Patterson regained the title from Johansson, then beat him again in a third meeting, but the public had grown weary of his unappealing lights. Then came Sonny Liston, who destroyed Patterson twice.
Holyfield's heavyweight title path has pitted him against Buster Douglas, a fat champion with no desire to fight; 42-year-old George Foreman; journeyman Bert Cooper, who knocked him down; and, last Friday, Holmes. In 72 minutes of fighting, Holyfield failed to drop cither of two overweight 42-year-old contenders.
If Holyfield's reputation as a fighter has suffered, his bank account certainly has not. His purse total for the four fights was a little more than $50 million, a testament to the skill of impresario Shelly Finkel, his manager, and of promoter Dan Duva. They presented Holyfield's title defenses not as fights but as events. Come see Evander beat up fat folks.
Somewhere P.T. Barnum, Tex Rickard and Mike Jacobs are grinning.
But like all fads, nostalgic fights are going the way of the pogo stick. The public has had enough. If the champion is ever again ordered to fight another old, fat man, he is going to have to do it in a saloon. For nothing. At least 2,000 of the 16,000 seats in the outdoor stadium at Caesars Palace went unsold. Early returns indicate that the TVKO pay-per-view audience was well below expectations. You can only sell a poke-in-the-pig so many times.
"People are getting frustrated with the performances they are seeing now," said Lennox Lewis, the British heavyweight contender. " Mike Tyson would have beaten both these guys the same night. Evander is just a blown-up cruiserweight. He doesn't have the power to take out the big young fighters."
Quick to agree is Rock Newman, manager of Riddick Bowe, the big young fighter in line for the next shot at Holyfield, provided Bowe beats South Africa's Pierre Coetzer on July 18. "Whatever charm the public may have thought Holyfield had is gone," says Newman. "They want to see him get beat, and they don't care who does it—Bowe, Lewis, Razor Ruddock. Everyone is tired of paying to see a fight and getting the runaround."
Well, until Holyfield was cut, it was almost a fight. Under orders, Holyfield fought a cautious but well-paced first round. Then came the second, and his warrior instincts overrode the caution. Holmes backed up into a corner, and Holyfield followed, forsaking the middle of the ring, where he could stay away from Holmes's right hand, a weapon that both Benton and Lou Duva feared, needlessly as it turned out.
The second was Holmes's best round. Saving his old legs, as he did while upsetting Ray Mercer on Feb. 7, Holmes battered Holyfield with hooks, right upper-cuts and short right hands. Once in the trenches, Holyfield is reluctant to retreat; when hurt he fires back. Outside of the ring, Benton shook his head in disgust.
At the bell, right before the 70-year-old Duva came bounding into the ring, Holmes patted Duva on the head and grinned. A moment later Duva was telling Holyfield, "Stop fighting his fight." The next four rounds brought more of the same: Holmes retreating to the ropes and Holyfield following. At that point the fight was close, although all three judges were scoring big for Holyfield. One judge, Glen Hamada, gave the champion all six rounds, including Holmes's big Round 2.