Holyfield's effort to unify heavyweight title running out of time
Posted: Friday November 19, 2004 3:42PM; Updated: Friday November 19, 2004 3:42PM
Evander Holyfield just doesn't get it. He's beyond old for a fighter and seemingly hasn't been able to punch his way out of a paper bag in years. Yet with all of the reasons to hang up his gloves for good, he just won't quit.
Holyfield, unfortunately, sees himself as being on a divine mission to unify the heavyweight titles. This pipe dream is why Holyfield can't, and probably won't, walk away until he's punch drunk and slurs every other word like old friend Meldrick Taylor, or until God gives him the word that enough is enough.
This became clear the other day when Holyfield, a proud man, defiantly stuck out his chin after the New York State Athletic Commission placed him on indefinite medical suspension, an unusual step taken to protect the ex-champ from himself. Perhaps the New York folks overstepped their bounds, but if Holyfield had put up as much a fight Saturday night in an ugly, unanimous decision loss to Larry Donald, the four-time champ wouldn't need medical clearance before he steps in a ring again.
Donald, a journeyman Holyfield would have battered in his prime, landed 260 punches in a dozen rounds; Holyfield just 78. The loss left the former Olympic bronze medalist 2-5-2 in his last nine bouts.
If Holyfield is to be believed, his spotty record of late is because he's fought when he's been injured, because he didn't take the time to let his body heal. But because of his age, he couldn't afford to take time off, not if his goal was to be reached.
When I reached him on his cell phone in Atlanta, Holyfield brushed off the latest sad act as a bad night. That's a charitable understatement for an evening in which the quad in his right leg cramped after the first round, making it impossible to push off; he couldn't get extension or snap on his jab and his back started cramping in Round 2.
And for this officials want to suspend his license? It isn't that easy in Holyfield's mind. No, this is a development he'll fight like he has Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe and every bad boy they put in front of him.
"I feel it isn't right to discriminate'' Holyfield reasons. "I passed the physicals. Then when it comes down to me performing, they said my performance wasn't good enough, so they're going to suspend me from boxing indefinitely because I didn't have a good performance. Ask any athlete, you have bad days. And if you had to suspend the athletes in general for a bad day, there probably wouldn't be any athletes out there. Guy may throw four interceptions -- that is the end?
"First time I had a really bad day was in 1992 -- Riddick Bowe, my first defeat. I was 32 years old. That would have been it?''
Actually, he was 30, and no one back then suggested Holyfield was washed up, nor did any commission put him on ice. But Holyfield thought about quitting. As he tells it, what kept him going was the sight of his then eight year-old son crying when he returned home, and not wanting his boy to think you quit when things get tough. The father prayed about it and told God he'd stay around until he became undisputed champion again, if that's what he wanted.
So Holyfield has hung around to fight every heavyweight worth a damn over the last 20 years. He's won heavyweight championships four times, but for an assortment of reasons -- questionable decisions included -- Holyfield hasn't been able to unify the titles, and so he hasn't gone away.
But after so many fights, so many punches to the body and head, everyone who cares for him, and even the few who don't, wonder what it will take for him to quit?
"Of course, it is me being able to reach my goal," Holyfield says. "I will retire if it comes to a point where I just feel it's a life-threatening situation. Or I just realize my body can't do it. It's the facts that I take into consideration. It is not ego, as people like to think it is. People say, 'Well, you ain't got nothing to prove. You just like this limelight. You got money, you living fine and all this -- why would you allow yourself to go through all that stress and all that?'
"They're looking at the wrong angle. If I was a guy who never been heavyweight champ of the world or a guy never made any money, then they say 'Well, I can understand.' But why do you have to understand for me to know the point, the commitment to what I believe? See, I have a commitment with God. Even before I became heavyweight champion of world, I said 'Lord, I want to do this for you and I will give you the glory. I will stay out here as long as you want me to.'"
But talk long enough with Holyfield and you eventually discover the goal to become undisputed heavyweight champion again is his -- not anyone else's.
"The whole big thing is not so much that God wants you to fight," he explains. "It is you set a goal, and then God gives you things necessary to reach that goal. Only way you don't reach that goal is 'cause you quit. So the whole thing is not like I'm telling somebody, 'God told me to do this.' I set a goal. And God will allow me to attain that goal if I don't quit. I have to look at things and ask myself if I am willing to endure what is necessary to reach that goal. Now, I'm not saying God said, 'You got to do this.' No, he's not saying this. But I know what it is to finish. I want to finish right, and I do believe I can."
Sorry, Evander, I respectfully disagree. And as difficult as it is for your diehard supporters to admit it, here's hoping you get the message before it's too late.
Mike Fish is a senior writer for SI.com.