Arrivederci, Francesco. Avanti, Bert.
Heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, scaring off opponents from all parts of the globe, will now face Smokin' Bert Cooper instead of Italy's Francesco Damiani Saturday night at the Omni in Atlanta.
Damiani, a substitute for Mike Tyson, who pulled out of a $H scheduled Nov. 8 bout with Holyfield with a rib injury last month, himself begged off yesterday, pleading an ankle injury. Holyfield's camp and HBO, which will televise the bout, approved Cooper as an opponent yesterday afternoon while casting a doubtful eye on the sincerity of Damiani's injury claim.
"We're disappointed with Damiani's decision," said promoter Dan Duva, who had Damiani examined by three physicians, all of whom proclaimed him fit to fight, after Damiani suffered the injury stumbling off a low heavy bag platform on Thursday. But Damiani, who was unbeaten in 27 fights until knocked out in 10 rounds by Ray Mercer in January, insisted he could not fight and officially pulled out yesterday afternoon, turning his back on a 923,250,000 lira ($750,000) payday. "He said he didn't care about the money," said Mike Boorman, a Holyfield publicist. "He didn't want to fight if he wasn't 100 percent."
Instead, Holyfield will fight Cooper (26-7, 23 KOs), a 25-year-old former cruiserweight Holyfield somehow missed beating up when he was cleaning up that division in the mid-1980s.
Cooper was knocked out in three rounds by George Foreman in 1987 and in two by Riddick Bowe in October of last year, but has won four fights by KO since, including a fifth-round TKO over Indian Joe Hipp on Oct. 18. He is unranked by all three major boxing organizations, but then, so was Damiani. Duva said last night that Cooper was slated to be ranked as a result of his victory over Hipp.
The 6-foot Cooper has often been used as a sparring partner by fighters preparing to fight Tyson, giving Holyfield a rare opportunity to make a title defense and train for a bigger one at the same time.