in Chicago, finally seems to be getting the message. "I'm able now to control myself better," he said. "I know that fouling Bowe cost me a chance to win both fights, and the most important thing to me is winning."
Lou Duva and co-trainer Roger Bloodworth have been working on a number of moves to lessen the chances of Golota fouling.
"We've been concentrating on Andrew shortening his punches," Duva said. "In his second fight with Bowe, he knocked him down with a short left hook. It happened so quickly, the referee thought it was a slip.
"It's taken awhile for Andrew to change from his European style. He's improving every day, especially his balance and power.
"He's the most conscientious fighter I've trained, and that includes Holyfield and Pernell Whitaker. He's a proud man and wants to become Poland's first world champion."
Duva believes Golota, who opened as an 8-5 underdog in the Las Vegas betting parlors, will have an easier time against Lewis than had he fought Mercer.
"Mercer keeps coming at you," Duva said. "Lewis is a programmed fighter. I know how [trainer] Emanuel Steward thinks. All Andrew has to do to become the new heavyweight champion is keep his cool."
And not fight like Snow White.
Pub Date: 7/31/97