Unwittingly, Evander Holyfield revealed this week what his hopeless quest to become heavyweight champion for the sixth time is all about, as if we didn’t know already.
Asked on a New York television show if he ever thinks about the night Mike Tyson bit the top of his ear off and spit it out rather than take a second straight beating from Holyfield, he replied honestly, “I think about the $35 million I made. It ain’t all bad if you think about it.’’
If the 48-year old five-time champion were making $35 million Saturday night to fight Sherman “Tank’’ Williams at the Greenbrier Hotel in the boxing hotbed of White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, you could understand why he’s doing this. Hell, if he was making $3.5 million you could understand it in the present economic climate, even if it cost him a bit of ear or even a tip of nose.
To be frank, a guaranteed $350,000 might even be a valid explanation for what he’s up to considering his well documented financial problems. But Holyfield has no guarantee of any of that. All he has is hope, a blinding faith in himself and, apparently, a feeling that he has a God-given right to be heavyweight champion of the world.
That blind faith in himself and his God’s intentions for him is what made Holyfield heavyweight champion in the first place. It’s what allowed him to beat down much bigger men, including the once vastly talented giant Riddick Bowe. It allowed him to twice blow up the myth of Mike, even when he was seen by many as a ridiculous 18-1 underdog the first time they met.
But blind faith at 28, when he first became champion, or 38, when he was still winning title fights, is different than blind faith at 48. Blind faith at 48 that you will once more unify the heavyweight title is how a man ends up blind at midnight, his eyes closed tighter than an old lady’s window shades on a dangerous street corner.
That is especially true if you never had the one-punch issue-settling power of someone like George Foreman, who remains the oldest man to win a legitimate heavyweight title because he was blessed with the ability to give anyone a concussion with one sweep of his right hand.
Holyfield never had that gift, although he had many others. He won by outworking his opponent. He won by having a bigger heart than just about any fighter who ever lived. He won with a willingness to take a shot for the chance to give two back that was second to none. He won because he always believed he would.
At this stage, the latter is all he has left. The likelihood he will defeat journeyman Williams is high, which is why Williams got the fight. He’s 38 and a never was, a stepping stone at the lowest rung of boxing’s long ladder to success.
He is 34-11-2 with 19 KOs and Holyfield was right when he said this week when asked what he had to watch out for from Williams that, “He has to watch out for me.’’
Certainly that’s true. Holyfield (43-10-2, 28 KO) is still quite capable of beating all but the most elite fighters and in the heavyweight division that’s what most of the fighters are – all but the elite. In fact, he’s already scheduled a second victim for March, 45-year-old Dane Brian Nielsen in Copenhagen. Nielsen (64-2, 43 KO) is coming out of a nine-year retirement to face him. Economic times aren’t any better for the kroner than for the dollar.
What Holyfield assumes is if he can beat enough of these type of guys he’ll get a shot somehow at one of the Klitschkos or England’s David Haye because it will make good business sense for them. One shouldn’t put that past Haye, who seems intent on finding as many soft places to land as he can before he ultimately has to face one of the Klitschkos, but it seems less likely either of the Klitschko brothers will turn in that direction.
For the Klitschkos to bother with him, Holyfield would have to take the greater risk of facing some young gun with speed, power and name recognition first. Confident though he may be, Evander Holyfield understands this is a quest that must continue through boxing’s back door if it’s going to lead him to that last great title shot so that route is out.
Since 1999, Holyfield is 1-5-2 in world championship fights for real belts against live opponents. He now holds the WBF “title,’’ which is like being champion of the NBA’s developmental league and calling yourself NBA champion. It’s technically true but not accurate.
Many people have publicly urged Holyfield to stop, claiming they are concerned for his health. He has always countered that no one is more concerned about his health than he is and that’s probably true. But he’s always been willing to risk that health for the prize – which once was glory and a place in history but now is clearly driven by a lower purpose.
Evander Holyfield needs the money but he also needs the attention and he needs The Moment. Years ago, when he walked onto the floor at Madison Square Garden on his way to a lop-sided beating from Larry Donald someone asked me why he was doing this.
I had to ask twice what his question was because the roar of the crowd shouting Holyfield’s name drowned the questioner out as he walked toward the ring. When it was finally clear what he was asking, I pointed to my ears and said, “Where else do you think he can hear that?’’
More even than money that is why Evander Holyfield will fight Saturday night at a fitting location. Once the Greenbrier was an elite hotel, a place where the rich went to relax. It’s been broken down for a while and is trying to make a comeback to a time that no longer exists.
So is Evander Holyfield.
I wish them both the best but fear the worst. Not Saturday night but one night in just such a place a once proud champion will fight in the shadows until that’s all he can see.
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