Holyfield, De La Hoya contrast in their career twilights
Posted: Monday September 11, 2006 1:49PM; Updated: Tuesday September 12, 2006 10:53AM
At age 43, Evander Holyfield (right) will take on Fres Oquendo in San Antonio on Nov. 10.
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When it comes to boxing, my colleague Richard Hoffer likes to say, "It never ends pretty." Of course, he likes to say that about pretty much everything, but that's another story.
Certainly boxing has had more than its share of wretched endings -- to fights, careers and lives. From the bloated dotage of the first modern heavyweight champ, John L. Sullivan, through Joe Louis' sad second career as a casino greeter in Las Vegas to Jerry Quarry's disappearance into pugilistic dementia, the sport has too often found a way to get in some parting shots (some lethal, some merely humiliating) to even its most celebrated figures. (Hey, have you seen Mike Tyson lately?)
I've found myself thinking of final acts these days after recent visits with a couple of former champions who are -- who certainly must be -- nearing the ends of their respective glorious careers. Oscar De La Hoya and Evander Holyfield are two of the most accomplished and respected fighters of the past 20 years. Both were Olympians who went on to win multiple world titles as professionals while earning -- and this is a conservative estimate -- a gazillion dollars each.
Along with Tyson (whose clock Holyfield convincingly cleaned nearly a decade ago), they were the leading pay-per-view draws of their era. And, unlike Tyson, both De La Hoya and Holyfield managed to preserve their good-guy personae, largely holding onto the fans' affections and support (despite their share of domestic turmoil, it should be noted) through their competitive peaks and valleys.
Despite all those similarities, the Golden Boy and the Real Deal are facing the question of retirement in very different fashions. De La Hoya, at 33, is busy expanding his portfolio outside the ring while promising to fight just once more -- in a bout next May that, whoever the opponent (Floyd Mayweather Jr.? Felix Trinidad?), will almost certainly be one of the highest grossing bouts of all time.
Meanwhile, Holyfield, 43, is plodding forward on his quest to reclaim the undisputed heavyweight championship. The next step on that quixotic journey will take place Nov. 10, under the white-hot spotlight of a Fox Sports Net pay-per-view "extravaganza," when he faces fringe contender Fres Oquendo in the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Holyfield was in New York last Thursday to promote that epic, which has been given the rather baffling title of "Holyfield V: The Final Chapter Continued" (which, fittingly, sounds like the next installment in a bad science fiction series).
In a press conference at Gallagher's steak house (surely there is a joke to be made here about aged beef on display), Holyfield explained why he was continuing to fight despite having won the heavyweight championship four times during his 22-year (that's twenty-two!) pro career -- and, more to the point -- despite having won only three of his last 10 fights.
"It's my season," said Holyfield, who, to be fair, still looked fit and formidable in a tight black shirt, his burnished head still as rugged looking as ever atop those broad shoulders. (Were the guy, say, a stockbroker or an insurance salesman, you'd say, "There is one fit 43-year-old.") "People have written me off since I was a kid," he added. "But it's about faith. It's about what you believe. And I believe I'm going to be the undisputed heavyweight champion one more time."
Leave aside for a moment the question of whether the current Holyfield can beat Oquendo (who, coincidentally, has also won just three of his last 10 fights; "Somebody's 3 must flee!"), or whether, if he does, he could pose a threat to any of the champions of today's heavyweight gulag. The real question is, Why try?
"Your ending," said Holyfield, "is the most important thing in your life. People remember how you go out, and I choose to go out on top."
Of course, he was on top 10 years ago, after his beat-down of Tyson. That was the bout that should have crowned his career. But the same single-mindedness that made Holyfield such an overachiever in the ring seems to have kept him from preparing for life outside of it (a stint on Dancing With the Stars doesn't count).
And so he fights on. It's his choice, obviously, and I won't presume to say he should be "protected from himself." He's a grown-up and a professional, and I'll probably watch him against Oquendo and against whoever comes next. But I fear it won't end pretty.
For the Golden Boy, by contrast, things seem to be winding up in glowing fashion. At a recent dinner at Il Postino on the East Side of Manhattan, De La Hoya, fitter-looking than he has appeared between fights in recent years ("I've been running every day," he said), chatted with enthusiasm about his plans -- as a fighter and as a promoter.
His company, Golden Boy Promotions, is putting on an HBO pay-per-view show on Sept. 16 in Las Vegas headlined by the rematch between junior lightweights Marco Antonio Barrera and Rocky Juarez and featuring an unusually compelling undercard that includes Jorge Barrios against Juan Guzman and Israel Vasquez against Jhonny Gonzales. Beyond that, he has just signed three-time world champion Juan Manuel Marquez and is looking at heavyweight Sultan Ibragimov.
As for his company's top attraction, De La Hoya insisted he would fight just once more. The assumption has been that it would be against Mayweather (assuming he gets past Carlos Baldomir on Nov. 4), but De La Hoya said that he had recently met with Trinidad -- who happens to be his neighbor in Puerto Rico -- and that Trinidad is interested in coming out of retirement for a rematch with De La Hoya, whom he beat in a controversial split decision in 1999. Rest assured that neither of those bouts would wind up on Fox Sports Net.
Listening while Oscar sipped his Chianti and let the talk drift to his golf game, it occurred to me that one great fighter, at least, was proving Hoffer wrong.