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6 weeks of blood, sweat, prayers
Holyfield training hard to prepare for Akinwande
Posted: Tuesday June 02, 1998 10:42 PM
HOUSTON (CNN/SI) -- When you're the reputed toughest guy in the land, you can go to work whenever you feel like it. But 35-year-old Evander Holyfield wants to stay on top, so he beats the rush-hour crowd every morning.
"Now, at an older age, the earlier you do things the better off you feel," explains Holyfield. "Your day is over, you got the most important things out of the way."
But for Holyfield, the cold reality in the dawn's early light is that he must confront his work head-on. There are no shortcuts, and before he trades blows June 6 with his opponent, Henry Akinwande, he has to confront and challenge himself physically and mentally.
"I think if you ask all great athletes, they prepare themselves the same," says Holyfield. "They [are] the very best and they know that they don't depend on somebody else motivating them; they just [go] out and do the job."
It's 5:43 a.m., and Holyfield sets the mood and the tone for his training with spiritual music to soothe the soul.
At 5:48 a.m., it's time to work the kinks out.
"The older you get, [you get]a little stiffer. You need to warmup," says Holyfield.
Although he's a spiritual man, Holyfield is in a hurting business. And he's got the battle scars to prove it,including a disfigured ear courtesy of Mike Tyson.
At 6:12 a.m., assistant trainer Tommy Brooks begins the process of protecting the investment. Holyfield's hands are his lethal weapons and wrapping them is an art in itself.
Holyfield takes his first swing of the morning at 6:16, a good-natured poke at head trainer Don Turner.
"I'm telling them you look good for your age. They say I told them you're 75-years-old," Holyfield jokes as his training team laughs.
At 6:19 a.m., the heavyweight champion humbles himself and calls on a more powerful force, leading all who would join him in prayer.
The prayer is followed by more loosening up, with the thought of how it will help him fight as the goal.
"If I don't get my body in condition enough to bend back and forth, then when I get in this fight, I'm going to get tired, be a standing target and be easy to hit," the champ explains.
After a half hour of stretching, it's time for Holyfield to dance while he walks in a straight line. This line drill is designed to get him to transfer his weight properly, move his head correctly, keep his hands up and get his mind and body in sync.
At 7:06, the champion begins throwing some serious leather. The heavy bag doesn't hit back. But it's the target he needs to pound in the morning to make the game plan work fight night.
"The point is, you work the bag for different punches you hope to be able to hit him with. As you've seen, I'm working the double-hook hoping to step in and catch him with an uppercut. Then face my right and be able to hit him with my right hand. If I can catch him with those three shots, then it could be a quick night."
On alternate days, Holyfield goes to war against someone who's punching back.
"It is not a fun time, the sparing. Sparing is a test. It is a learning process, but you have six weeks to get it right."
Holyfield's wearing ponderous 16-ounce gloves, rather than the more lethal 10-ounce ones he'll have for his title defense.
His sparring partners are tall, chosen to mirror his opponent, the 6-foot-7 Akinwande. The plan is to create the physical and mental obstacles in the morning that Holyfield must overcome on the night of June 6th.
"Sometimes it plays against your will, but you don't give up," says Holyfield. "You continually try. If you can make it work in the sparing you know you can make it work in a fight."
Throughout the morning, two things never stop: the music and Holyfield. There is purpose in his every move as he shadow boxes, picturing the man who wants to take his title standing in front of him.
"I imagine that I am in the ring with him," muses Holyfield. "He is going to be jabbing. I got to move my head. I got to be close to him. I got to get back from him. I got to duck his shot. I got to make him pay."
Holyfield will hear the roar of the crowd and feel the heat of the spotlight June 6th in NYC.
It will be electric, but it's here in Houston before the sun comes up where six weeks of sweat are designed to be the difference between winning and losing.
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