Anybody who studied this fight in advance, really scrutinized it, should now be able to perform vascular surgery. In the 13 months since doctors said Evander Holyfield had a faulty left ventricle following his sluggish loss to Michael Moorer in a title bout, there had been enough anatomical info in the press that any serious boxing fan should be qualified for a residency at a major teaching hospital.
Well, we all know now that Holyfield got an incomplete reading last year when doctors retired him with a heart irregularity. Batteries of tests performed at the Emory Clinic in his hometown of Atlanta and the brand-name Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., have since shown what most of us had already known: The heart of this peculiarly driven man is in excellent working order. Whatever happened in Las Vegas that strange night, when the normally reluctant Moorer peppered Holyfield at will, was a short-term debilitation caused by dehydration during the fight and the subsequent intravenous delivery of seven liters of liquids. Holyfield's pump, those clinics say, is perfect.
And, lest there were still any doubters in the medical community, Holyfield passed a kind of complicated EKG test last Saturday in Atlantic City, beating a game and determined Ray Mercer in 10 rounds of sometimes brutal heavyweight fighting. When Mercer cut Holyfield's right eye in the sixth round, all Holyfield did was win every ensuing round, even decking the never-before-floored Mercer to win a unanimous decision. Is Holy-field's heart O.K.? Did you see Holyfield, blood running down his check, as he stalked and battered Mercer?
Nobody can pretend any longer that boxing's good for you, but this fight did serve the purpose of giving Holyfield a clean bill of health. This is good news for Holyfield, a two-time heavyweight champion who means to win the crown again. Throughout his career, as an undersized fighter going up against the game's Goliaths, about all he had to offer was his heart. He would outwork his opponents, and when he couldn't outbox them, he would outbrawl them. His success in the ring was the product of sheer will. It was an example of effort taken to extremes. Denied use of a proper heart, Holyfield would be ordinary, a memory. But with a fully functional pumper, he is the new factor in a fractured division.
Now any discussion of the heavyweight titles should include Holyfield. But this is problematic since two of the titleholders (the WBC's Oliver McCall and the WBA's Bruce Seldon) are controlled by promoter Don King, who is presumed to be nursing them for the return of Mike Tyson. A third, Riddick Bowe, the WBO titleholder, appears to have a full calendar (he is scheduled to fight Jorge Luis Gonzalez on June 17), and a fourth, the IBF's George Foreman, seems doomed to a rematch with Axel Schulz.
But things happen. As Holyfield says, "I just have the feeling somebody will step out of line. Somebody's going to say, 'What good is a belt without the money?' " This is a not-so-sly reference to his own awesome earning power. Holyfield is history's pay-per-view champ: He has starred in six of the top 11 draws, and those title fights grossed $202 million. Is he bigger than Foreman? He's bigger than Streisand. You better believe somebody will break ranks with his alphabet organization and bolt for a bonanza that puts Holyfield's name on the marquee.
Money, though, has not been a factor in Holyfield's comeback. He has earned more than $100 million in his career, and, as he says, "What can I do with more money?" Even the opportunity for a third title has limited appeal. "How," he asks, reasonably, "can I be more famous?"
The most dedicated man in boxing admits that he reveled in his medical exile. "Everywhere I'd go, people would tell me I was still the champ," he says of-his retirement. "I didn't have to get hit, I didn't have to sweat, all I had to do was show up. I'd go to a Lennox Lewis fight, and people would say, 'Oh, you can beat him.' " Actually retirement was kind of wonderful.
But Holyfield, who doesn't wear his religion on his sleeve so much as on his trunks—which bear the citation PHILIPPI-ANS 4:13—got his beliefs all tangled up with his sport and found himself on a crusade. What boxing fan doesn't know the story by now? It seems that Holyfield attended a meeting held by televangelist Benny Hinn in Philadelphia and was, as they say in the vernacular, "slain in spirit." Hinn placed his hand on Holyfield's forehead and, by the power of his touch, drove him several times to the floor. Following that, Holyfield proclaimed himself healed.
Whether he was actually healed or was never sick in the first place depends, as far as Holyfield is concerned, on his audience. When he speaks to boxing commissions and writers, he chooses a medical explanation. Otherwise, he believes himself on a mission and invokes God's healing power to explain his comeback. In fact, he said last week, the reason that he chose Mercer, a difficult opponent, was to further that mission. "If I don't fight someone people will get excited about," he says, "no one will believe in me being healed or blessed."