Ready to match paunch for punch ...but don't count 'club' fighter out

April 19, 1991|By Phil Jackman | Phil Jackman,Evening Sun Staff

ATLANTIC CITY — OH YEAH, THE other guy . . . name's Evander Holyfield.

Nice guy. Quiet, hard-working, respectful, salt-of-the-earth type. Most important, though, it will be his undisputed heavyweight championship BIG George Foreman will be after in Convention Hall tonight (approximately 11 p.m.).

"It's the story of my life," says the champ of his seeming supporting role in the pay-per-view "Battle of the Ages" show. "Even when I was at home as a kid, being one of the youngest, I was the last one to get something," Holyfield says.

One thing his situation taught Holyfield early on is if he wanted something, he'd have to work for it. He relished the idea.

Go back to 1984 and the Summer Olympics. Holyfield was only the third choice to be the U.S. representative in the light-heavyweight division. He outworked the two guys ahead of him from here to Los Angeles.

One thing his situation taught Holyfield early on is if he wanted something, he'd have to work for it. He relished the idea.

Go back to 1984 and the Summer Olympics. Holyfield was only the third choice to be the U.S. representative in the light-heavyweight division. He outworked the two guys ahead of him from here to Los Angeles.

He breezed to the medal round, but missed out on the gold when disqualified for launching a knockout punch simultaneous with the referee instructing "break." Most men would have been devastated. He was calm. Back to work.

There wasn't one setup among his first 10 professional foes and, all the while, he was working overtime, bulking up to where the big money is. Imagine having to trade bombs with fireplug Dwight Qawi and a half-dozen other guys 15 pounds bigger over the next two years.

Holyfield forged on, undeterred by the constant reminders that he was a fraud, a little man masquerading as a big man. He had no punch and probably couldn't survive a good whack by a bona fide heavyweight.

Even after starching seven straight heavies, including Buster Douglas for the title last October, Holyfield noticed the experts were still questioning his punching power, his defense and the impressive load of muscle he has packed on his frame.

"People don't understand the art of boxing," he says. "They think I'm weak because I'm not always impressive. But I'm under control completely. I'm doing what I have to to win. I've beaten everyone I've faced."

Still, they look for chinks in the armor. Boxing is replete with tales of fighters starting out at a lower weight and building up to championships two or three divisions up. Muhammad Ali won in the Olympics at 178 pounds while Floyd Patterson prevailed as a middleweight. The perception is they grew into heavyweights while Holyfield has been constructed, perhaps hastily.

Fueling such thinking is the legion of people Evander has in his camp. He has a strength coach, a guy who dictates conditioning and flexibility, an aerobicist, a dietician, a ballet instructor and three trainers, one whose sole job presumably is to yell "duck."

The presence of this committee has earned Holyfield the nickname "Robofighter," and he's so unemotional and focused to begin with, he seems to fit the description perfectly. Despite the unblemished record, some will always have doubts about a guy they see as being completely programmed.

"Everybody has opinions," Holyfield allows, "but the fact is whether they want to give me credit or not, I've won. I'm a competitor. It doesn't matter who is in there with me, I've got the job done."

The smart money in this fight -- with Holyfield assured of at least $20 million and Foreman guaranteed $12.5 million -- says Holyfield is 7-to-2 to get the job done against Foreman because, face it, George is just a big, fat 42-year-old who's off on a trip to Fantasy Island.

You want to see the ex-champion that way, he'll play along. Big George says, "I was sitting out of the boardwalk the other day and some old man came up to me and gave me some bread to feed the pigeons." Hardly conjures up visions of what Jack Dempsey said to the press a couple of days before his return bout with Gene Tunney, does it?

For weeks they've been making fun of Foreman's training regimen, pointing out he doesn't leave big puddles of sweat on the floor as Holyfield does leaving the ring, the speed bag or the heavy bag area.

Strangely, many in the media are suggesting this whole show is either a sham or a scam with Big George as the flim-flam man. But these are the same people who accepted Buster Douglas as a worthy successor to Dempsey, Joe Louis, Ali and the rest and gave Holyfield virtually no shot against him.

Chances are, behind the smokescreen Foreman has been laying down for months is a coldblooded pro who knows a lot more about what's going on than he lets on. "I never fight the fight until I get into the ring," he says when asked to expound on strategy. "I don't want to be schizophrenic."

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