Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson got weighed in separately Thursday for their Saturday night title fight here, as they have done everything separately so far, and that suits the two fighters' camps and all the other interested parties just fine. The first time heavyweight boxing champion Lewis and ex-champ Tyson will actually encounter each other in this week of their long-awaited showdown, will be at approximately 10:15 p.m., Central Standard Time, Saturday night -- when they start flailing away in earnest and one of them first feels the, er, bite of the other's leather. They' won't even do the ceremonial pre-fight touching of gloves, and they will have already received their instructions from the referee separately -- each fighter in his own dressing room at The Pyramid, the ten-year-old facility which is doomed to be replaced as the prime local sports arena by the new one about to be created expressly for the city's newly acquired NBA Grizzlies. No one responsible for this second-chance Bout of the Century (alternately -- depending on which flack or writer is doing the describing - "of the Millennium") is taking his chances in this second-chance venue -- not after the riot that broke out in January at the New York press conference that was supposed to be announcing the fight in one of the familiar Las Vegas watering holes. On the heels of that debacle, in which the two fighters and their handlers became involved in a brawl and Tyson allegedly sank his infamously errant teeth into Lewis' leg, Nevada canceled out of the fight, and the other two major boxing states, New York and California, refused to license it. Memphis, which, as HBO analyst Larry Merchant sees it, went after the fight "the way it would go after a new automobile plant," won out for the rights when even the District of Columbia, where pro-Tyson sentiment is strong, could not or would not put the right deal together. Merchant stood back shaking his head after Tyson's 3 o'clock weigh-in, which the former champ, whom Merchant sees as a "psycopath," had played to the crowd, flexing his muscles and generating by his mere presence the kind of whoops from the attendees that Lewis, whose weigh-in three hours earlier had been a brief and quiet affair by contrast, could never have hoped to generate. "Boxing will lose if Tyson wins," pronounced Merchant, whose HBO network is collaborating with Showtime in producing the pay-per-view version of the fight. "He's convincing people that you don't have the obey the rules, that boxing has no rules. And it does!" As Merchant expounded on that theme (a somewhat self-serving one in that Lewis is contractually bound to HBO, just as Tyson has been to arch-rival Showtime), he referenced as cases in point such boxing misadventures as the notorious ear-biting incident in Tyson's second loss to Evander Holyfield, and his evident attempts to break the arm of another opponent, South African heavyweight Frans Botha, as well as the disturbance caused in the hosting Vegas casino by Tyson backers after the earbite fight with Holyfield. All of that is on the record, and a scenario of Good vs. Evil, with the dull-normal Lewis playing the good guy and a maniacally grinning Tyson portraying the villain, is just as clearly a part of the buildup to this fight as it is in most World Wrestling Federation ventures. Yet there is another sense to the notion that Tyson is breaking the rules. Outside the Convention Center where the weigh-ins were taking place Wednesday were Lesbian activists holding signs which read, "THANKS MIKE FOR SAYING BEING GAY IS OK." This was in the wake of Iron Mike's leaving the Cordova gym where he works out the other day and making a point of embracing gay demonstrator Jim Maynard, whose sign had been protesting what he then presumed to be Tyson's homophobia. In random remarks caught by reporters or TV crews Tyson has been at some pains to sound agreeable and professing himself more at peace with himself than ever before - though many of the monologue snatches captured on videotape have still needed to be bleeped a little before being played on the local air. There were no few defenders of Tyson among the journalists inside the Convention Center - people ike Tony Datcher of BOSS Magazine , an inner-city magazine published in Washington, D.C. Datcher, who had been among those cheering the challenger, defended Tyson as "the people's champ, who comes from the grass roots. The streets. You know? He's no worse than Elvis, who got his cousin pregnant and married her at 14. He's not perfect." That this account scrambled the histories of two local music avatars, Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, didn't matter so much as the proletarian sympathies it bespoke. For better or for worse, the two fighters were certainly leaving different imprints on the event and on the consciousness of those checking it out.. Both fighters are domiciling in Memphis and working out here, as well. But each has allowed a different establishment in the nearby casino town of Tunica, Mississippi, to claim itself as the fighter's "official" headquarters. In