Preach as he might, Evander Holyfield has yet to convert everybody. Lennox Lewis, for one, failed to see the light after Holyfield's methodical destruction of IBF heavyweight champion Michael Moorer last Saturday in Las Vegas. To Lewis, Holyfield was the instrument of no higher power than promoter Don King, the bout just one more act of mortal man, infused with no more spirit than the average title fight. "Mediocre," he sniffed when asked what he thought of Holyfield's performance.
Lewis, the WBC champion, was in a decided minority in this little congregation. Moorer certainly got religion. He suffered crunching body blows and vicious uppercuts and was smashed to the canvas five times before the fight was finally stopped following the eighth round. He is now a believer.
So too are most of the people who saw the fight. They must consider Holyfield as more than a boxing footnote (the guy whose ear Mike Tyson bit off to get banished from boxing). Holyfield, even at 35, is much more than the man who exposed Tyson in their two fights. Only a couple of years removed from washed-up status after losing a 1994 decision to Moorer, Holyfield, now the WBA and IBF champ, has to be reckoned a fierce and durable fighter, smart enough to solve the few men to have beaten him, formidable enough to make the idea of a unified heavyweight title interesting.
He also has to be recast as boxing's savior, somebody who can restore order and reliability to a sport that in recent times has had little of either. His overreaching competence has been a breath of fresh air for boxing. If Holyfield is not the most gifted and skilled, or even hardest-hitting, fighter to wear a championship belt, he is nonetheless the most professional and the biggest-hearted.
Whether he can be matched with Lewis to become the first heavyweight since Rid-dick Bowe in '92 to unify the title remains to be seen. Even if the institutional policies of boxing's competing and confounding governing bodies can be satisfied, there is still the matter of money. Holyfield received $20 million for this bout (to Moorer's $8 million). He will not likely take less to climb into the ring with Lewis. Nor will Lewis, who is a pay-per-view bust no matter his qualifications as a puncher, want to do a promoter any favors. It will probably take $35 million, total, to make the men agree to meet, perhaps as early as March, and that kind of money may not be available.
Still, as Saturday's promotion was ending, there was optimism that public opinion and Holyfield's own desires would make such a fight happen. "If Evander tells Don King to make that fight," said Dino Duva, who promotes Lewis, " Don King will have to do it. And Evander wants that fight."
That's a good thought, the best fighters getting into the ring together. Lewis, who immobilized tough-guy Andrew Golota in one round last month, deserves to be there. Now Holyfield, who survived a rocky first round against a game Moorer, has earned a place. Moorer, whose only loss was to George Foreman in a fight immediately after the upset win over Holyfield, provided a nice test. Not many men knock Moorer down, not five times. Who knows how many more times he would have landed on the canvas if the ringside physician had not been sympathetic to his long-term health. "I never thought Evander could solve Michael's southpaw style," said Moorer's trainer, Freddie Roach. "But he did."
Having Holyfield as champion means acknowledging a fighter who is only partially interested in boxing and mostly interested in preaching. He is a man whose family is in more or less direct contact with God and who is not afraid to act upon each message he receives. His religious fervor goes beyond the scripture on his trunks and the upbeat gospel music that plays as he enters the ring. It extends to revival meetings, at the very least.
Two nights before the fight Holyfield conducted a full-blown revival in Las Vegas, where some 10,000 people convened at a minor league baseball stadium to hear him sing in front of a giant choir and seek donations for a children's charity. The religiosity factor at any Holyfield fight is quite high and often quite maddening—opponents crab that God can't favor the guy who protests his faith the most, or else Jimmy Swaggart would have retired the crown—but this past promotion set new standards for preachiness. Thanks to God's piping a directive to Holyfield's wife, Janice, to hold a rally in Las Vegas (less than a year after God "dropped" it on Evander to marry Janice), the fighter was, in effect, doing his roadwork under a tent.
He also spent last week peddling his Warrior Wear sports attire, visiting on-line with high school journalism students, making himself available to all manner of media and, as ever, conducting open workouts right to the end. He even had something left for the 29-year-old Moorer. It was perverse and stubborn of Lewis, the dreadlocked Brit, not to be impressed with Holyfield, if not for his performance in the ring, then for his ambitions. Hardly any athlete is this agreeable or purposeful. But forget that. Even if Holyfield were a surly recluse—let's see, who would be an example of that type?—last Saturday's fight ought to have swayed Lewis just a bit.