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Ten years after Lewis debacle, Grant in mix for another big fight



If you make a living writing Hallmark cards or adult contemporary hits, they're a staple of your business. But if you're an athlete -- particularly a relief pitcher or a goalie -- they're not quite as helpful.

If you're a boxer, it's even less.

Case in point: Michael Grant.

If you're a fan of the sport, chances are your No. 1 memory of Grant involves the stallion-like 27-year-old version looking as if he'd been put down -- literally -- courtesy of a Lennox Lewis barrage in Round 2 of their April 2000 title fight at Madison Square Garden.

It was equally ugly 15 months later, when a lame ankle left him on the short end of a one-round TKO against Jameel McCline at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

To most, in fact, the 15 wins in 16 fights since have been forgettable.

Yet Grant soldiers on, downing the likes of Billy Zumbrun, Kevin Montiy, Demetrice King, Paul Marinaccio and Kevin Burnett in his past five fights and inching closer to the respect that's escaped him since the cataclysms of a decade ago.

Now, at 38, he's getting another shot.

Though considered little more than a familiar name and punching-bag-for-hire for surging Tomasz Adamek's heavyweight resume as the former crusier eyes a title shot, Grant and trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad are singing a cheerier tune as they approach Saturday's match at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

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The event is being billed "The Big Challenge" and a win could earn Grant -- who stands nearly six inches taller and should weigh in at 40 or so pounds heavier -- both the IBF international and WBO/NABO titles. (Ho hum.) More important, it'd go leaps and bounds toward reshaping his career template.

"I only have three losses. Those losses were learning stones for me, stepping stones," Grant said. "It's a great opportunity for me and I'm ready for it. I'm experienced. I've got a hell of a trainer. I'm having a hell of a camp. Everything is lining up.

"This fight is a very important opportunity to me and my family. The only time I've trained harder than this is when I fought Lennox Lewis. So this is how I know that things are lining up for me to be victorious."

OK ... so logic may not be his strong point. But according to Muhammad, dedication isn't a problem.

"Right now, I can put Michael in the top five of his division," he said. "Because of his work ethic and because of what he brings to me in the gym. I am not trying to change his style, all I am doing is adding on to his style. Whatever he brings me, I just take that to another level.

"(People) don't see Michael the way I see Michael. I am working with him every day in the gym. We are working on different things. Michael is the bigger man. He's a harder punching man. He's got the height and reach. He's got the good jab. You know, everybody's gonna see a different, a very different scenario. They're gonna see a more mature Michael Grant."

Now the promotional property of Nick Garone's X-Cel Worldwide Promotions, Grant will also be facing some familiar out-of-the-ring faces from Main Events -- the company that worked with him early in his career and is now promoting Adamek.

"I know Michael. I love him," said Main Events director Kathy Duva. "He used to be our fighter and I have no hard feelings. But obviously now we are on opposite sides and I'll be rooting for my guy when the bell rings."

The X-Cel stable also features former two-time super middleweight title claimant Byron Mitchell and mid-card veterans Dorin Spivey and Meacher Major, as well as rising prospects in welterweight Adrian Mora and 140-pounder Nick Casal.

The marked mix of young and old is both intentional and vital, according to Garone.

"It's different in every case," he said. "Yes, you need young guys because there is a turnover on talent continuously, but there is a catch-22. The older, more experienced and name-recognized guys are sometimes better because you have a built product. If you sign guys that are established you have an instant draw and an opportunity to solicit television, venues, etc.

"Younger guys need to be built into contenders and more often than not it takes a huge commitment with money, time and resources. But don't get me wrong; if someone came along that was a winner you have to take that risk. Guys like Michael Grant and Byron Mitchell have name recognition, so fight fans might want to come out."