LAS VEGAS, Aug. 16 – One of Evander Holyfield’s former trainers was calling and, no, he was not going to Dallas to see the old man launch another comeback Friday. Don Turner was laughing at America, in a manner of snickering.

He said he had three Russians in the gym. “The Russians listen,” he said.

Obviously, he said, Hasim Rahman did not, as usual. “Could you believe he ran out of gas after seven, eight rounds?” said Turner. “What is with these guys?”

Rahman, it should be pointed out in view of the Friday night fight in Dallas, was the last man Holyfield defeated. That was more than four years ago. Holyfield is not the towering figure he once was, when he was considered too small to be a heavyweight. But even in decline, he is heads and shoulders above the division he has ruled, in one form or another, four times. There will be more paying customers at the American Airlines Center in Dallas for Holyfield’s bout with something called Jeremy Bates than there were when Rahman, defending one of the four sanctioning body belts, was able to draw in his home town of Vegas against his 1999 conqueror, Oleg Maskaev.

Holyfield turns 44 in October and, delusions aside, figures that by the time he gets ready to fight again for a title, he will be older than George Foreman was at 45 when he set the age record for winning a heavyweight title.

“They can laugh about it if they want,” he said on the phone.

As one of my predecessors on the CCNY student newspaper, The Campus, once wrote, “They all laughed at Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round.” Ira Gershwin’s lyrics preceded the laughter at Holyfield when he said he could make the Olympic team, when they said it he was too green to challenge Dwight Muhammad Qawi, when they said he was too small to be a heavyweight and James (Buster) Douglas would knock him out easier than he did Mike Tyson.

They laughed at Wilbur and his brother when they said man could fly, George’s brother also noted. And they laughed at Vander when he insisted that he was not finished upon losing to Riddick Bowe and Shelly Finkel and Lou Duva advised him to retire. They laughed at him when he returned from a so-called “heart condition” following his loss to Michael Moorer. They roared when, after looking like a dead man in the finale of the Bowe trilogy and his victory over Bobby Czyz, Don King put him in with Tyson.

We all know the story. Even on the way down, he was able to give Lennox Lewis hell in their rematch – Lewis won the “draw” much easier. I still think he beat John Ruiz three times – including a knockout in the second fight when Referee Joe Cortez ruled a low blow the shot to the solar plexus that floored Ruiz.

Yes, he was feeble in his losses to Chris Byrd, James Toney and Larry Donald, as ashen and weak as he looked against Czyz. I do not like this idea of a “comeback.” Yes, he will make upwards of $500,000 for fighting a journeyman who was thinking of retiring back to his old Kentucky home, but Holyfield was never about money.

He still has this dream of retiring as heavyweight champion – undisputed heavyweight champion.

This of course will never happen. The way the alphabets rule, he’d be 75 or 80 by the time he’d be able to round up all four titles.

Incidentally, Ira Gershwin had a co-writer while working for the CCNY Campus, a guy who would later write something about “dreams really do come true” over the rainbow. E.Y. (Yip) Harburg – “If I Only Had a Brain” could be my theme song – never met Evander Holyfield in real life, but he knew him in spirit.

Trainers, friends, well-wishers all would like Holyfield to go back to his 109-room, $38-million mansion and count his money or children. This makes him a little testy, though. He says the “point of love is not to say, ‘I love you, but I don’t want you to do what you want.’ Does that mean you can’t love me if I do this?”

“I don’t think you can ever alleviate people’s worries,” he said, not at all sounding punchy. “That’s what they do, that’s what they are.”

He points out that it’s probably more instructional to tell people to stop smoking, or drinking. Danger is everywhere.

The libertine in me prevents me from telling Holyfield he is nuts and should get out before he becomes a tragic statistic. He could very easily tell me to trash my computer and get out of writing because I ain’t what I used to be, either. Hell, I speak to the guy for half an hour about heavyweights and I don’t ask him what he thinks of the Soviet invasion.

