Twenty Six Years Ago Holyfield Started His Journey
Anyone here think Holyfield could pull it off, get another title crack and grab a belt?Pop quiz: Who is Lionel Byarm and what does he have to do with aging fighters, auspicious beginnings, world championships and the 1984 Olympics?
Hint: He’s a former cruiserweight out of Philadelphia nicknamed The Boiler. In the 1980s he fought several times at the old Blue Horizon.
Give up? Lionel Byarm was the guy Evander Holyfield beat in his pro debut back on Nov. 15, 1984 in Madison Square Garden.
If you didn’t know the answer - if you didn’t know Lionel Byarm from Lionel Barrymore - don’t worry. That’s a healthy sign.
If you did know who Byarm is and you‘re not a close friend or a family member, you’ve been spending too much time reading boxing publications and hanging around boxing gyms.
Remember the year 1984? Well, some of you do. That’s the year my 26-year-old son was born.
Ronald Reagan was president, Amadeus won the Oscar for best picture, and some of the hit songs of the year included “Jump” by Van Halen, “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr., and “When Doves Cry,” by the singer formerly known as Prince.
And Holyfield made his pro debut, winning a six-round decision over Byarm.
Reagan is no longer with us, Byarm retired from the ring 22 years ago, the songs are all golden oldies, and Holyfield is somehow still at it, still mixing it up. Still chasing after world heavyweight titles at the staggering age of 48.
Does Bernard Hopkins know about this guy?
Holyfield is set to defend his World Boxing Federation heavyweight title against Sherman “Tank” Williams on Jan. 22 on pay-per-view from The Greenbrier’s’ Colonial Hall in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. It’s a rare match-up between a guy who is very old in fighter years against a guy who is just a little old in fighter years.
Williams is only 38, making him a spring chicken compared to “The Real (old) Deal.“
The fight is called “Redemption in America: The Journey Begins Now,” which is a catchy slogan until you realize it’s a little late for Holyfield to be starting out on any kind of journey. He’s at that age where going to the kitchen for a cold beer can seem like a long trip for some of us.
What the journey refers to is Holyfield’s quest to become heavyweight champion of the world. Again.
I think a better slogan would have been, “Retirement in America: It’s been a Fun Ride, But I‘m Tired Now and Going to Bed.“
That’s a long time to be lacing them up until you realize Holyfield has only had 55 fights in that period, which averages out to about two fights a year. Not a busy dance card. Willie Pep had almost 70 fights just between 1952 and 1958. Wear and tear shouldn’t be a major problem.
Holyfield is like Hopkins. He’s one of those aging legends you kind of forget about until they’re suddenly scheduled for another fight. That’s when you scratch your head and say, “Didn’t he retire two years ago?“
Nope. He’s just been waiting for the right time and the right fight.
As for Williams, he doesn’t bring to mind one of the Klitschkos. Maybe the best thing you can say about him is that he went the distance - an eight-rounder - against former world champion Ruslan Chagaev, who is about as well-known in this country as my mailman.
Still, Williams is looking at this fight as a chance to beat a future Hall of Famer.
“I’m excited about this fight,“ he said. “Not just because I’m fighting Holyfield, but what beating him impressively or knocking him out can do for me. It can get me in a better position to fight Vitali Klitschko or David Haye. They’ve been fighting hand-picked looney tunes. January 22 is going to be great with me beating Holyfield and taking the WBF title.“
I wouldn’t get too cocky, Sherman. You lost to Tye Fields and Obed Sullivan. I don’t think you’ll make Vitali’s to-do list even if you somehow beat Holyfield.
And don’t sell the old guy short. He’s been fighting all his life and if he’s gotten soft, he isn’t the same Holyfield most of us remember.
Twenty six years? That's peanuts.