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Tuning Up for Tyson
Clive Gammon
December 14, 1987
Heavyweight-to-be Evander Holyfield paused in his new-wave training to defend his 190-pound title against Dwight Qawi
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December 14, 1987

Tuning Up For Tyson

Heavyweight-to-be Evander Holyfield paused in his new-wave training to defend his 190-pound title against Dwight Qawi

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For those who Relish symbolism, the IBF cruiserweight championship fight on Saturday made a night to remember. At 2:30 of the fourth round, challenger Dwight Muhammad Qawi went down, the victim of a stunning overhand right from WBA and IBF champion Evander Holyfield. It was only the second time in the 34-fight career of the durable Qawi (who's 34 and used to be Dwight Braxton) that he had been decked—in fact, the first such occasion had come only 50 seconds earlier. But the beauty of the moment, the sweetness of the symbolism, was in the way Qawi came to rest directly in front of heavyweight champ Mike Tyson, who was there at ringside at the Convention Hall in Atlantic City.

How can you give a man a broader hint than that? With almost contemptuous ease, Holyfield, 25, had not only destroyed Qawi, from whom he had won the WBA junior heavyweight title in 1986, but he had also served notice that, sometime within the next 12 months, depending on how long his transition to the heavyweight division takes, he expects to emerge as the No. 1 contender for Tyson's undisputed title. Should that come about, it might change forever the way boxers prepare for fights.

That is because Holyfield's victory Saturday, which ran his record to 17-0, was largely orchestrated by Tim Hallmark, a 32-year-old fitness specialist from Texas. Through Hallmark, a swimmer as an undergraduate at the University of Houston and a former competitive triathlete, Holyfield has glimpsed the future of fight training and found it full of a new sort of pain—of the kind he felt, for instance, on a recent evening in Houston, when his face was clenched in a rictus of sweaty agony as his deltoids strained against an unforgiving machine that was putting 121 pounds of pressure on them. And that moment of intense pain was just one of the elements that have already replaced miles of roadwork and hours of sparring in Holyfield's conditioning regimen.

There's nothing new, of course, about machines like this one, a rotary deltoid exerciser from Finland. They can be found all over the nation in yuppie-oriented fitness centers that may charge you $100 for an hour's one-on-one workout. It is doubtful, though, that anyone at Workout Etc., a gleaming gym off Houston's Southwest Freeway, gets his money's worth the way Holyfield does. There's a touch of irony here. Yuppies in search of fitness have invaded boxing gyms all over the country. Now Holyfield has reversed the trend.

Like a great cat oblivious to the lesser creatures of the jungle—in this case the women in leotards, the men with a thousand business lunches to work off—Holyfield pounded Workout Etc.'s indoor running track last month as cardiovascular exercise between sessions of resistance weight training. And his heart rate was monitored by Hallmark, who constantly checked the pulse at the carotid artery.

"Two-twenty," said an obviously pleased Hallmark a few minutes later, after Holyfield had finished a session of box jumping—feet together from a standing position onto a 2½-foot-high block. "He's done more jumping in 12 minutes than a player does in a whole hour of basketball. That 220 rate is the fastest his heart will get in 15 rounds of a fight. Now I'm conditioning him to back down from that high-paced boxing movement into a very relaxed recovery mode so that he can drop down as low as 130 in his one minute of rest between rounds. When he first came to me he could only fall back to 175, 180. Now, every round he goes out 66% more recovered than he used to be."

Applying modern conditioning techniques to boxing isn't entirely new. Mackie Shilstone was first in the field when he worked on Michael Spinks before Spinks's first fight against Larry Holmes in 1985, but Hallmark is now its most committed proponent. And the coming together of Hallmark and Holyfield, an intelligent young fighter of equal commitment, is the stuff of which revolutions are made.

Although he also works with WBA junior middleweight champion Mike McCallum, IBF lightweight champ Vinny Pazienza and IBF junior lightweight champion Rocky Lockridge, Hallmark is closest to Holyfield. "We are both strong believers in God," says Hallmark, "and we both believe that if a man has done everything in his power, then he can get on his hands and knees and ask God to be with him."

Which is why last weekend, only hours before Holyfield would enter the ring against Qawi, both he and Hallmark were unself-consciously on their knees in prayer in the unlikely setting of Room 434 at Caesars Atlantic City. A Bible—not a Gideon's but Holyfield's own much-thumbed copy—lay open to Proverbs 3:18. "Wisdom is a tree of life to those who eat her fruit...."

"You have wisdom, you have security," Hallmark told Holyfield over and over again, hypnotically. "And you have paid your dues."

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