LAS VEGAS -- Evander Holyfield says he truly enjoys being the undisputed heavyweight champion. But sometimes it might be better if he got to fight somebody closer to his own age.
At a news conference he shared yesterday with 42-year-old challenger Larry Holmes, Holyfield discovered that the same people who were pushing for aging George Foreman to end his reign last April are at it again, jumping on the bandwagon for the former champion Holmes.
Nobody has declared Friday's title fight the second coming of Ali-Frazier. The real world is thinking twice about a $39.95 pay-per-view tab. But as a rerun of the successful Holyfield-Foreman bout, it is beginning to have some undeniable appeal. Holyfield understands this. But it doesn't mean he has to like it.
"I didn't want to fight him," insisted Holyfield, 29. "But I can't deny the man the opportunity, as he's the only person out there who fought somebody in the top 10.
"Last year, Foreman fought a great fight, and I beat him. But the critics said that I lost the fight, even though I won.
That's how it is when you fight someone older.
"The respect that I have for George Foreman is just like the respect I have for Larry Holmes. These are both men whom I have learned from, who have paved the way for young fighters like myself to make the kind of money that we're making. But it puts a lot of pressure on me to have to fight someone who is so much older."
At Caesars Palace yesterday, there was legitimate concern that pitting slick Holyfield against ponderous Holmes was a mistake in both marketing and matchmaking. Holyfield remains confident and is pushing his all-American image -- i.e., dull. Holmes, a villain in his championship days, was all smiles. He has been here before and knows the routine. He has learned to leave the poison and venom to promoter Bob Arum.
Arum promptly announced that once his man won the championship, the first fight would be a showdown with Foreman in New York.
Arum refused to apologize for issuing releases accusing Holyfield of abuses ranging from steroids to drugs. Arum, in fact, lambasted the media for a lack of analytical reporting on the matchup, and then chided them for using some of the scandalous material that he supplied.
"We sent out the releases," he told one journalist. "But that TTC doesn't mean your paper had to use them."
Later, he added, "I respect the fight. The wonderful thing is that all this debate will mean nothing. The two fighters decide in the ring whom is the best."
Holmes seemed pleased by the last point. It allowed him to get back to his favorite subject: Larry Holmes.
"I'm not fighting because I need the money," he said. "The two reasons I'm fighting is my wife, Diane, and my son, Larry Jr. Nothing can motivate me more. It is the heavyweight championship of the world. I want that championship again."
Holyfield's fears that he is in a lose-lose situation appear justified.
"I don't take anything away from [Holmes]," said Holyfield, "but I don't give him more than he deserves, either. He didn't get very much credit that I guess he deserved. I recognize that.
"It really takes a lot of courage for a man 42 years old to step into the ring with a man 29."
In assessing the fight, Holyfield said he would not let vision of motherhood, country and old age stop him from doing what he has to do.
"When people are older," he said, "it means they have a strong spirit. So it means I have to attack something else -- the body. It's not like his skills have diminished all the way. Still, it puts a lot of pressure on me to go into a fight and fight someone who is so much older, and whom I respect -- and then annihilate him."