The world gym, set back in a strip shopping center on the southwest side of Houston, is a vast expanse of chrome, mirrors and sweating, lycra-clad bodies. At 4:30 on a muggy late-March afternoon, the gym is filling with the after-work crowd—young men and women pumping iron and puffing away on various aerobic machines. No one seems to notice when the heavyweight champion of the world walks in. Evander Holyfield, wearing canary yellow sweatpants, a T-shirt emblazoned with a large picture of himself in action (EVANDER spelled out alongside) and a REAL DEAL baseball cap, is here for his afternoon weight workout. He has brought no entourage, only his brother Bo and his lifting coach, Chase Jordan. Bo carries a clipboard and pen with which to record the champion's program.
A few of his fellow patrons eye Holyfield discreetly as he begins to rip through his exercises. One or two say, "Hey, Champ," but there is no mad celebrity rush, and many seem not to recognize him. One man appears uncertain. He stands, a pair of dumbbells in his hands, and watches as Holyfield walks by. "You're right, that is him," the man whispers to a friend. "He's sure got the look."
Indeed. There are few athletes in any sport as imposing as the 6'2", 210-pound Holyfield, with his glowering yet handsome visage and his comic-book superhero's physique. But Holyfield has more than the look. He won the heavyweight championship last October in Las Vegas with a third-round knockout of James (Buster) Douglas. He is undefeated in his 25-bout professional career. And for power, technique and conditioning, he may be the most complete prizefighter in the world. The question, then, is, why aren't more people paying attention?
On April 19 Holyfield will defend his title against George Foreman in Atlantic City in a pay-per-view promotion that many expect to be the highest-grossing fight in boxing history. Holyfield will earn at least $20 million; Foreman, $12.5 million. But make no mistake. It is the 42-year-old, 240-pound Foreman, with his shaved head and his fast-food one-liners, who will lure the crowds and the media army. Don King has said repeatedly that the 28-year-old Holyfield "couldn't draw flies in a dump." Meanwhile, King's fighter Mike Tyson—fresh from his controversial March 18 TKO of Razor Ruddock, whom he will face again in June—commands the most attention among the heavies. In the minds of many it is only a matter of time before Tyson recaptures his title, from Holyfield or from Foreman.
Holyfield takes no offense at such attitudes. "It's good for the game of boxing," he says. "When one guy gets all the attention, it makes the sport boring. But when there's lots going on, people get interested in boxing again. They're always going to say, 'Who's the heavyweight champion?' And it'll always come back to me."
Maybe so, but it's also true that Holy-field lacks a feel for the limelight. "Evander is growing into his role," says Shelly Finkel, an adviser since the beginning of Holyfield's pro career and his new business manager. "At heart, though, he is still a working man."
A working man with unique pressures. Recently, he and his wife, Paulette, have filed for divorce—apparently amicably, though the split reportedly may cost him $10 million—and he has fired, rehired and finally replaced his longtime manager, Ken Sanders. All the while, Holyfield keeps saying, "You can't forget what got you there. And that's hard work."
Clearly, Holyfield has not forgotten. Having completed his third workout of the day (in the morning he ran, and later he sparred six rounds), Holyfield is seated in the World Gym's Fitness Cafe, partaking of a large turkey sandwich and a Hot Stuff power drink. At the moment, he seems mostly concerned with the evening's planned bowling expedition.
"These guys," says Holyfield in his rich Georgia accent, pointing to Bo and to Jordan, "try to work me to death so they can beat me at bowling. But I'm going to beat the daylights out of them anyway."
"This is a real loose camp," says Holy-field's co-trainer Lou Duva. "You think you'd ever see Mike Tyson out bowling with his sparring partners?"