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Bluff City Brawl

Tyson vs. Lewis could be a fight for the ages. Or not.

By James P. Hill

PHOTO BY JAMES P. HILL
Lennox Lewis waves to the crowd in Memphis.
It's just a few days before Memphis plays host to the big fight, and fans are eager to get the Rumble on the River under way. But the debate about this fight's place in history continues. Where will this bout rank against the great matches of all time? Think of Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns vs. Hagler, Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier in the Thriller in Manila, or Ali vs. George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire.

This week, the world's eyes are on Memphis, where The Pyramid could be the home of the next great fight. And everybody's debating this fight's legacy and predicting its outcome.

"It's gonna be hard to beat Ali vs. Frazier," said Emanuel Steward, the trainer for Team Lewis. "But it has the potential, because there are two things that make great fights emotions and dislike for each other and both [fighters] have that."

Eight days before the fight, Beale Street was lined with people as far as the eye could see. The sight of Lennox Lewis gliding down Beale, sitting on top of a Hummer and pounding his fist, will long be a vivid memory for those who were there. The parade culminated with Lewis addressing the crowd from the W.C. Handy Park stage.

"This is the last time you're gonna see me live," he said. "The next part of the week I want to be focused on the hand, the head what I'm gonna do to Mike Tyson. Tyson's gonna get knocked out."

As three-time heavyweight champion Lewis and former undisputed champion Tyson worked toward being the boxer who will leave Memphis with the crown and millions of dollars, others discussed the potential revenue that might be brought into the Memphis market as a result of the megafight. "This will be the highest-grossing fight in the history of prize fighting," said Mayor Willie W. Herenton. "I've heard the Convention and Visitors Bureau suggest that this has about a $50 million economic impact. I don't know if that number is real, but if they feel it's $50 million, I'll say it's comfortably $25 million in impact."

Steward feels The Pyramid may actually be a better venue than a casino in Las Vegas for this fight. "It's always good to fight in a city where no one is used to having fights. People appreciate it more than in Las Vegas," he said. "You got the whole city coming out to host the fight and not just a casino, so I think it's gonna be a very good turnout, and as a result, the fighters are gonna fight a little bit better than they would in Las Vegas."

But boxing history is filled with fights that didn't end as expected. In 1990 in Tokyo, Tyson was knocked out, losing his title to James "Buster" Douglas, an unknown 42-1 underdog. Then there was Tyson vs. Holyfield II, the 1997 bout marred by head butts and the infamous ear-biting incident. Tyson vs. Lewis has all the ingredients to become a fight for the ages, which is what the sports world is thirsting for.

"This is about fighting," said Steward. "It's two guys who have been close to fighting each other for many years. I think it's gonna be an outpouring of emotions. The fight won't go but five rounds, and Lennox Lewis will knock him out."

Bold words, but if boxing history has taught us anything, it's to expect just that anything.


Gender Roles

Why Memphis ranks when it comes to women in sports.

By Ron Martin

Mary Caroline Evangelisti became a citizen of Memphis at 12:05 a.m. on May 27, 2002. While her mother Tammy was preparing to deliver her, Mary Caroline's dad paced, watched some baseball, a little of the Indy 500, and the Memorial Golf Tournament, all the while soliciting opinions as to who the Grizzlies might pick in the draft and, of course, the obvious question: What about the Tigers?

Mary Caroline was born into a sports family. Her parents are University of Memphis season-ticket-holders and regulars at Redbirds and Grizzlies games. Michael is a past race director of the Field of Dreams 5K run.

Seeing Mary Caroline moments after her birth, I couldn't help but think there is a good chance of Mary Caroline developing more than a passing interest in sports. But was she born in the right city if she wants to cash in on that interest in, say, 18 or 20 years?

"Yes" is the answer from the president of the Memphis and Shelby County Sports Authority, Tiffany Brown. "Memphis is probably one of the most diversified sports cities in America in regard to gender," she said.

"Diversified" is not one of the first words Memphians think of when they think of their hometown. Consider this, though: The president of the Redbirds is Rita Sparks; Gayle Rose was instrumental in luring the NBA to Memphis; and the president of the 2002 AXA Liberty Bowl is Judy Stanley all good examples of how far Memphis women have come in the world of Memphis sports.

"I attended my first Liberty Bowl board meeting 18 years ago," said Stanley. "I got some pretty hard stares from the 65 men there, but I was invited to join, and since then, no one has treated me any differently than anyone else."

Sports have empowered Memphis women like Stanley and Brown. "It means you don't have to take a clerical job, if you're a woman," said Stanley. "Women have proven that they are can-do people."

Brown, who came to Memphis two years ago, said women such as Lynn Parkes, associate athletic director at the University of Memphis, helped pave the way for Memphis women. "Getting past the gender issue became easier because she showed how detail-oriented women are," said Brown, adding that she never felt being a woman was an issue when she interviewed for her current job. And she couldn't help but notice that she wasn't the only woman in the room when it came time to negotiate with the NBA and the Grizzlies. "It was pretty neat," said Brown. "It was a great time to be a woman."

When Mary Caroline grows up, will she be able to dream of becoming the athletic director at the University of Memphis or president of basketball operations for the Memphis Grizzlies? Brown thinks so. "Sports is creating new opportunities for young women," she said. "There is no limit for aspiring girls today." Brown adds, laughing, "Men are just going to have to try harder."

Flyers The SEC meetings produced a lengthy discussion regarding the proposal banning basketball freshmen and sophomores from entering the NBA draft. The only voice of semidissension came from Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, who was concerned about restricting the ability of a financially needy player to provide for his family.

Rambings The sudden non-sellout of the Lewis-Tyson fight has media around the country suggesting that the lack of local attractions kept ticket-buyers home. Memphis loses round one in the public-relations fight.

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