He could be forgiven if he indulged himself in a steady stream of “I Told You Sos” to all us know-it-all pundits who proclaimed with utter certainty that his career was over, no ifs ands or buts. But Evander Holyfield would not take the bait on the phone Monday when I asked him if he derived special satisfaction proving the fightwriters wrong, and showing that, at 44, he still has some pep in him after all. “No, I understand the business,” Holyfield told me. “The writers have seen fighters have a bad bout and then make excuses. I was injured, for real. But what writers wrote didn’t bother me. It bothered me that the New York State Athletic Commission didn’t respect me and consider all that I’ve put into boxing (before they announced they were taking my license in 2004).” NYSAC snatched Holyfield’s license to perform in NY shortly after he looked like an end-of-the-road shell of his former self against Larry Donald in Madison Square Garden On Nov. 13, 2004.

Remember that sad affair? Holyfield was reduced to a cameo role, as Chris Byrd, Jameel McCline, John Ruiz, Andrew Golota, Hasim Rahman and Kali Frickin’ Meehan all worked above Real Deal on the card. It was like throwing Peter O’Toole into the next Friday the 13th sequel. Not nice… It was an indignity, and all of us, some of us with pure motives, and some of us perhaps looking to make a splash with some sensationalistic, self-righteous posturing, ran with it. Holyfield looked like the definition of shot, really. Luckily for him, Donald isn’t much of a finisher, so Evander went the full 12, and finished on his feet. So the writers and analysts went into theoretical mode-—we pondered what horrid fate Evander would come to. We figured he would stumble on, to be used and abused as fodder by unscrupulous promoters.

Someone save him from himself, we hollered, because he will press on, and it won’t be pretty. The NYSAC apparently felt the same way, and were horrified to see how far Real Deal had fallen. Citing diminished skills, the Commission forbade the man from boxing in their state. The way they did it, announcing the move to the newspapers, rather than bringing Holyfield in for a meeting to discuss the move, rankled the boxer. “We all have days we don’t perform like we should have,” Holyfield explained. “They could have brought me in and said, ‘We have some issues with you. What’s going on?’ They should have given me the right to step down. The Commissioner said he had to save me from myself.” The press, Holyfield said, has the freedom to express their opinions, so he doesn’t hold a grudge against some of the more poisonously penned diatribes. (And I do believe I’ve indulged in some of that pontificating, lecturing brand of columnizing, I must confess). But the way his license was yanked, Holyfield still has a burr in his saddle on that matter… Still, the movement and ability to put bunches of punches together on Saturday against Vinny Maddalone in Texas took even Evander by surprise, he said. Even his promoter, Kathy Duva, admits that she was politely skeptical when she was told a few weeks back that Holyfield looked like he’d found a fountain of youth-—hey, no human growth hormone jokes!—in training camp. “Two weeks ago, someone told me, ‘He’s up on his toes,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, come on.’ I sort of had my doubts, but when Evander says he’s doing something, he does it.” Duva said Holyfield will likely fight again on June 30 in Canada, in a stay busy fight.

Trainer Ronnie Shields thinks it’s better to take the risk of an injury or a loss, because he believes Holyfield needs to stay busy to be effective. Can’t let those 44-year-old muscles get any rust into ‘em… Duva also needs the mandatory madness in the division shake itself out, so Valuev, Maskaev, Klitschko and Briggs need to satisfy the sanctioning bodies before she’ll know what avenue to take on the hunt to get Holyfield a title shot. A title shot would probably come about sometime in the fall, as July PPV dates are taken and August is for vacationing. Hey, I know I’ve devoted a couple of thousand words to Holyfield in the last two weeks; some of you may be OD’d on the subject. But damn, if you had told me last year that the man would look like he did on Saturday, and that he’s a worthy recipient of a title shot, I would’ve told you that they put the wrong kind of mushrooms on your pie at the pizzeria… This is the damnedest resurgence story boxing has seen in I don’t know how long, and I can’t get over it.