Still, he took her number. When he returned to Atlanta, he dialed her up in Chicago, where she practiced in an HMO, and they had a 10-hour talk. Holyfield, who is seldom overmatched in conversation, was surprised that he was held to just 10 minutes of it on his end. This was an unusual woman, he had to admit. When it came to discussing the Bible, not many people had kept up with Holyfield, and here she was reciting scripture to him. He was impressed.
But he was not smitten. He asked Itson, who had never been married, to visit him in Atlanta, and there was lots of conversation but no sparks. Still, Holyfield, sensing that Itson might be good for him, invited her to Jerusalem on a Hinn-led tour in November 1994, figuring that if he and Itson couldn't be inspired toward love in the Holy Land, there was no hope. There wasn't. He was disappointed and told her they'd have to be just friends.
For two years, as his comeback proceeded by fits and starts, they remained just that, long-distance friends, talking the nights away about their faith, their families, their hopes. Except for the fact that he had no desire for her, she was the perfect mate. Then, as his date with Tyson drew near, he had a brainstorm. While he trained in Houston, she could come to Atlanta and watch his children. It was ideal from his point of view. He trusted her entirely with his kids. Yet, there being no romantic interest, he could also trust himself.
Itson agreed—very reluctantly. Holyfield put an enormous guilt trip on her, telling her this was his biggest fight, that she was supposed to be his best friend. "He sounded like he was going to cry," she says. She agreed to take a short leave from work and come down and bail her "best friend" out. But she regarded this as, she says, "arm-twisting" of the worst sort and didn't intend to stay any longer than she had to. "I mean, I came down with just two suitcases," she says.
On occasional visits back to Atlanta, Holyfield confirmed his assessment that in a lot of ways Itson would be an ideal mate. "She knew things I didn't know, like business," he says. "She could give my kids things I couldn't, like education." It was just too bad, he thought, "she wasn't my type." Janice remembers him saying the strangest things, "like, we'd always be together, even if I got married to somebody else. He kept saying I'd always be a part of his life."
Everybody knew what was going on except Holyfield. The woman he was dating at the time wondered why he kept talking about his babysitter. His trainer, his friends all noticed he kept talking about Itson, not Tyson. "They all teased him," Janice says, "telling him he was in love."
Evidently, he was. On one trip back to Atlanta, he noticed she was kind of pretty. How hadn't he seen that before? This development plagued and confused him during his training in Houston. Then one day, during an early morning workout, Holyfield had a visitation of sorts. Apparently, from the heavenly perspective, enough was enough. He called Itson on a Wednesday evening, exactly one month before the fight, and said that God had "dropped it to" him that he should marry her. The thing was, they would have to be married that Friday because of his busy schedule. Otherwise, he told her, in the kind of sweet talk she found impossible to deflect, she "could forget it."
Itson believed there was a spiritual imperative at work here, because she certainly didn't see any romance in Holyfield's approach. Holyfield returned to Atlanta on Thursday night, didn't say much about the wedding and then suddenly whisked Itson off to a hospital emergency room at midnight for a blood test.
Blood test or not, Itson remained uncertain. She was too wary to tell anybody but her sister and best friend about her impending marriage. As Friday drew to a close and nothing had been said about the wedding, she was thinking, Good thing. She and Holyfield were in a church meeting together at four o'clock, when he asked, "When does this marriage office close?"
It closed at 4:30. They rushed over, the ever suave Holyfield produced a well-circulated five-carat ring, and they were married. Holyfield was dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, an outfit that was perhaps better suited to the wedding meal at Shoney's than to the ceremony itself. Well, the former Janice Itson thought in accepting this strange turn of events, God does foolish things just so he can confound the wise.