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Evander Holyfield answered the final question last Saturday night. He hit Adilson Rodrigues on the head, knocking him silly. Rodrigues may not be the greatest heavyweight in the world—somehow, going into the fight, he was ranked second and third, respectively, by the WBC and the WBA—but he is 6'2" and weighs at least 221 pounds. When Holyfield caught him with an overhand right in the second round, Rodrigues was still fresh. And when he fell, he took with him any doubts that Holyfield is the only genuine challenger to heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.
Before the scheduled 12-rounder at Caesars in Lake Tahoe, Nev., suspicions lingered that Holyfield was nothing more than a cruiserweight masquerading as a heavyweight. O.K., so he has spent a good deal of time in the gym bulking up. Sure, he's stronger. Endurance? Lord, yes. Still, there was always that last question: How hard can he hit?
Even after Holyfield won his first three fights as a heavyweight, the answer had been: not hard enough. After moving up to heavyweight last year following a 17-month reign as world cruiserweight champion, Holyfield, 26, stopped James Tillis in five rounds, Pinklon Thomas in seven and Michael Dokes in 10. Impressive, certainly, but Tillis, Thomas and Dokes were the victims of attrition. They were chopped down by the quantity of Holyfield's punches rather than by the quality of them. Both Thomas and Dokes finished "on their feet. Tillis quit on his stool. Even though those three victories confirmed that Holyfield was the second-best heavyweight in the world, in the realm of King Mike, boxers who can't hit with power are better off in another line of work.
"You've got to smack the s.o.b. [ Tyson] hard enough to make him back off," says Lou Duva, Holyfield's grizzled 67-year-old strategist. "If you can't, you're just in there for a payday. And we haven't spent all this time working with Evander just to make a few bucks."
Rodrigues, 31, a former bricklayer from S�o Paulo, was supposed to be a stern test for Holyfield. No one expected Rodrigues to win—despite a 35-2 record he went in as an 11-to-1 underdog—but he is big, strong and durable. "You could hit this guy with a baseball bat and he'd grin at you," said Angelo Dundee, Rodrigues's trainer, last Friday. "Holyfield's punches will bounce off my guy like raindrops."
Some raindrops. A year ago, when Holyfield began his run for Tyson's title, he could bench-press 190 pounds. "Today he's 33 percent stronger than he was last year," says Tim Hallmark, Holyfield's physical-fitness guru. "He does 10 repetitions with 360 pounds after his pulse rate has risen to 180 or 190 beats per minute. A football player can do 360 pounds, but that is with his normal heart rate. If you get his heart rate up to 180 or 190 and tell him to do 360, he'll look at you like you're crazy. There is a tremendous strength decrease [as the heart rate increases]. He won't be able to do it."
Hallmark, a former triathlete who also swam for the University of Houston, believes that Holyfield is the finest endurance athlete in the world. Holyfield's celebrated workouts are a carefully monitored combination of cardiovascular exercise and resistance weight training—an unusual regimen for a boxer. Every phase of the workout is done with Hallmark constantly checking Holyfield's pulse.
"He is a beautiful blend of strength, endurance and flexibility," says Hallmark. "Strength without flexibility is debilitating for a fighter. There is a cost in hand speed and punching accuracy. Holyfield trains the same as a triathlete or a 10-kilometer runner, but he also trains the same as a football player to get endurance and strength."
In one exercise, Holyfield spends 12 minutes jumping with his feet together on and off a 2�-foot-high block. Over those 12 minutes, says Hallmark, he will jump more than a basketball player does in an entire game. Holyfield's heart rate will hit 220, the same point it reaches at the end of three minutes of fighting. During the one-minute rest period between rounds, Holyfield's heart rate will fall as low as 130.
"Going back to the corner, Evander's heart rate and his opponent's are probably the same," says Hallmark. "But if you put them on a graph, the opponent's drop between rounds will be a gentle slope. Evander's is like falling from a cliff. His recovery is amazing."