Holyfield and Holmes get on board Hype Express

April 02, 1992|By Robert Seltzer | Robert Seltzer,Knight-Ridder

PHILADELPHIA -- It is 1 p.m., and Evander Holyfield and Larry Holmes are boarding a train fueled by hype.

Promoters, who call Holmes the "professor of pugilism," have dubbed this excursion the "class trip."

The destination is Philadelphia.

No, scratch that, the destination is the imagination of boxing fans throughout the country, and the promoters thought they could arrive there with the publicity gimmick of taking the fighters and the media on a brief train trip.

The journey began in Washington with a press conference, and ended in Philadelphia with -- what else? -- a press conference.

Holyfield will defend his undisputed heavyweight title against Holmes, the former champion, on June 19 in Las Vegas.

"I do a five-mile run with the Boys Club every year," Holmes, 42, said moments before boarding the Hype Express. "And there's this 76-year-old man who always comes out. I haven't been able to beat him yet. But then, running isn't my game. If that 76-year-old man got in the ring with me, though, he'd be in trouble."

Holyfield and Holmes represent a study in contrasts. One is 29 and in his prime. The other is 42 and about 15 fights -- and a couple of grandchildren -- past his prime.

But, for all their differences, they make a remarkably engaging duo, as they showed on the train. The two fighters sat at opposite ends of a car when the trip began, but as the farm fields and telephone poles flashed by outside, they got closer and closer to each other. By the end of the trip, they were within punching range, although it never got to that.

"We couldn't have done this with Larry earlier in his career," said Bob Arum, who promotes Holmes. "He was bitter back then because he felt he didn't get his due. There was real animosity between us. But Larry has learned to deal with things. Look at what George Foreman has accomplished by the way he presents himself. Why create animosity when you don't have to?"

As Holyfield and Lou Duva, his co-trainer, played gin on the train, Holmes looked on, his massive arms folded across his chest. Members of both camps tried to goad the former champion, who has performed lounge acts in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, into signing a song. He resisted, but only momentarily.

"I'll fight hard from round to round," he sang. "You just can't keep a good man down."

"Larry," Duva told the ex-champ, "you oughta get Evander to sing you a Barry White song."

Holmes says he heard that White was making a comeback.

It is now 2:55 p.m., and the train is rolling into 30th Street Station. The fighters and promoters will repeat the speeches they made less than two hours before, and the reporters will scribble down the same notes they scrawled less than two hours before. Holmes will drive to his home in Easton, Pa., and Holyfield will board a plane to Norfolk, Va., where he will see Hammer perform in concert.

"Evander went to a Hammer concert once, and Hammer invited him to go up on stage," said Kathy Duva, a publicist for the undisputed champion. "I asked him, 'Weren't you nervous?' He said, 'No, I just wanted to make sure I didn't dance better than him.' I believe it, too. Evander is a great dancer."

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