March 30, 2000
For several years Heavyweight Champion Lennox Lewis bellowed to unify
the three major (I know it doesn't sound right) titles. Although he finally
unified the titles this past November, Lewis may no longer reign as the
undisputed heavyweight champion if a federal court decides to strip him of
at least one of his three belts. Whether he knows his role as the
undisputed champion or not, someone should tell poor Lennox that he must
obey the rules of the governing bodies if he wants to remain as such.
Over the past couple of weeks, attorney's representing a slew of top
heavyweights argued their case for the right to fight for the titles. The
WBA's number one contender, who happens to be Johnny Ruiz of Chelsea, MA was
to challenge for the heavyweight title within six months after the date
Lewis won that version as well as the IBF title from Evander Holyfield on
November 13th. Unfortunately for Ruiz, he wasn't able to secure a match
with Lewis since Henry Akinwande was the WBA's mandatory. Lewis, who had
already defeated Akinwande in 1997 and opted for Michael Grant, another
opponent who Ruiz' management targeted.
"None of this bulls**t ever would have happened had Grant fought
Johnny," said Norman Stone, the manager for Ruiz.
Prior to Grant's late round stoppage of Andrew Golota, Ruiz' management
begged for the opportunity to fight Grant assuming that he was victorious
over Golota. The effort to make such a match was to not only earn Ruiz
sizable payday, but also to eliminate the talk of him not being a deserving
"You'd think that (David) Tua would have wanted to fight us so that he
could step ahead of us for a title shot, but he turned us down," said Stone.
"We've tried to get Tua, Grant, none of 'em wanted any piece of John."
Apparently, neither does Lennox Lewis. After Golota quit in his fight
with Grant, Lewis saw an opportunity to eliminate Grant as a threat before
he became more seasoned. Up until Golota's shocking submission, Grant
needed a win inside the distance. As a result, Ruiz who at the time was
only the WBC's number one contender would be left without an opponent to
prove his status to his critics.
On June 3rd that won't be the case
when Ruiz squares off with Evander Holyfield, the triple
crowned heavyweight champion who has previously benefited from
the same strategy as Ruiz. During 1989 while crusading for the
first of his three titles, "The Real Deal" decided to
eliminate the contenders who Mike Tyson's management was
considering for title challengers. In doing so, Holyfield
wiped out Michael Dokes, who was then rated 3rd by the WBA,
Adilson Rodriguez who was then rated 2nd by the WBC
and Alex Stewart who was then rated 2nd by the WBA. Holyfield nearly
cleaned out the heavyweight division before eventually removing Buster
Douglas from the throne in late 1990.
Though Holyfield recently lost to Lennox Lewis in his attempt to unify
the titles, he is returning to his contender mentality by fighting Ruiz in
hopes of securing another crack at Lewis or whoever possesses the
championship belts. Due to Akinwande's two-year battle with hepatitis B,
the WBA moved Ruiz to the number one slot making him the mandatory
challenger. With Holyfield ranked second, the winner of their June 3rd bout
will either determine the new WBA champion or the next challenger for the
Ruiz 28, is the first number one contender from Massachusetts since
Rocky Marciano earned that distinction in late 1951. Marciano was also 28
years old when he became the division's number one contender by defeating
the legendary Joe Louis. Coincidentally enough, like Louis, Holyfield will
be a ring-worn 37 when he steps in with the "Quiet Man." The main
difference between the two match-ups is that the Marciano-Louis bout wasn't
for a vacant title.
"We can't just sit around and wait for Lewis to fight us," said Stone.
"He won't fight Johnny because he knows he'll lose and he won't get the
Tyson fight that he's waiting around for."
Ruiz, who was promoted by Panos Eliades, Lewis' promoter, had previously
spent time with the champion while the champion was preparing for a fight.
"Whenever the British press came to see Lewis spar, Lewis would never
get in the ring with (Ruiz)," recalls Stone. " Johnny made him look so bad
they kicked him out of camp. If Lewis wasn't scared of (Ruiz), then why
didn't he make a stink about having to fight (Zeljko) Mavrovic?"
Who knows? It must not have anything to do with wanting to be the
undisputed champion. Months after Mike Tyson knocked out Frank Bruno for
the WBC title in 1996, Lennox Lewis, the number one contender at the time
was offered $4 million to allow Tyson to fight with then WBA champion Bruce
Seldon. Now instead of dishing out "step aside money," Lewis is willing to
allow two combatants fight for one of the titles he so wanted to