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Wishing Holyfield would disappear

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Ben Dirs | 10:56 UK time, Monday, 6 September 2010

Evander Holyfield admits he finds it difficult to deal with people asking why he continues to fight. He thinks they are afraid he'll get hurt. He thinks they are afraid he's making a fool of himself.

"Oh Evander," says Holyfield, screwing up his face and pretending to cry as he imitates his concerned fans, "we love you! Why you still fighting? Do you really want to get beat up? You're such a nice guy!"

The truth is more brutal than that. The truth is most people are less concerned about his well-being than they are about the well-being of boxing. The truth is people used to love him but now he has become an embarrassment to the sport. Mention Evander Holyfield and people laugh or they wince or they refuse to believe he is still fighting.

"It's not so much about proving people wrong," explained Holyfield, in London to promote an open air poker festival in Leicester Square. But Holyfield, 48 in October, has been proving people wrong all his life - people who told him "you ain't gonna do this and you ain't gonna do that" - and whether he wants to admit it or not, it's what defines him.

Holyfield still looks physically strong as he approaches his 48th birthday

Born the youngest of eight children to a single mother living in the dirt-poor Deep South, Holyfield came into the world an underdog and continued to be one, whether he was having to knock out white fighters as an amateur to make sure of getting a result or coming from obscurity to secure a spot at the Los Angeles Olympics.

Things didn't change when he joined the professional ranks, even after he became the 'The Real Deal': he was the underdog when he won the undisputed cruiserweight crown from Dwight Muhammad Qawi (what Holyfield calls his toughest fight); the underdog three times against Riddick Bowe; the underdog twice against Mike Tyson; the underdog twice more against Lennox Lewis. He won some, he lost some, but in Holyfield's world "setbacks pave the way for comebacks" - and besides, "Momma told me never to quit".

Holyfield told me the story of the first time he met Tyson between the ropes, 12 years before their first world title fight in 1996 and the abomination that followed, when 'The Baddest Man on the Planet' turned grisly gourmand and made a meal of his rival's ears.

"Every time Mike sparred he tried to kill people and his trainer warned me, 'you sure you want to do this Evander? Mike hit real hard'. We got in the ring, he tried to do all that stuff and I pinned him in the corner. They all knew then that it makes no difference how big you are, I'll go toe-to-toe with you. From that point on, Mike knew I'd look him in the eye and say, 'OK, let's go.'"

Fearlessness and obduracy, two traits that made Holyfield a four-time world heavyweight champion - and two traits that have since become his foes.

Holyfield beat Francois Botha in April

Abandoned by trainer after trainer - the venerable Ronnie Shields, who left in 2007, said a fight against either Klitschko brother could be "deadly" - Holyfield stands alone in thinking he knows best and everyone else is wrong. And when he has his doubts, God apparently tells him to keep on chugging.

Holyfield tells the story in his autobiography of the time in December 2004, shortly after a painful defeat by Larry Donald, his third on the spin, a 'prophet' from Texas called Dale Gentry predicted he would make a "major comeback". "I'd been written off by the boxing world," writes Holyfield, "and Gentry's prediction made no sense to anybody. Except me."

In part, Holyfield's delusion is fed by the pitiful state of the heavyweight division. He admitted he might not be fighting today were there big men of the calibre of Bowe, Tyson and Lewis still boxing.

But when you consider how close he came to reclaiming a portion of the heavyweight crown against Nikolay Valuev in 2008, a year before Britain's David Haye wrested the WBA title from the giant Russian, you can at least begin to understand his reasoning. Problem is, even if he had beaten Valuev, Holyfield would not have been sated.

"If they had given me the belt I should have got when I fought Lennox Lewis in 1999 in Vegas [Lewis won via a unanimous decision], I would have quit because my goal was to become undisputed heavyweight champion of the world," said Holyfield.

"It's not so much I look at the division and think it's weak, I just ain't reached my goal. I told everyone when I lost the title against Riddick Bowe in 1992, 'I'm gonna come back' - I made a commitment."

When Holyfield takes me through the parts of his body still in good working order - his shoulders, his knees, the heart which gave out during his first fight with Michael Moorer as far back as 1994 - at no stage does he point to his head.

As former super-middleweight world champion Richie Woodhall once told me, a fighter's head is like a walnut: it might take some cracking at first but it's time to get out once the fissures start appearing. Yet Holyfield, it appears, is going nowhere.

