Until now Lewis has been a difficult and largely unpromotable fighter. In that respect this bout was no different from the rest. It wasn't just Lewis, though. Either nobody was taking Grant seriously or everybody had given up on heavyweight boxing altogether, because the event was virtually buzz-free. Not even in New York, at the supposed mecca, could these two guys create any prefight commotion. The promoters plugged tirelessly, but nobody could produce a storyline more dramatic than...two really big kids in the same ring, same time.
One problem is that the heavyweight tide historically belongs to the baddest man on the planet, and neither Lewis nor Grant is, according to our recent tastes, particularly bad. Lewis is discreet to a fault (his handlers sometimes surprise him by bursting into his bedroom, where he's sitting in the dark, just thinking), and his flamboyance is limited to his penchant for chess. Grant, who looks bookish in his tiny eyeglasses, actually is bookish. He was reading something on Mark Twain right up to fight time. Worse, he likes to noodle on the piano. Maybe some jazz, but mostly gospel tunes. He is an actual choirboy.
In addition there was the problem of Grant's boxing pedigree. Lewis has few fans on this side of the Atlantic, but at least he had the regard of enthusiasts who had seen him in seven title fights. He is cautious, yes, but extraordinarily able. Grant, on the other hand, has the look of a contender who's been well-handled, steered into this $4 million jackpot by promoters and broadcasters. Fight folk are always skeptical of athletes turned boxers. Grant was an all-sports whiz who played football and basketball during his juco and college career and had an invite from the Kansas City Royals. He turned pro only in 1994, at age 21. He may be ambitious, and he may be a fast learner, but going into the Lewis fight, he had a r�sum� that was pretty thin.
In particular there was that troubling bout last year with Andrew Golota, in which Grant's flaws (he holds his hands low, for one thing) were nearly fatal. Knocked down and losing, he showed guts by finally stopping Golota, but...he had been knocked down and had been losing.
Supposedly his most glaring flaw had been overcome in training; Don Turner added a round every time his prot�g� dropped his mitts too low. This news didn't reassure the public, and it didn't frighten Lewis. He noted that Turner, who had been in the opposing comer for his fights against Henry Akinwande and Holyfield, was not the guy to figure him out. "This man's a three-time loser," said Lewis, laughing. "To me, it's three strikes and you're out."
Turner deflected this criticism by saying, "I've got a different guy this time." Then it occurred to him to find a precedent for redemption. He observed that Ray Arcel was known as the Undertaker, so often did he retrieve bodies from under Joe Louis's feet, until he finally got the best of the great man with Ezzard Charles—on about his 45th try. Maybe that's what Turner has to look forward to.
Oddly, except for Turner, the only person to give Grant hope was Steward, Lewis's guy. Was he trying to sell tickets, or what? The week of the fight Steward was saying that Turner's talk (which Steward had always characterized as high-strung babble) "has got me afraid. In Michael Grant he's got the perfect package."
Steward, behind Lewis for the two Holyfield fights, said he never had a worry going into those bouts. Holyfield would fight only to survive. But Grant might force the action and produce a risky slugfest. Looking back, you wonder if Steward hadn't been licking his chops when he issued the warning, "You never know which Michael Grant is going to show up. Then again, you don't know which Lennox Lewis will show up either."
Lewis certainly seemed the more confident fighter, as he ought to have been. He shrugged off the WBA's decision to rescind its title because Lewis was not fighting the top-ranked, but even less qualified, John Ruiz ("Johnny Louise," Lewis kept saying). And Lewis rightfully mocked Holyfield for seizing the opportunity to fight an elimination bout and regain one of the three crowns at the back door.
Then Grant tried to assert his personality, saying he might not fight because the gloves Lewis was insisting upon would not fit his enormous hands. Lewis challenged him at a press conference to measure one of those hands against his own. Surprisingly, Grant did as he was told, and the two pressed palms. "The same," said Lewis, disgustedly.