practice, this has meant that each of the two pugilists held a press conference-cum-workout this week at the place in question. Tyson's Tunica media op, - at Fitzgerald's on Tuesday - eschewed elegance and featured a savagely brief speed-bag session involving Tyson, followed by profanity-laced tirades directed at Lewis and his posterity by Iron Mike's handlers - one of whom, unofficially, was "Panama" Lewis, banned from the sport for life for doctoring one of his pugilist's gloves so as to permanently maim an opponent. By contrast, the fastidious Lewis, who upon his arrival in Memphis last week was the subject of a motorcade parade through Beale Street and proclaimed aloud (despite later confessed misgivings about the humidity) "I Love Memphis," spoke to reporters at length at his media-op at Sam's Town, across the lot from Fitzgerald's, then played ten minutes of chess with a local high school student before gallantly conceding. He finished by climbing into a ring and going through an extended workout routine, showing off his fast combinations and hip-hop footwork to an amplified reggae soundtrack. At one point, trainer Emmanuel Steward seemed to tip a bit of his fight plan when he affected a head-on bobbing and weaving style like Tyson and kept coaxing an obliging Lewis to attack his ribs. Whatever its dimensions as a morality play, the Big Fight represents the potential coming of age for Memphis. The city is on something of a roll, sportswise, having not only having coaxed the Grizzlies away from Vancouver last season but attracted as team president and brand-new resident the NBA legend Jerry West, ex-of the LA Lakers as player and official. Larry Merchant probably has it right. Tyson-Lewis may have been unacceptable to most places on the established landscape of professional boxing, but it is pure opportunity for an up-by-the-bootstraps place like our own. At the head of the effort to land the fight was Memphis' African-American mayor of the last decade, Willie Herenton, a polished former schools superintendent who went after the fight once it got chased out of Vegas (abetted by such durable local figures as pol Joe Cooper, who kept on being an unofficial spokesman for efforts even after seasoned promoters had cut him out of the action). His Honor will no doubt find in the consummation of his efforts Saturday night personal as well as civic satisfaction. At 6' 5", which would put him eye-to-eye with Lewis, the lanky 60-year-old Herenton is a former amateur boxing champion who has always believed he got sidetracked from his real destiny - which was to be a pro champion himself, a headliner.. "I never got beat once I got my growth," says Herenton. He's got two champions on his hands right now, and one of them, depending on how things get resolved Saturday night, may end up a champion for the ages. The loser may be compelled -- WWF-style -- to slink out of town. And out of boxing. A lot of people will be watching, both at home, via pay-per-view and in The Pyramid - at ticket prices which, to start with, ranged from $500 to $2400 but have been dropping at the street level as advance scalpers got stuck with too much inventory. Meanwhile, the world won't come to an end no matter what happens -- not even the boxing world. As even Larry Merchant reluctantly concedes, "A big fight is good for boxing. Even if it's boring." Nobody imagines that this one will be. One of the host of boxing characters who have descended on Memphis in this last week is a man named Steve Fitch, a.k.a. "The Motivator," a member of Tyson's entourage who seems to play the same exhortatory role with Iron Mike that Drew "Bundini"Brown used to with Muhammad Ali. All week the Motivator has been going around doing general trash talk and loudly counting down the days to the fight. "Four days and a wake-up call," he said on Tuesday, and he's kept up the refrain all week, dropping the number a notch on each succeeding day. After Tyson's weigh-in Thursday, which was two days and some-odd hours away from the promised wake-up call, he discovered HBO's Merchant holding forth about the ill fate awaiting the boxing world if his man, Iron Mike, should win. "Remember that man right there when you become champ of the world," Fitch said to his two-year-old Malik, whom he's been hoisting about on his shoulder, sometimes prompting him, parrot-like, to repeat the "wake-up call" line. "As long as you're a winner, he likes you," said the Motivator to his child... "But when you lose he don't like you no more. Remember that guy right there." Merchant shook his head. "When you lose I'm going to say you lost. I'm not going to say you won." Then the Motivator began to dip back into some incident from their shared past.when, as he reminded Merchant, he was in the camp of another boxer, Lonnie Smith. "Remember it was dark one night in Santa Monica. It was a long time agoÉ." Whatever this was about, Merchant interrupted it with a quick, dismissive "All right" and waved Fitch off. "See you fight night," said the Motivator, evenly, and he and Malik took their leave.

They like Mike.

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