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The Only Inches He Has Put On Are Around His Middle

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lennox Lewis weighed in at 251 pounds for tonight’s fight against Oliver McCall at the Las Vegas Hilton for the vacant World Boxing Council heavyweight title. That’s 13 pounds more than Lewis weighed nearly 2 1/2 years ago when McCall shocked him with a second-round knockout.

Is that weight gain a problem?

No, says Lewis’ trainer, Emanuel Steward, because Lewis has grown half an inch to an inch and now stands at 6 feet 6.

At 31, Lewis has resumed growing, according to Steward.

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“People think I’m crazy when I say that, but he has,” Steward insisted.

Lewis may not be the greatest fighter, pound for pound, in the world, but he may be the best inch for inch. Fighters move up to new weight divisions all the time, but Lewis apparently has moved up to a new height division.

Which could confuse the 6-2 1/2, 237-pound McCall.

If he tries to throw the same punch that knocked out Lewis in their previous meeting, he might find that Lewis’ chin is no longer there. It’s higher.

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The punch that McCall threw in their first meeting was certainly no laughing matter. A sudden, shocking, powerful blow, it left its mark on both Lewis’ face and his previously unblemished record.

He landed it in a WBC heavyweight title fight at London’s Wembley Stadium in September 1994.

Lewis entered the ring that night as the pride of the British Empire. He had beaten Donovan Ruddock two years earlier to win the WBC crown, giving England its first heavyweight champion of any sort in 105 years, since Bob Fitzsimmons beat James J. Corbett.

Lewis was 25-0 with 21 knockouts and confident oddsmakers had made him a 5-1 favorite.

But none of that mattered when McCall caught him with a left hook and followed up with the devastating overhand right that sent Lewis crashing to the canvas. He stumbled to his feet but could not go on.

Tonight in the rematch, Lewis is again the heavy favorite, this time by a 4-1 margin, and that’s understandable for three reasons:

--Ability: Lewis is the better boxer. He has superior hand speed, more ring skills and has generally fought better opponents.

--Performance: Lewis (29-1, 24 knockouts) had a better record before he fought McCall and has not lost since, beating Lionel Butler, Justin Fortune, Tommy Morrison in his last bout before he learned he was HIV positive, and Ray Mercer. Lewis went the distance against Mercer, but had recorded knockouts in his six previous victories.

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On the other hand, McCall (28-6, 20 knockouts) struggled to beat 45-year-old Larry Holmes in his first title defense after beating Lewis, then lost his crown on a decision to Frank Bruno, who had lost on an eighth-round TKO when he fought Lewis in 1993.

--Lifestyle: McCall’s life outside the ring in recent months has been far more dangerous and destructive than anything he’s encountered in the ring.

In December, McCall was arrested in Nashville for throwing a Christmas tree in a hotel lobby, throwing a glass and an ashtray in a bar, spitting on a police car, using abusive language and resisting arrest.

And that arrest was just the latest entry on a rap sheet that included several drug offenses. McCall has been in rehabilitation and arrived in Las Vegas with a drug counselor and a Bible.

Still, for all his advantages, Lewis will enter the ring tonight under the cloud of that punch.

“You always have a mental thing after something like that,” Steward said. “The first six minutes will be really important.”

Lewis insists he’s not worried.

“I don’t think lightning will strike twice,” he said.

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Besides, that knockout occurred when he was a much shorter man.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

McCall Lewis

Fight Facts

* SITE: Las Vegas Hilton

* TIME: About 7:15 p.m.

* TV: HBO

* CARD: Lennox Lewis (29-1, 24 knockouts) vs. Oliver McCall (28-6, 20 knockouts) for vacant WBC heavyweight title.


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