LAST SATURDAY'S WBA heavyweight title fight in Zurich between Nikolay Valuev and Evander Holyfield had all the elements of a Barnum & Bailey production. There was a sideshow attraction (Valuev, a seven-foot Russian with a cranium that was once compared to a Volkswagen), a modern-day daredevil (the 46-year-old Holyfield, who against medical advice continues to fight) and, seated ringside, three judges who ably played the role of clowns.
In handing Valuev (now 51--1) a majority decision, the judges robbed Holyfield (42-10-2) of a record fifth stint as heavyweight champion. It wasn't that Holyfield was good; it was that Valuev was positively awful, providing a stationary target in the middle of the ring and refusing to use his considerable size advantage. For 12 rounds Holyfield danced around the champ, occasionally doing damage inside before darting beyond Valuev's long jab. "I thought I did everything necessary to win," said Holyfield.
But probably the most disconcerting thing about the fight is that Holyfield, buoyed by his showing, demanded a rematch. If he wins that, it could mean meeting either or both of the Klitschko brothers, IBF and WBO champ Wladimir and WBC champ Vitali, either of whom could be hazardous to Holyfield's health. After the Valuev fight, Holyfield struggled to form sentences—though Valuev had barely touched him. He deserved to walk out of the ring on Saturday as a champion. But he should never be allowed to walk back in.