In Detroit in November, he will fight a 38-year-old American called Sherman Williams, having defeated a 40-year-old South African called Francois Botha in April. As Holyfield likes to tell us, it's his choice. For that reason, I don't much feel sorry for him. It's the sport of boxing we should all feel sorry for.

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  • Comment number 1.

    In the first part of his career Holyfield was my favourite heavyweight.but he did have some dubious decisions go his way.No way should his first encounter with Lewis been declared a draw.I could have lived with a draw in the second fight. I thought he won the first fight with Moorer,he looked awful against Czyz but won the respect of everyone when he gave Tyson a boxing lesson.I agree he shouldn't be boxing at his age but I don't know what else he could do.

  • Comment number 2.

    Interesting blog Ben but I can't help but think your missing the point.

    "...Holyfield's delusion is fed by the pitiful state of the heavyweight division"

    Yes.... but WHY is heavyweight boxing in such a poor state? It isn't Holyfield's fault!


    1. WBA, WBC, WBO, WBF, IBF, IBO. An utter shambles of the highest order. Boxing, the heavyweight division in particular is ruined by a complete vacuum and organisation at the highest level. The public want competitive quality boxing (note the success of the Super Six series) not mandatory defences against no-namers who so happen to be ranked by that organisation.

    The organisations above are unlikely to change themselves.

    2. Promoters

    The heavyweight division has been recently plagued with Champ vs Bum fights.
    Which denigrates the division- why bother stepping up from Cruiser if you'll be ducked in favour of cannon fodder; allowing boxers like Holyfield to fill the talent gap but also switching the public off heavyweight boxing.

    All served up by the promoters, bringing boxing into disrepute arguably.

    Yet the promoters ultimately have the power (i.e. purse strings) to bash heads together and make a competitive heavyweight division again.

    The fact is, in a competitive division of unified heavyweight boxing(or say 2 councils) there would be far more public attention = PPV subscribers= Bigger purses and make great legends of boxers.

    Even a medium ability heavyweight in a competitive division will make more money and 1 defeat will not end a career. Either Klitschko would earn far more this way too.

    So laying into Holyfield is easy- but it's akin to lambasting the ticket tout for taking advantage of the systemic failure of many sporting authorities to ticket properly.

    Unfortunately it takes a far braver hack than your good self to attack the power-brokers of boxing.Indeed it makes no sense for a part-time boxing reporter to do so.

    Don't feel sorry for boxing- feel sorry for the fans who are denied a great sport.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think it says more about the sad state of boxing when a clown like Audley Harrison could be close to a shot at David Haye for the WBA strap.
    He's disappointed crowds almost every time he steps in the ring (except when he's KO'd - they do seem to enjoy that), he was being comprehensively outboxed by journeyman Michael Sprott and, had it not been for Sprott's foolishness in trading with him in the 12th, Audley would now be but a smear on the footnote at the bottom of boxing's History page. He pulls out a freak punch and now he's banging on about being willing to fight Haye for a million pounds.
    To be perfectly honest, as ridiculous as it is that Holyfield still feels he can gain a portion of the HW title, I feel he deserves more of a chance than the perennial under-acheiever Audley Harrison.

  • Comment number 4.

    Commander Vander has earned the right to do whatever he chooses to do in the sport! He's traded punches with some of the best, he's ALWAYS given 100% and he's never ducked a fighter. Men like him are rare in the modern boxing world!

    Of greater concern should be the forthcoming farce that is Haye v Harrison! I literally spat coffee out over my keyboard when I saw the headline confirming the fight was on... what a joke (and a bad one at that!). Of course Fraudley is going to grasp the opportunity, but what must Haye have been thinking? Does he care what kind of legacy he leaves behind to the boxing world? By taking this fight he has shown himself to be everything that Holyfield is not! A man prepared to suck money from the sport by chasing the easy buck! And lets not kid ourselves... it's not inconceivable that Audley could win this one. It just gets worse...

    Pick on someone else - someone who deserves it!

  • Comment number 5.

    I understand that Holyfield's financial situation is not that sound, with an army of children on his shoulders with a number of different women... That may also contribute to explain this madness.

  • Comment number 6.

    The problem with Evander Holyfield now is the same as it has been for the last decade or more namely that he belives that to retire means that he is a quitter. On quite a few occasions during his time as a heavyweight people have called on him to retire and he refused, even back to the period after the first Bowe fight. Those first few refusals to retire proved people wrong so he thinks now that he can continue to ignore calls and still return to his greatness even approaching fifty. The sad fact is that this is likely to end only one way and that somebody will have to beat him into retirement and then we will have to hope that his prolonged career will not lead to long term health problems.