He says the two years off, after two shoulder surgeries, have left him feeling a hell of a lot better than he was at the time of his last three fights. “Just through all the rest,” he said, “everything is better.” In his last ring appearance, against Larry Donald, he said he developed a bad cramp and wanted to stay on the stool, but he looked down and saw Evander Jr., then 15, and “I didn’t want him to say I quit. If I walked out of there, they’d tell my son your father quit when things get tough.”

The grandstanding New York State Athletic Commission said Holyfield should be banned from fighting again because of his “diminished” skills. “They didn’t even talk to me,” said Holyfield.

That’s not been rescinded. He will remain unlicensed in New York, but the rest of the country is still free.

Rationalization is the tool of any losing fighter, of course. He said he was sick the first fight with Lennox Lewis, wouldn’t have gone on except he truly believed he would score a third-round knockout as he had so widely predicted. When that failed, he wanted to go home. Again, he could not quit. No way was Evander Holyfield ever going to quit and that quality, which made him one of the most beloved fighters in history, is something his caring fans will have to put up with as he continues to tilt at windmills.

He was going to appear on an old-timers card last month in Boise, Idaho, with Virgil Hill underneath a Roy Jones Jr. main event. But Lester Bedford, a Texan who managed Jesse James Leija and has done on-site promotions for Bob Arum and Main Events, was called in. Bedford did not want to be painted as an “enabler,” someone making money off the Holyfield name with no regard for the Holyfield body.

“I heard he couldn’t walk and talk,” said Bedford. “I was expecting to see another Meldrick Taylor in there.”

To his surprise, Holyfield was as clear as a bell. “He talks better than Rahman,” said Bedford, BEFORE Maskaev hit him again for the first time in seven years.

Bedford got the Texas commission to send Holyfield to the top neurologists and heart guys in Houston, where the fighter has trained almost since before boxers donned gloves. Remember, when Holyfield thought he couldn’t fight again after the first Moorer fight, he accepted his fate willingly. It was only after subsequent tests proved there was nothing wrong with his heart that he decided to come back then.

Bedford liked the idea that Holyfield never talked money. It was always about winning the title again. “He’s not a big broken fighter walking around looking for a funeral.”

Reports, mostly from Bedford and trainer Ronnie Shields, are that Holyfield looks pretty good in training. But the key ingredient is not how far his reflexes might have recovered with the time off. It is happiness.

“This guy is so happy,” said Bedford, almost gushing, “so effin’ happy.”

Holyfield takes a more sedate view. Yes, he said, he’s happy, as if why even ask the question. “Yes, I’m happy about the opportunity to fight again,” he said.

And he feels healthy. “I felt I could deal with pain,” he said. Now he doesn’t have to and it’s a Real Big Deal.

Holyfield does not need my blessing to continue his quixotic search. I wish him all the best. The cynic in me says no way, but let’s not go into that. I remember before the first Tyson fight, after he had looked terrible in stopping Bobby Czyz in five rounds – and that’s not easy to do – he told us that if he hadn’t looked so bad, maybe he wouldn’t be in the position of challenging for a title. No, he said, he didn’t shave points, or whatever the boxing equivalent is, in giving Don King assurance that there was no threat to his cash cow.

But for all the punches he’s taken – and when did anyone ever miss Holyfield? – he is still business sharp. Evander Holyfield, at whatever age, remains a big name (attendance in Dallas will probably be more than 10,000). He is also considered, pardon the understatement, rather easy prey. Low risk, high reward – a couple of more Jeremy Bates types and who’s to say Holyfield won’t be picked again as the human sacrifice to one of the alphabet champions.

“I know they can’t wait to fight somebody they can make a lot of money with,” he said.

He remembers when his Main Events promoters, after he first won the title from Buster Douglas in 1991 – goodness, 15 years went by rather quickly – that he wanted to fight George Foreman, then a mere lad of 42 or so. He wanted to fight Mike Tyson.

“I don’t want to fight George Foreman,” he said. He felt it was a no-win situation. If he won, people would say he was picking on an old man; if he lost, well….

