Stoic Holyfield dances around second-guessers Critics question size, staying power

November 23, 1991|By Alan Goldstein

Everyone credits unbeaten Evander Holyfield with possessing speed, strength and stamina. But the heavyweight champion, who defends his title against Bert Cooper at The Omni in Atlanta tonight, also boasts infinite patience.

Holyfield remains stoic and unruffled, while boxing critics continue to suggest that he is a bulked-up light-heavyweight masquerading as a heavyweight and merely serving as a caretaker of the heavyweight crown until former champion Mike Tyson clears up his personal problems.

Although Holyfield won the title 13 months ago by quickly dispatching Buster Douglas, the man who upended Tyson, the cynics said that Douglas that night in Las Vegas resembled a dropout from "Weight Watchers" and was simply looking for a soft spot to rest his head.

The critics have also credited "Team Holyfield" with adroitly sidetracking Tyson, who faces a January trial for rape, while taking minimum risks against the likes of Cooper, who has been stopped by Carl "The Truth" Williams, Nate Miller, George Foreman and Riddick Bowe.

Holyfield's promoter, Dan Duva, has intimated that the champion can survive without Tyson and a $30 million guarantee by fighting less-menacing opponents for $10 million to $15 million. But Holyfield is intent on ultimately meeting Tyson, realizing that only a victory over the former title-holder will certify him as a great heavyweight champion.

Trainer Lou Duva, the camp coordinator and unofficial spokesman for Holyfield, recognizes the champion is in a "no-win" situation against the unranked Cooper. Anything short of a lightning knockout will be viewed as a disappointing performance, especially before a partisan audience in Holyfield's hometown.

"People make impossible demands of Evander," said Lou Duva. "He's beaten everyone they've put in front of him.

"They compare him to 'Robo-Cop,' but I don't care if he's 126 pounds, he still wins all the time. He weighed 210 yesterday, but that was with shoes and a sweat shirt. He's really 206, but just as solid as a rock."

It is is because of Holyfield's civilized comportment outside the ring that his image as a heavyweight dreadnought suffers. Fight fans prefer their heavyweight kings to be menacing, snarling individuals in the mold of a Sonny Liston or Tyson, or wise-cracking braggarts such as Muhammad Ali.

As Tyson says, "Evander can't draw flies in a dump."

Holyfield acknowledges his lack of charisma.

"Tyson gives the people what they want. He fits their role. He says what he wants to say and knocks people out. I just respect people. Being a heavyweight champion doesn't give me special privileges."

But promoter Bob Arum said he believes that, in time, people will take to Holyfield's quiet, confident manner the same way they were won over by Joe Louis.

"Tyson is charismatic for different reasons," said Arum. "But if Holyfield keeps winning, he'll become a big attraction. For now, you've got to match him with interesting guys. In the meantime, Evander is laughing all the way to the bank."

Holyfield will earn a reported $6 million, compared to $700,000 for Cooper, who is substituting for Italy's Francesco Damiani, scratched Sunday with a sore ankle.

"We had three doctors tell us that Damiani was fit enough to fight," said Lou Duva. "Even his wife wanted him to fight, but he kept shaking his head. So I gave him a one-way ticket to Italy."

Said Cooper, "I owe this fight to the big man upstairs. On Sunday, my manager, Rick Parker, told me that I might be fighting Holyfield. I was jumping around, sweating. It's a dream come true."

Cooper, who is from Philadelphia, likens his chance of staging a stunning upset to film boxing legend Rocky Balboa. But this is reality, and Holyfield still has his date with Tyson and destiny.

Fight facts

What: WBA/IBF heavyweight championship, 10 rounds

Who: Champion Evander Holyfield (26-0, 21 KOs) vs. Bert Cooper (26-7, 23 KOs)

Where: The Omni, Atlanta

TV: HBO, 10:10 tonight

Purse: Reported at $6 million for Holyfield, $700,000 for Cooper

Undercard: Heavyweights Lennox Lewis (17-0) vs. Tyrell Biggs (19-4)

Tale of the tape

.. .. .. .. .. .Holyfield .. Cooper

Age .. .. .. .. .. .. ..29 .. .25

Weight .. .. .. .. .. .210 .. 215

Height .. .. .. .. .. 6-2 1/2 ..5-11

Reach .. .. .. .. .. ..77 1/2 .. .74

Chest (normal) .. .. .. 43 .. .42

Chest (expanded) .. .. .45 .. .44

Biceps .. .. .. .. .. ..16 .. .18

Forearm .. .. .. .. .. 12 1/2 .. .13

Waist .. .. .. .. .. .. 32 .. .32

Thigh .. .. .. .. .. .. 22 .. .24

Calf .. .. .. .. .. .. .13 .. .14

Neck .. .. .. .. .. .. 19 1/2 .. .19

Wrist .. .. .. .. .. .. 7 1/2 .. ..9

Fist .. .. .. .. .. .. 12 1/2 .. .13

Official weigh-in held Thursday.

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