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Is King, King?

BY Rick Folstad ON May 15, 2003
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The "Emperor" of boxing? That's a little over the top even for a dream peddler like Don King.

"Emperor" makes me think of monarchs, thrones, silk pajamas and bowing peasants who just handed over their first-born child for ritual sacrifice.

Emperors usually pass laws, levy taxes and wage wars. They rule countries and have large harems and decide the fates of thousands of people.

The only thing "Emperor" Lennox Lewis rules is the heavyweight division, and even that piece of prime real estate seems to be shrinking by the hour, dropping in value by the minute.

Lewis is scheduled to fight Kirk "Bubba" Johnson on June 21 in Los Angeles, which, in Lewis’ case, is like being scheduled to have your tires rotated. There’s not a lot of risk involved, but it’s going to require some time and Lewis is going to have to be there when the job is done.

This is not to say that Bubba Johnson doesn’t deserve a crack at Lewis and what they’re calling his linear heavyweight title. But if this fight somehow turns into a barnburner, somebody better check the funny-tasting water in Johnson’s corner.

If Lewis wanted to make his final months in the fight game memorable, he should be fighting a guy like Chris Byrd or, ah, let’s see…hmmm. Well, he should be fighting Chris Byrd.

Johnson’s biggest claim to fame is his loss to John Ruiz last July when he was disqualified in their WBA title fight for low blows, for dropping his shoulder and making too many trips south of the border. Let’s just say against Ruiz, Johnson spent more time in Tijuana then he did in San Diego.

It’s not the first time Johnson has strayed too far south. In his first fight with Alfred Cole in 1998, he ended up with a draw after he was penalized three points for repeated low blows. Cole, as you’ll remember, went on to sing lead soprano in the Mother of God First Baptist Church choir in Tacoma, Wash.

Just kidding.

If Johnson’s fight with Ruiz wasn’t his defining moment, maybe it was his fourth-round knockout of big Lou Savarese this past March. Lou ran into one of those barroom punches you don’t see until they show it to you later on tape after you wake up. It’s the kind of punch that always ends a fight before it ever has a chance to get started.

Still, it’s hard to take a guy seriously who goes by the name of Bubba, just like it’s hard to stifle the laughter when the guy he’s fighting likes to be referred to as the "Emperor."

When I think of "Bubba," I think of a fat guy in coveralls chewing Copenhagen and wondering what’s for supper and if there’s going to be enough steak and potatoes for thirds.

There’s a marketing tool here if someone wants to tap into it. Think of it: "Bubba versus the Emperor." Sounds like a country-western song, or the sequel to "Beauty and the Beast."

Asked on a conference call what Johnson has done to earn a shot at the linear championship (that means "the man who beat the man who beat the man") , Lewis said, "Well, he’s been around a long time."

Unfortunately, that’s not a qualification as much as it’s a testimony to Johnson’s age and durability.

Asked if Byrd, the IBF heavyweight champion known for his boxing skills and not his punching power, would have been a better choice, Lewis mentioned that Bubba - who has a knockout punch - would put on a more exciting fight.

Finally, Lewis was asked if he was going to fight more often than once a year, which is how long it’s been since he dismantled Mike Tyson last June.

"When you’re the king, you just take the top fights out there," he said.

I guess that’s how you become emperor.

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