Philosophical Holyfield wears crown aided by father-son team

November 24, 1991|By Stan Hochman | Stan Hochman,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

PHILADELPHIA -- Evander Holyfield shrugged when they disqualified him in the '84 Olympic semifinal bout for throwing a devastating punch at the precise moment a bumbling referee was mumbling "stop."

Holyfield shrugged when he was bypassed as a challenger for Mike Tyson's heavyweight championship while Tyson defended against 42-1 underdog Buster Douglas.

Holyfield shrugged (and even smiled a little) when he defended the title he'd won from Douglas against fat, 40ish, friendly George Foreman and Foreman hogged the prefight spotlight.

And then, when a $30 million payday got derailed because Tyson's ribs got damaged . . . and Tyson was replaced by Francesco Damiani, who hurt his ankle reaching for an excuse . . . and Damiani was replaced by a quintessential catcher named Bert Cooper . . . shrug, shrug, shrug.

Holyfield, who defended his title yesterday against Cooper, displays emotions that run the gamut from A to B.

"That's just his personality," said Shelly Finkel, Holyfield's manager.

"Henry Tillman [the heavyweight on that '84 Olympic team] is one of Evander's closest friends.

"Evander was in his wedding party. Yet, when he fought him, he tried to take his head off.

"It's all tied in with where Evander has come from, where he is, his attitude. He is very happy with life. He feels life has been good to him.

"He always feels that if he waits, things will work out. Years ago, I asked him about that bad deal in the Olympics and he told me he didn't shout, he didn't scream, because he knew that would turn people off.

"He had to wait for his shot at the heavyweight title. And when finally got it, he said he was a better fighter than he was two years ago.

"He is philosophical. Good to work with. He doesn't put the kind of pressure on you someone else might, hollering 'Get me a title shot.'

"That's how Don King grabs fighters. They say they want the title shot and King promises it to 'em and they sell themselves to him."

Finkel and the father-son team of Lou and Dan Duva took home more gold from the '84 Olympics than 27 nations.

So, how did this pale, balding, bespectacled New Yorker out-recruit the wealthier Josephine Abercrombie, the slicker Bob Arum, the gaudier Don King to sign Holyfield, Mark Breland, Meldrick Taylor, Pernell Whitaker and Tyrell Biggs?

"All of them," Finkel recalled, "except Abercrombie, came in the week of the Olympics and said, 'Here I am!'

"I had spent months and years cultivating relationships with the fighters.

"The only one I couldn't match in money was Abercrombie. And '' while she had a lot of money, the fighters weren't comfortable with the idea she could make 'em into champions.

"She had one, Frank Tate, and he lasted only one or two defenses. The only three champions now from that '84 Olympics are the three we handle, Holyfield, Taylor, Whitaker."

Holyfield had a manager when he came out of the Olympics with a bronze medal and America's sympathy. Guy named Ken Sanders, an Atlanta auto dealer who had given Evander a sweet deal on a heap of a used car.

"He wasn't really equipped for the job," Finkel said. "He was a friend, an admirer, but he didn't know anything about boxing.

"He called me a consultant and I got half the fees. As the years went on, it became apparent he had no understanding of the sport.

"And then, Evander had some personal problems with him, a deal that went sour. Sometimes that's attributed to me being cunning. But it had nothing to do with me."

Sanders is gone from the scene. Finkel manages Holyfield, Dan Duva promotes his fights, Lou Duva co-trains the champ along with George Benton, who has grudgingly come to accept the high-tech entourage that has helped shape the fighter's physique and quicken his reflexes.

Depending on how the jury votes in Indianapolis in the Tyson rape trial, the battered ribs might have cost Finkel and the Duvas about $6 million.

Shrug, shrug, shrug.

"Without being arrogant," Finkel said, "I have enough so that I'll never have to worry again in my life.

"My personal greatest fear is that I grew up with nothing . . . and to end up back where I grew up.

"I'm very blessed. I have a lovely family. I don't know of anything I really want that I can't have right now."

He grew up in Crown Heights, that turbulent section of Brooklyn. He managed a nightclub, managed a group named Vanilla Fudge, survived the huggermugger of the music business.

"I learned two things," he said. "You shouldn't have your whole life depend on your musicians, because when you do you're at their mercy.

"And you shouldn't handle only one musician because then he's got you. I'm not a dictatorial person and I don't want somebody dictating to me.

"We backed King into a corner when we wouldn't accept his terms for Holyfield-Tyson. No one has done that to King before.

"And then Harold Smith whispered in Tyson's ear. He told him, 'Are you crazy, how could you not fight for the heavyweight championship of the world?'

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