“Yes, you do,” Shelly Finkel, his co-manager insisted.

So he’ll be 44 in October. By the time he gets around to fighting someone like Nikolay Valuev, the 7-foot-plus champion of the WB-Who (“that’s a big target, a very big target,” said Holyfield) he could be older than Foreman when the Russian will probably hear from someone like Don King, “You want to fight Evander Holyfield.”

Please, if Rahman had avenged his 1999 loss to Maskaev, he might have been tempted to avenge his loss to Holyfield, too.

This is a very sick business, you know.

PENTHOUSE: Of course, Rahman could have beaten Maskaev. But, as Don Turner pointed out, American fighters don’t listen. Thell Torrence, his trainer, insisted that Rahman just stay behind his jab. Again Rahman, as in his draw with James Toney, did not listen. However, Maskaev listened to his corner. Trainer Victor Valle Jr., accomplishing what his father never could, led his horse to a heavyweight title by constantly reminding him to walk away from Rahman’s controlling jab. Russians listen, even if they are American citizens living in Staten Island and moving to Sacramento. And in the end, though he had hurt his back in training and his left thumb in the bout, though there were some ugly welts behind his ears from some out-of-bounds Rahman punches, Maskaev just kept going after his American Dream and, lo and behold, Dennis Rappaport was right: Cinderella is now a heavyweight champion. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy and I hope he isn’t too nicked to have to pass on Wladimir Klitschko’s Nov. 11 date….It would be lovely if the title could at least be partially unified by the time Holyfield is ready to fight for it again, heh, heh….Don King never ceases to amaze. He’s got this Valuev-Monte Barrett fight where the only prurient interest is in what a seven-footer looks like in the ring. Monte Barrett can make Hasim Rahman look dull, too. So King puts on a rematch of the Thomasz Adamek-Paul Briggs light-heavyweight bout, adds another Pole to the card (don’t ask me which one, Adameck or Matt Zegan, is North Pole and which is South Pole) and moves it to Rosemont, Ill., a mob-friendly suburb of Chicago and its large Polish population. King has a bright future in this business, if he would only stay healthy.

OUTHOUSE: Kevin Cunningham, Cory Spinks’s trainer, for whining that Floyd Mayweather Jr. “ducked us” after he mistakenly announced that a deal for a Spinks-Mayweather duel was 99 percent done. In this business, it’s 100 percent or nothing, Kevin. The thought of Mayweather “ducking” the light-hitting Spinks, who had been knocked out by Zab Judah, the last guy Pretty Boy has beaten, is rather silly. I am very glad that the Nov. 4 date has gone to Carlos Baldomir.

Let’s turn it around, all you “Fraud” Squad freaks. Why the hell should Mayweather give a fight to Antonio Margarito when Baldomir is not only the real welterweight champion – not the WBOgus one? He most certainly deserves the payday a lot more than a guy who has yet to beat anything close to Judah or even the aged Arturo Gatti. I’m not saying Margarito would have any trouble with either – though I think prime Judah would be difficult for the wide-swinging Tijuana product. But Baldomir, who goes into New York and beats Judah, knocks off Gatti in Atlantic City, is now coming to Mayweather’s home town of Las Vegas and the tough Argentine will be getting at least a couple of million. Good for him.

Mayweather, by the way, will be getting more than that so-called $8 million offer Bob Arum said he made to fight Margarito. Mayweather’s camp tells me there was not really $8 million for the fighter. There’ll be more for the Baldomir show, I’m told….Margarito may have to fight Joshua Clottey on an Arum card Dec. 2 (Miguel Cotto will also be on, but there’s a good chance of more dueling dates with Winky Wright possibly going on opposite). Imagine if Mayweather tried to fight Clottey. Nothing against the fighter from Ghana, it’s just that there aren’t as many live opponents out there as one would presume. If Mayweather was virtually limited at the end to Baldomir or Spinks, Margarito’s pickings are even slimmer…..FINIS