This courage has been hard-won. Holyfield is a little amazed by it, considering that he used to be paralyzed by fear, in a constant fatigue, worn down by always being afraid. From age eight, when he began boxing, until he was 17, he knew nothing but the constant anxiety of the bullied. "I was scared at everything I did, but especially boxing," he says. "I don't know how I ever got started, but I was scared. I don't know why I stayed. But I won a lot of fights, never got hurt, and as much torment as I was living in, I just assumed I would quit before I got to, say, 18. From watching the older kids box, I knew there came a time when you could get hurt, your nose would be bloody, your eye cut. I'd quit before that happened to me."
But at 17, before his checkout date, he suddenly found himself looking at a left hook from nowhere. Holyfield, then a slim 147 pounds of quivering nerves, was knocked unconscious, more or less, but he rose from the deck, charged his opponent, spit out his mouthpiece and bit him in the neck. It was quite a little amateur fight.
The bout came back to him in a dream that night, after his head had cleared. He had been knocked down, yes, but had gotten up and fought, after a fashion. Amazingly, he remembered nothing more from the experience than a numbness; it hadn't hurt at all. "I was never afraid again," he says.
This was a practical epiphany, and it served him well against Tyson last year, when Holyfield's refusal to knuckle under frustrated Tyson in the early rounds and surely led to Tyson's being knocked out. "All of a sudden, because I'm not intimidated, he has to think," Holyfield explains. "When he has to think, he has a little more pressure than he used to."
Courage is sometimes taken for granted in boxing, and fighters who fail to exhibit it at important times—say, Frank Bruno, who crossed himself over and over as he entered the ring to take his beating from Tyson, or Bruce Seldon, who seemed to faint before Tyson had a chance to turn out the lights for him—are decried as isolated failures, even though they are behaving quite sensibly in the face of danger. Holyfield's courage has long been a given, whether he was standing in against Dwight Muhammad Qawi during a 15-round victory in 1986 that was so grueling Holyfield went to the hospital afterward, or against Bowe, who extracted greatness from Holyfield in their three brutal fights.
Real courage, though, comes into play when Holyfield takes on love time after time, pretty sure there will be a left hook coming from nowhere. "I definitely take broken relationships like a divorce," he says. "They hurt. When you choose a woman, you hope it's for a lifetime, because every time you have to give one up, it's like a tragedy. You have to understand, my ultimate thing is to grow with a family. I couldn't see dating somebody without the idea of marrying her. I hate to get hooked on a woman and have to give her up."
But it seemed he was doomed to failure. He grew up fatherless, in a house dominated by women, and later found that he liked his marriage prospects in the same mold as his mother and four sisters. "Feisty, aggressive," he says. "Women who'd tell me exactly how they feel, right on the spot." But the growing evidence was that independent and high-spirited women were the wrong type for a man whose celebrity often came first. Still, it was evidence he ignored. He kept getting off the deck, charging forward, headed for despair every time.
His inclination for women like his mother is mostly why at first he didn't consider Janice for a mate. Though obviously a woman of achievement in her professional life—she's a doctor, after all—she was exceedingly mild-mannered, almost subservient in her dealings with Evander. For a long time after their meeting at that revival he never thought of her as anything more than a phone friend, someone with whom he could discuss the Bible.
Holyfield's surprise loss to Michael Moorer some weeks before that revival meeting and the discovery three days after the fight that he'd been boxing with a heart defect had sent him into a spiritual sprawl. In those days he was more on the lookout for a miracle than a bride. With a laying-on-of-hands six weeks after the uncovering of the heart defect, televange-list Benny Hinn had, in Holyfield's mind, cured him. (Doctors at the Mayo Clinic later found that the defect had never existed, thus clearing the way for Holyfield's comeback against Ray Mercer in May 1995.) But when Hinn announced at the Philadelphia meeting that Holyfield's future wife was in the house, Holyfield was skeptical.
Several weeks later, at a Hinn revival in California, Holyfield ran into Itson. Some of Hinn's assistants at this meeting tried to fix them up, but Holyfield protested, saying he was looking for a wife, not a doctor.