For Evander Holyfield life doesn't become interesting until his work is on top of him. There may even be a theory of relativity at play here: Holyfield feels an increasing density of meaning as time runs short. Just look at his career. The closer he gets to a bout, the more schemes he hatches, the more decisions he makes. Day by day, as he prepares to enter the ring with a Riddick Bowe or a Mike Tyson, the growing pressure compacts his life, hardens his concentration, and things get done.
In recent years, during these times of heightened response he has tended to propose to women. Friends mark his big fights by his engagement announcements, which are almost as good advance notice as the fight posters. The pattern is comical but perhaps not so odd. Here we have the warrior's sudden need to organize his life before battle, to establish a legacy or at least a progeny before his 36 minutes of mortal combat.
The way Holyfield sees his behavior, though, it's not quite as complicated as that. He says he's naturally purposeful during these weeks and days before a fight, and the fact that he proposes marriage at these critical junctures is only because his attention has finally been engaged. "I make all my big decisions when it comes down to a fight," he says. For Holyfield, life is what happens when you're getting ready for 12 rounds with George Foreman.
Before his third fight with Bowe, in November 1995, Holyfield arrived in Las Vegas with the usual news: He was about to be married. He told friends that he had cried when he'd thought about moving into his then new eight-bedroom, 5,200-square-foot house in Atlanta alone and that he planned to marry a 24-year-old student at Clayton State College in Morrow, Ga., probably before the year was out.
That never happened. As surely as a fight inspires Holyfield to propose matrimony, just as surely does its aftermath discourage him from that course. In 1991, on the heels of a six-year marriage, he decided he'd never wed again until he retired. By his own count, between '92 and '95 he offered three women a prefight ring—the same ring ("I spent too much money on it for them to keep it," he says)—only to think better of his proposals after the bout. Nobody gets into a ring more often than Holyfield, except his various fiancées.
Then, before his bout with Tyson last November, when he had been inserted into the lineup as so much cannon fodder for the world's viewing enjoyment, the 34-year-old Holyfield showed up in Las Vegas with the news that he had not only popped the question this time but had also actually tied the knot for the second time. He would have a stepmother for his six children (Evander Jr., 13; Asheley, 11; and Ewin, 7, whom he had with his former wife, Paulette; Emony, 7; Ebony, 3; and Eden, 1, who are from relationships with three other women) and a companion for himself in his new 54,000-square-foot mansion. (The original 5,200-square-foot place turned out to be a starter house.)
He had married a 34-year-old internist from Chicago, he explained, with a rather apt specialty in pain management. He had met the good doc, Janice Itson, at a revival meeting and had wooed her, sort of, for two years over the phone until he finally proposed on a Wednesday four weeks before the fight and married her on the following Friday. They celebrated their wedding in a Shoney's that night, honeymoon to come.
Married to the now pregnant Janice for eight months, Evander isn't likely to make further matrimonial news before Saturday's rematch with Tyson in Las Vegas. A three-time heavyweight champion after his spectacular TKO upset of Tyson last fall, Holyfield will be risking his World Boxing Association crown but not his kingdom. He says he's happily married, his family and business successfully consolidated under one (very big) roof, and although he hasn't retired from the ring, as his friends and former handlers urged him to do long ago, he has at least retired the ring.
His is not only a happy story but an instructional one as well. Like his career, his marriage to Janice is unconventional and full of surprises. Actually, the marriage is so much like his career that by studying it you can begin to understand just how this overblown cruiserweight has become so suffused with heavyweight achievement. Both are a happy combination of inspiration, accident, hard work, spirituality and self-confidence.
Holyfield has no fear of failure or injury. Indeed, bravado is his calling card. That he will have earned $160 million over his career is often attributed to the luck of matchmaking, his pairing in big-money bouts, with Foreman or Bowe or Buster Douglas, that all seemed to have had more to do with his opponents than with him. But, in truth, the price he commands—$35 million for the Tyson rematch—is all about his willingness to deliver the goods, or to receive them. He is so reliably fearless that promoters can always guarantee spectacle. That's why he was signed to fight Tyson last November. Though widely considered to be washed up, Holyfield would be so game in his certain defeat that Tyson's profile might be lifted.