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Bad Hair Day
Richard Hoffer
November 20, 2000
David Tua's 'do and his power were undone by the withering jabs of Lennox Lewis, who retained his heavyweight titles by decision. So why doesn't the champ get more respect?
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November 20, 2000

Bad Hair Day

David Tua's 'do and his power were undone by the withering jabs of Lennox Lewis, who retained his heavyweight titles by decision. So why doesn't the champ get more respect?

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Lennox Lewis, who likes to brag about his "arsenal," courted disfavor once more by keeping the heavy artillery under wraps. He didn't court defeat, because his rifle jab was more than sufficient to discourage David Tua in their tide fight last Saturday night in Las Vegas. But whenever heavyweights battle—and Lewis knows this by now—cannons are the weapons most popular with fans.

So Lewis heard boos again, even though he continued one of the most distinguished reigns in recent history. His decision over Tua, who was wildly hyped for his Samoan ferocity (or maybe just his Samoan jabber), was so lopsided that even critics of the London-based champion must accept the talent gulf between Lewis and his challengers. Tua's lunging left hook marked him as the most dangerous contender out there, but he did not win a round past the fourth on any of the judges' scorecards.

This is the best the division can do? But the real question—and it has haunted him from the beginning—is, Is this the best Lennox Lewis can do?

The poor guy is so talented, yet so expressionless in the ring, that he's doomed to a legacy of perceived underachievement. He beat Tua in nearly every round, didn't suffer one moment of anxiety, and the only thing people want to know is, Why didn't he knock the guy out? "Why," somebody asked in the postfight press conference, "didn't you use your big right hand?"

The answer is that a thrown right hand increases the thrower's exposure to a left hook, which is about all Tua had to offer. Much wiser to keep Tua, who suffered an enormous 15-inch reach disadvantage, at a distance with the left jab and keep the right hand up in defense. "I didn't want to take a chance," said Lewis.

Unfortunately, this is how most people characterize Lewis's approach to boxing—a cautious and deliberate attack that produces lopsided decisions...and boos. Lewis seemed to be searching for another kind of reputation with recent spectacular knockouts of Michael Grant and Frans Botha. A few more bouts like that and his career might be remembered with more passion. "I'd be up there" with the best of them, he said early last week. Instead, in one of his few pay-per-view fights, he showcased his abilities in a methodical and largely uninspiring manner.

Whether Lewis could have lit the fuse is a matter of speculation. Tua, however vertically challenged he was in a Lewis matchup (he is at least seven inches shorter than the 6'5" champion), is not an easy mark, not for anybody. In 39 fights he has never been knocked down. His physique is more or less that of a bowling ball with a fright wig, and his low center of gravity resists toppling. Plus, as he likes to say, "this coconut hasn't been dented yet." That's Samoan for "I've got a pretty good chin."

Lewis had earlier dismissed his opponent as merely Tua-dimensional, saying, "You have to bring more than power and a hairdo to beat me." Lewis, by contrast, brings that arsenal. Yet on Saturday night he didn't uncork much more than his jab. "I didn't want to let him get that hook off," he said after his 11th title defense and his 38th victory in 40 fights.

If fans were disappointed in Lewis for waging a dull fight, they should be even more disappointed in Tua, who promised he would brave all of Lewis's weapons to get in close and deliver fan-friendly hooks, the kind of crunching blows that remind people that, hey, this is kind of a dangerous sport, isn't it. But Tua, who admittedly ate a lot of jabs, didn't display that sort of recklessness. He fought without urgency, allowing Lewis to set the distance between them (about one nautical mile) and occasionally lunging forward with a useless hook.

This strategy might have been judicious in the early rounds, but later, behind as Tua was, it became boo-worthy itself. The Samoan, no matter how much his corner urged him on, fought the 12th round as if he were ahead on points. Nobody expected him to outclass Lewis, but for $3.5 million he was counted on to court more danger than he seemed willing to.

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