  • Comment number 7.

    How old was Archie Moore when he finally hung up his gloves? He didn't have six months between fights and fought with lighter gloves than they do these days. If Holyfield can still make money to provide for his family good luck to him, he's a big boy and knows the risks.

  • Comment number 8.

    "The truth is people used to love him but now he has become an embarrassment to the sport."
    I don't think I've ever read anything so disrespectful from you. How does he embarrass the sport exactly?
    Cut the man some slack, he's one of the finest cruiserweight and heavyweight fighters to grace the ring. He is the epitome of toughness and bravery. The way he stood his ground against Mike Tyson in their first fight is incomprehensible to the likes of you and me.
    The man has a right to earn a living. He still has a licence to fight which means he is still medically and physically fit to do so. If you don't like it, don't watch it.

  • Comment number 9.

    I agree with Bigbaldboab and disagree with Ben Dirs. Don't feel sorry for boxing because of Holyfield, it's not his fault that boxing (and the Heavyweight division especially) is in such a sorry state. Boxing is capably embarassing itself without any help from Holyfield.

    Lets get this clear, I love boxing but the people within boxing are destroying the sport. Until we can get back to the days when the best fight the best, no amount of George Foremans or Evander Holyfields can damage boxing more than it is damaging itself. Without opening a debate on Calzaghe & Ottke, can anyone honestly say that it is to boxing's credit that the Super Middleweight division produced TWO unbeaten World Champions in the same generation? To me, I feel far more sorry that this happened than the fact Holyfield is still going.

  • Comment number 10.

    Holyfield beat Valuev with relative ease, David Haye beat Valuev narrowly. The Klitschko brothers continue to spear an endless series of fat uninspired slobs. You can't blame Holyfield for wanting to fight on with that form. The truth is Holyfield is still a dangerous guy in this dire current heavyweight division.

    As usual Ben Dirs is way off, 'The truth is most people are less concerned about his well-being than they are about the well-being of boxing' what exactly do you base this on Ben? Please explain. Holyfield, regardless of whether we like him fighting on, is held in immense regard for his astonishing career and battles.

  • Comment number 11.

    Oh and PS, I'm glad to see the people commenting on this article have a lot more knowledge of boxing & respect for Holyfield than Ben Dirs does.

  • Comment number 12.

    I cannot bear articles like this. Surely, if you are a fan of boxing, you are a fan of a sport where the object is to injure your opponent. Why is watching young boxers trying to injure eachother any less objectionable than watching older boxers trying to injure eachother?

  • Comment number 13.

    I echo the above point. These articles annoy me too.

    Holyfield is a fully grown man, if he feels he wishes to continue in his chosen profession and is legally sane, it is soley up to him to make that decision not some "caring" journalist who feels he should give up for his own sake, just so his legacy looks better to the journalist. It's his life! You only get one life,it is up to him if he wants to go on.

    And after the Valuev performance where in my mind and in the mind of chief boxing writer of ESPN Dan Rafel, he had done enough to win that fight on points, he is not exactly getting pumelled in every fight.

    He is obviously not the fighter he was, but he is still good enough to almost beat a World Champion(Valuev) so therefore has every right to continue.

    Nothing annoys me more than a SELF SATISFYING moral crusader, please do not become one Ben.

  • Comment number 14.

    Evander was a great champion and still can really get himself in shape. His best fighting days are well and truly over and i can see no other reason that he stays other than the money.

    Evander give up before you get hurt really badly, the heavy weight division is not as stong as it was but all the same you are old enough to be a grandad and thats how it will look when you fight someone like Haye!

    The Klitchkos are a bit of a joke and have taken advantage of the fact that the heavyweight division has been poor. I will be pleased to see Haye finally take those fights and clean them out.

    Shannon briggs?? what is that all about he might as well fight Ricky Hatton! What a Joke!

    Anyway Evander if they need somone to clean the ring with their face we have harrison so just put your feet up!

  • Comment number 15.

  • Comment number 16.

    The man loves his job. We know and he knows he is not what he was, but that is no reason to stop doing what you love and live for.

  • Comment number 17.

    I remember in 1999, Larry Holmes was boxing fellow veteran Bonecrusher Smith, and on the undercard Greg Page was boxing Tim Witherspoon. Some journalist was crying to Holmes 'Why are you doing it? You're hurting your legacy' to which Holmes responded 'I'm getting paid $300, 000. What do I care about how I'm remembered when I'm gone? I'll be dead, so it makes no ******* difference to me'

  • Comment number 18.

