Lewis & Maloney – From Peckham to Las Vegas
WHEN Kellie Maloney, the boxing promoter and manager, was known as Frank Maloney, the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas was one of her playgrounds. The exotic jungle splendour of the hotel, once an isolated building way down the Strip, was a long, long way from the Trinity Club in Albany Road, an outpost in a part of South London that no guide book will ever mention. Somewhere between fight nights in the Trinity club and fight nights at the Mandalay Bay, Maloney became a very powerful player in our business. It all happened somewhere between giving Fred Rix, the coach at Sir Philip Game ABC, a tenner for novice heavyweight Frank Bruno’s fight, and sitting on a top table to discuss Lennox Lewis getting millions of dollars to box the ears off David Tua. And he did, by the way.
Bruno beat Hughroy Currie on that night at the Trinity and the cash was for “expenses”. And, by the way, a tenner was not bad in 1979 for an eight-mile journey from Croydon. Rix was a top coach, a big part of a great club in the Seventies and Eighties.
Maloney was a big part of the Lewis win in 2000; the win halted the production of a million TuaMan action figures. I kid you not, Dan Goossen had shown me the prototype – a topless man with a shock of hair and gloves that could be put on and taken off – a day or two before the fight. Dan was ready to launch the moment Tua knocked out Lewis.
Anyway, I was witness to both monumental Maloney moments, separated by over 20 years, an ocean, a lifetime of change, a few million quid and a head swirling – we now know – with confusion. Maloney handled the boxing stuff, the easy stuff in his life, in his own way; the personal stuff took a bit longer before he made the brave move in the summer of 2014.
Maloney was not part of the Lennox Lewis revenge mission back at the Mandalay Bay in November 2001; Maloney and Lewis had split officially just a few weeks earlier. Maloney had found out he was no longer part of the team, which he built from scratch, when he was roller-blading in Venice Beach, California. They had been together 12 years and for 41 fights. Maloney had rejected an offer to stay, calling it a ‘slave contract’ and that was it, he bladed off into the sunset, into a new life.
Lewis knocked out Hasim Rahman at the Mandalay Bay that November to regain his heavyweight title and dignity and pride. I still think it is a pity that Maloney and his suit were missing from the landscape in the ring that night. There were so many familiar faces, but not Maloney.
The months and weeks before the Rahman and Lewis rematch had been simply fantastic. It had it all.
Don King had secured Rahman’s services with a cash bag of 200,000 dollars; a down payment on a promise of 20 million dollars. It was pure King. A week before the fight, King was in agony when turbulence on his flight as it landed in Las Vegas, dislodged some old shotgun pellets, which had been in his neck since a shooting incident in 1959. That’s a good start to any fight week.
Rahman and Lewis had scuffled during a television show, ruining the set and causing panic. “I was glad to see that happen,” said Manny Steward, the man behind the Lewis we know and remember. “I like a bit of tension in my fighters.” He got his wish. Their on-set fight erupts after a playground slur and it is vicious.
“Lennox knows that all of his accomplishments will pretty much be forgotten if he loses to Rahman again. His legacy hinges on what he does in this fight,” continued Steward. He was delivering some brutal truths and we loved every word of it. Lennox had threatened to retire if he lost and that type of finality was the ideal backdrop. And, great copy.
On the ground, deep in the lush, fake tropical paradise of Mandalay Bay, there was an old-fashioned split in the press room. Was it the end of a long and glittering career for Lewis? Could Rahman do it all again? By about the Thursday of fight week, it was obvious that Rahman was not really present, his face and eyes were vacant and he acted confused. He was walking the gambling terraces at all hours, slipping between belly laughs and silence. He was finished, trust me.
“I don’t feel like the champion,” Rahman admitted one afternoon, just a day or two before the first bell. He was talking to a tiny group of us; it was informal, disturbing and clearly truthful. Lennox, meanwhile, was aggressive and professional all week and warned, “Having the crown doesn’t make him a king.” Lewis was burning with a desire to avenge the loss in Africa.
What more do you want from a massive Las Vegas rematch?
Lewis only had two more fights and was gone 18-months later after beating Mike Tyson and Vitali Klitschko. His legacy secured with the win in Las Vegas over Rahman.
Rahman’s next and last 24 fights are hard to summarise. He lost and won and had world title fights and eliminators with Evander Holyfield, Wladimir Klitschko, John Ruiz, James Toney, Alexander Povetkin, Oleg Maskaev and Tua. He finally walked away in 2014.
Maloney is still on the edges, tending the animals at his small holding in Portugal and, technically, still somewhere between Peckham and Las Vegas.
There is always far more behind any fight anniversary in our game than a simple date; there is always more behind a split than we will ever know. We have so few of the real facts, hardly any of the truth. And, hopefully somewhere Kellie Maloney was watching as Lewis got revenge. Maloney must have celebrated that. I hope so, we did.