Banker’s $100G challenge makes Tyson backer withdraw

Nov 27, 2001 3:33 AM

No matter how impressive Lennox Lewis looked in knocking out Hasim Rahman Nov. 17 at Mandalay Bay, there are people who believe Mike Tyson would destroy Lewis if they were to fight.

One of these people is Jon Saraceno, who happens to write a sports column for USA Today. Shortly after Lewis took out an overmatched Rahman, Saraceno wrote Tyson would beat Lewis if they were to meet as expected in the spring. The headline on Saraceno’s column was Tyson should pulverize Lewis.

Saraceno wrote, “Trust us when Tyson turns out the lights on the British heavyweight next spring, there won’t be a lot of romance preceding it. Tyson will have his way with a very technically flawed fighter then drop him ”” literally.”

One person disagreeing is Lem Banker, a veteran Las Vegas high-roller professional sports bettor. Banker is willing to do something with his opinion. He said he’s willing to bet Saraceno $100,000 that Lewis beats Tyson.

“He opened his mouth now let him put up his money,” Banker said. “This is on the level. I have a cashier’s check right over here if he wants to get involved.”

Banker may have won that much just betting Lewis against Rahman. Lewis opened a 4/1 favorite against Rahman at Mandalay Bay. By fight time, Lewis was down to just a 2½-1 favorite. Banker fired on Lewis four different times as the odds kept getting lower and lower. Banker couldn’t believe he was laying such a short price on what turned out to be an obvious class difference between the boxers.

Saraceno apparently wants no part of Banker’s challenge. He did not respond to an e-mail request seeking his opinion. But just because somebody is willing to bet big bucks and the other person isn’t, doesn’t mean one person is right and the other is wrong. Somebody certainly can have a sharp opinion and not necessarily be a bettor.

But Banker clearly would be getting value if Saraceno accepted the bet. Both Herb Lambeck, a top boxing oddsmaker, and Art Manteris, head of race and sports for Station Casinos and a sharp boxing oddsmaker, too, were asked what they would open a Tyson-Lewis bout.

Each said they would make Lewis a 2-1 favorite. On a pure handicapping line, they would make Lewis about a 3-1 favorite. They would open the line lower, though, in anticipation of the public betting Tyson as an underdog.

“The fight should be higher than that (2-1), but the public will bet Tyson, at least in this country,” Manteris said.

Banker wanted to wager Saraceno not just because he believes he’d have a good bet. He wants to show how sometimes members of the national media can be wrong in their assessments.

“Guys open their mouth they should know what they’re talking about,” Banker said.

For the Lewis-Tyson fight to happen, however, Tyson must defeat Ray Mercer. They are tentatively scheduled to meet Jan. 19.

“I think the key question is can Tyson keep his nose clean for six months or however long it takes,” Manteris said.

That is far from a given. Tyson may be making a mistake even taking the Mercer fight. Banker wouldn’t be shocked if Mercer defeated Tyson.

“He’s liable to get beat by Ray Mercer,” Banker said. “Mercer’s a tough guy. Tyson should pick an easier guy. Mercer can take a punch. It’s liable to be Mercer vs. Lewis.”

However, if it turns out to be Lewis against Tyson, and they fight in Las Vegas, it could turn out to be a record handle for the state.

“It’s possible,” said Nick Bogdanovich, race and sports book director at Mandalay Bay. “It’s the fight everyone’s wanted for the past six-seven years. Lewis, at times, can still look brilliant, and Tyson still is the biggest draw out there even with his problems and inactivity.”