    Dirs is wrong...Again! Sherman Tank Williams is a Bahamian, NOT, as he wrote, an American.

  • Comment number 19.

    Many thanks for your responses, it's obviously an issue some of you feel strongly about. For those of you who say 'leave him alone, it's his choice if he wants to continue fighting', I'd say this: do you not think it was an embarrassment for boxing that Ali continued to fight and was allowed to continue when his speech was slurred and his illness was clear for all to see? Did you not think it was an embarrassment for boxing when Greg Page, aged 42 I believe, fought for $1500, was knocked out and suffered a stroke? What about Holyfield-Tyson III, as has been mooted, would that float your boat? Having spoken to Holyfield I can tell you his speech is slurred so it's beginning to take its toll. Someone points out that commissions keep giving him licenses - well, yes, but they shouldn't. He was a great, great fighter, a legend of the game - but the fact he's still boxing demeans the sport.

  • Comment number 20.

    first off Holyfield-Tyson 3 would never happen seems like your using that to aid/joke the back up your claim that Holyfield should stop fighting at the end of the day he isnt making a show of himself he is still fighting at a competive level and his show against valuev was unreal for his age "in and out" the same way haye fought him, he is a legend and if he still wants to fight and is capable whats the problem?? Haye and Harrison theres the "JOKE" who wants to see that fight?? wouldnt be supprised if the winner of that would choose to fight holyfield for an easy fight instead of fighting one of the klitschko bros and i tell you i would back holyfield against haye or harrison not the klitschko bros though i do belive holyfield no longer holds the tools to beat either but love to see it anyways... Jim

  • Comment number 21.

    It can be perceived as sad that he is still boxing but with all due respect Holyfield has done a lot more for the sport of boxing than the author and it shouldn't be up to an irrelevant blogger to conclude that one of the all time greats and future hall of famer is hurting the sport!!

  • Comment number 22.

    I agree Ali should not of carried on fighting but it was up to him and he is responsible for it.

    Just because Ali looked bad in those later fights no legends are allowed to fight past a certain age? That's just stupid, every boxer is different. Look at George Foreman he was winning World Titles at 45. Holyfield is not getting pumelled like Ali was either. If he was he might not be getting the licenses he is.

    If any other fighter in the world put in a performance like he did against Valuev would you tell them to give up? He won the fight in many peoples minds, Valuev was the WBA Champion, I agree not the best but still World Class in todays day and age and was David Haye's biggest win of his career.

    And to say Holyfields speech is slurring, every boxers speech slurs, Bruno started slurring at 26, would you have told him to quit then?

    On this one Ben you are wrong. It is up to Holyfield if he wants to continue, he is still performing at a half decent level, and he is responsible for the consequences, end of discussion.

  • Comment number 23.

    JobyJak - Well, no, I'm not 'wrong' am I, I just don't agree with a handful of people commenting on this blog, they're two different things entirely. And this isn't the end of the discussion!

    Of course it was up to Ali to continue fighting, no-one was forcing him to do anything, but my point is it shouldn't have been up to him, the people who run boxing should have taken that decision out of his hands. And this idea that because Holyfield keeps on getting licenses, therefore what's the problem, doesn't make sense to me either. The NY commission revoked his license as long ago as 2004, after he lost 11 of 12 rounds, so they thought it was dangerous to still be fighting way back then - but they're obviously more compassionate than the Nevada commission, which was quite happy to see a legend like Holyfield fight in front of 2000 fans against Botha, in an arena that holds 20000 - is that how you like to remember your heroes?

    Also, no, not every fighters' speech is slurred - Bruno's speech isn't slurred now, and never has been, he sometimes just had trouble over his words, that's all. Most fighters I speak to, their speech isn't slurred - I know plenty of old fighters who are in their 70s and 80s, with hundreds of fights between them, and they're perfectly lucid.

  • Comment number 24.

    WOW people get so angry when they disagree with someone. I'm sorry but watching Holyfield fight at his age is embarrassing, of course it’s not his fault he is allowed to and wants to carry on fighting it’s just a the sorry state of affairs that boxing is in.

    Holyfield should have packed up a long time ago regardless of how good he was/is. I don’t want to remember him as a wrinkly old man whose muscles are falling down trying to punch some bum who wouldn’t last 5 seconds with him in his prime.

    Also JobyJak, making thing sup just to try and prove your argument is a bit pathetic Bruno was on tele 2 weeks ago NOT slurring.

  • Comment number 25.

