Holyfield, Sultan Hit NY, Plug Bout

BY Michael Woods ON August 29, 2007
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A bunch of writers were sitting around, shooting the bull, as we waited for Evander Holyfield and Sultan Ibragimov to show up at the Hard Rock Café in New York City on Thursday, noonish. We were talking about this one and that one, and one of the guys asked me if I’d “drunk the Kool Aid” about one individual. Basically, he asked me, was I a convert, did I take this guy at face value?

I know that everyone has an agenda, so I don’t take anyone, myself included, at face value. But I like that Kool Aid/Jim Jones reference, even if you really ponder it, it is sort of ghoulish. (Those under 35 may not recall Jones, the off-his-rocker wannabe deity who dragged a bunch of sad sack followers to Guyana, promised them Utopia, and then encouraged them to off themselves to stick it to the man, via poisoned Kool Aid.)

It got me thinking about that same reference in relation to Evander Holyfield. If you had asked 100 boxing writers clustered around a buffet table, in 2004, whether Evander would ever get another title shot, you’d get 100 derisive snorts in your face before they turned back to the cold cuts.

Holyfield looked statuesque when he faced Larry Donald at MSG in November 2004, and by that I mean he looked as mobile and threatening as a statue.

But it turns out he had a spate of injuries that weren’t healing, and that he wasn’t in fact ready to wait for the Canastota invitation.

He showed the old body, and some of the old footwork, and combos, and snap that he’d impressed us with while he grabbed a title on four occasions from 1990-2000, while rebuilding his reputation against Jeremy Bates, Fres Oquendo, Vinny Maddalone and Lou Savarese in the last year.

And now, on October 13, Holyfield will again get a chance to win a title, his fifth heavyweight strap, when he meets the WBO heavyweight champion, Sultan Ibragimov, in Moscow.

Now, I don’t have the cup to my lips. I’m not prepared to swig a big slug of purple sugar water, and pledge allegiance to the Real Deal. But neither will I scoff at converts who believe the man who will turn 45 six days after he meets Ibragimov at the Khodynka Ice Palace will beat the Russian. And I will put my $35 into the kitty for Warriors and Kathy Duva’s outfits, the promoters who will bring the event to Moscow, and into our living room, because I’m curious.

I’m guessing here, but I do believe the Ibragimov who followed Jeff Mayweather’s directions on how to take way Shannon Briggs’ title from him in June (UD12) will have the same gameplan and result on Oct. 13. Ibragimov, with a 21-0-1 mark, is a lefty who can move better than anyone Holyfield has fought since Donald. His hands are of equal speed, I’d say, though Mayweather thinks they are as quick as any in the division. His accuracy is above average, and he places punches in different spots well enough to annoy the old man, and break him down.

Mayweather spoke at the Hard Rock and admitted that if he wasn’t working with Ibragimov, the 32-year-old 2000 Olympic silver medalist, he’d be rooting for Evander. “This fight is for me a great historical event,” the former lightweight (32-10), who had to get by on ring smarts, said. “There are a lot of parallels between Sultan and Evander. Both are smart, and willing to fight whoever, and both won medals after controversial decisions. Holyfield will bring everything he has and we’re preparing not for the Holyfield that fought Ruiz, later in his career, we’re preparing for the guy who beat Tyson, and Bowe and gave Lennox all he could handle.”

Sultan’s manager, Boris Grinberg, busted on HBO and Showtime for not bidding big for this fight and pondered whether they understand that Russia has the technological capability to present an event properly. “They are afraid it is still far away, like Siberia, they think we are like Zimbabwe, some small country,” he said.

Warriors’ Leon Margules admitted that he and Kathy Duva had chatted multiple times about hooking up and that helped the cause when Ruslan Chagaev bowed out (because of “an upset stomach,” Rueters reported, another account cited hep B) of his match with Sultan.

I chatted with Mayweather afterwards and he said he was happy with the switch, because neither Ibragimov nor Chagaev has truly made their mark upon the game. Sure, he said, there’d be titles at stake, but so what?

Ibragimov told the press that he watched Evander fight Bowe in 1994, and cannot believe he’s now facing the legend. “It will be a great fight,” he promised, in English, “two warriors in the ring, everybody watch.”

Mayweather told TSS that his guy has to beat Holyfield decisively to open eyes. “He can’t just beat him, he has to beat him in a way the boxing world will take notice,” he said. He’s dialed back his fighter’s aggressiveness, which is smart, since Sultan is no behemoth (he weighs around 221 usually for a fight) and has him picking his sports more. “You’re a small heavyweight,” Mayweather told him. “There’s no need to go toe to toe every time, and even if you win you take too much punishment.”

Holyfield thinks his experience will take the day. “I’ve been a pro for 23 years, longer than some people have been living. I’d like to fight Ibragimov, and then take the next one, and the next one, and the next one, and then tell people how I did it. They say Ibragimov is faster than me but we’ll know on the thirteenth. The faster guy don’t win all the time, the guy who hits harder don’t win all the time. It’s all who can put it together. Age is not a sentence. I get older, I get smarter.”

SPEEDBAG Ibragimov will train in Florida and then go to Russia 10 days prior to the bout.

--Mayweather recounted some of the looniness surrounding the title victory over Briggs. He’d trained Briggs, but jumped ship when there were about four other trainers on site. Shannon asked him to come back, he said, but too late, he’d already latched on to Ibragimov, who’d been trained by Panama Lewis. Briggs was busting his chops during the fight with Ibragimov, maybe not a smart move to concentrate on talking smack, while trying to keep your title…Briggs has blasted Mayweather for a lack of loyalty, which Jeff disputes. “He says he helped feed my family. I’m single, you didn’t help feed me.” After that fight, Mayweather told him it was karma biting his butt, and Briggs was fuming.

--This fight was almost “free,” to be shown on ESPN Classic. Classic was going to show it when it was Ibragimov/Chagaev, but the pot got fatter when Holyfield came aboard, and Classic couldn’t deliver the money that the PPV will bring. Margules and Duva and company weighed out the upside of having more people see the match, versus the upside of the moolah, and since Holyfield gets a large chunk of the PPV, well, there’s the decider. The replay will be shown on Classic, Margules said.

--Al Bernstein and Nick Charles will call the card in Moscow.

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