Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Boxing: Holyfield's on hiding to nothing in Moscow

Has the big guy lost his marbles? What does a 44-year-old multi-millionaire preacher expect to gain from fighting somebody in Moscow most of us have never heard of?



Win or lose, faded old Evander Holyfield will be ready with the usual laundry list of excuses he now needs to convince fans he should not be in retirement.

This once-great heavyweight champion must know he's risking ridicule and health by shipping ungainly punches only a week before his 45th birthday, but he doesn't seem to care. He feels sure he can beat Russia's own, Sultan Ibragimov, and become the second oldest fighter in history to covet a world title belt.

George Foreman, who holds the record, was nearly 46 when he defeated Michael Moorer back in '94 in Las Vegas. This was about the time Holyfield was diagnosed with a heart condition after losing to Moorer, and nobody was surprised when he decided to call it a day.

Evander's own doctor assured him he might live forever, but must never box again. His problem was a non-compliant left ventrical which reduced the oxygen supply to his muscles and body tissues, and he would tire quickly.

Even good fighters can age noticeably overnight, and Holyfield surely did, but it wasn't long until he was back. Not for just one big-money battle with Mike Tyson, but two.... the first a classic, the second remembered only as the 'bite fight', that moment of madness during which iron-man Mike bit off a chunk of Evander's right ear.

It was the most outrageous foul in boxing history, and not only earned Tyson a one-year ban, plus lifetime of infamy, but might have kick-started a diminishing interest in the heavyweight division that has lasted nearly 10 years.

Bizarrely, Holyfield once confessed to biting an opponent himself.

"I was only 17 at the time," he grins, "and the fellow had me in an arm-lock and wouldn't let go. I tried to bite him on the shoulder, but happily he never told anybody."

The first time I ever saw Holyfield was in an Olympic ring, learning to play the Yugoslav version of three-card monte.

The game goes like this. The boy from Georgia was odds-on favourite for cruiserweight gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Games after belting three opponents into submission, then knocking out Kevin Barry, from New Zealand, in the second round.

Imagine the crowd's shock and displeasure, however, when their young hero was disqualified.

Evander's winning punch had landed after the referee, a Yugoslav, shouted 'break', thus making Josipovic, by coincidence also a Yugoslav, the gift of the title when, by rule, Barry couldn't box in the final. Josipovic, a handsome young student, later won a lot of friends by inviting Holyfield to join him on the gold-medal rostrum.

Holyfield was the world's best light-heavyweights before stepping up a division, and, in my book, has never known what it's like to have an easy fight.

Already a Hall of Famer, his record includes wins over Foreman, Holmes, Bowe and Rahman, but after 52 hard fights (eight defeats) spanning 23 years, he's now only a rusted remnant of the man who twice brawled with Lennox Lewis, and tattooed Tyson. His return to challenge Ibragimov, 12 years younger and only once a loser in over 20 contests, can only be read as a damning indictment of how thin on the ground heavyweight talent is right now.

Holyfield goes to church, reads the Bible, and talks about God and spirituality. "Take his theology away from him, though, as sportswriters tend to do, and you might as well shear the hair from Samson," wrote Tom Junod in 'Prayers Answered'. "Then, he becomes a lesser man - very polite, very nice, and very boring."

Archie Moore, Larry Holmes, Bob Fitzsimmons, and Foreman were all in their fabulous 40's when they scaled Everest for the last time, so who can be sure Holyfield won't do it? Evander has already earned over 200 million dollars with his fists, and doesn't need the money. He's taking a big risk trying to cheat the march of time. I'm sure he realises that!

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