    Frankly, I'm staggered by the stick that has been dished out by posters for what appears to me to be a perfectly sensible piece. Ben is right - Evander Holyfield, a man who I consider an all-time great and who I have the utmost respect for, should not be continuing to fight. The fact that he does is down not just to his noble but ultimately misguided desire to prove the likes of me wrong, but also to the fact that the authorities of this sport are far too weak to prevent the damage all of us should fear from happening, even after the lesson of Ali that was so correctly cited earlier. And to pick up on Jobyjak's point about George Foreman - yes Foreman did win a world title at 45, but Foreman had had a period of many, many years when he did not fight at all, so he had not taken anything like the punishment that Holyfield has, so I don't think the comparison stands up.

    Jimmy King, I accept the point about Holyfield's tactics in his bout with Valuev, but I didn't think he won the fight. In any event, it is not credible to compare him fighting for a world title with Audley Harrison doing so. Harrison may be a joke figure to most people now, but he is still in a condition to fight without there already being obvious signs of damage to himself. Holyfield is not. That is the key difference.

  • Comment number 26.

    OK the point about Bruno was a bit harsh, but it was a reaction to your whole argument being based on Holyfields speech is slurring so you wish he would disappear.

    Boxers are not known for their oratory skills they are known for what they do in the ring. Holyfield has never been a great talker even in his prime but you are making out his speech is slurring like an old Joe Frazier, that is not the case. I watched a recent interview on youtube from 31 Aug 2010 and his speech seemed fine, nothing like you are making out.

    I also noticed you failed to mention the Valuev fight in your response.

    I admit back in 2004 when his license was revoked I thought it was for the best but he was given a Nevada license maybe for the wrong reasons but again I think you are being a bit harsh by making out Nevada give anyone a license if the price is right as Tyson has been refused a license by that commision even though he would make much more money that Holyfield. They deemed Holyfield fit enough to fight. Your whole issue lies with them, not me.

    Since Holyfield was granted the Nevada license he has actually regrouped and put in some decent performances with the Valuev one sticking out, and he has persuaded me he should be allowed to fight. We can only deal with the here and now, not what should have been, and right now I believe no one has the right to tell Holyfield to quit, especially after the Valuev performance, where Chief Writer of ESPN, Dan Rafell gave Holyfield the win. It was close but either way he almost won the WBA title! How can you deny someone the opportunity to box after that? If he gets pummelled against Williams I might agree with you but not right now based on your exaggeration that his speech is slurred.

    If you watch Holyfield-Valuev and Haye-Valuev you will see that Holyfield laid down the blueprint for how to beat Valuev and Haye followed it through very well. Holyfield is still performing at current World Class level.

    At the moment it just seems like a bit of a witch hunt by some Boxing journalists that cant wait for Holyfield to get pumelled just to prove their point, I feel sorry for the guy. He has to deal with all that and still try and box and do what he loves. Who are you to say "wishing he would disappear"? Headlines like that really annoy me and you have no right to say that, right now, based on Holyfields recent perfromances, no matter how much you want him to disappear.

  • Comment number 27.

    I'm the first to say that Evander is a danger to himself. I'd hate to see what would happen to him if he fought Vitali. However, it is his life. I just read an article about Bert Sugar asking Ali if he regretted stying in the ring and he claims that he does not. I guess it's not up us to decide what others choose to do.
    I found it strange that the author stated "he was having to knock out white fighters as an amateur". Really? What does "white"have to do with anything?
    Also, he stated that Holyfield defeatd "a 40-year-old South African called Francois Botha in April", as if Botha is a nobody. For those who don't know, Botha may be over the hill, but he almost beat Michael Moorer in a great fight, fought Tyson, Briggs, Lennox Lewis, and Wlad Klitchko....not bad for "some South African called Francis Botha".

  • Comment number 28.

    The thing about Holyfield is that the thing that made him such a great fighter in his pomp is exactly what is doing him harm now and that is the refusal to give in no matter the consequences, I watched his fights on TV against Bowe and I always loved watching him fight great heart and guts and fast hands but not a great defense and I think he should be forced to retire now for his own health.

    One other thing that I would like to add, Evander Holyfield is 48 years old and whenever he fights (Even these days) he is always in superb shape. Look at the current crop of contenders like Chris Arreola, Samuel Peter, Eddie Chambers, Nikolai Valuev amongst others and they are in poor shape for pro athletes and myself I would be ashamed that a guy so much older was in such better physical condition.

    Holyfield has been a credit to the sport for years and some of the current fighters could do worse than to look at him for inspiration when wanting to nip out of training early or to eat that hamburger during a training camp.


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