Holyfield, Bowe have fought best of a bad bunch

Phil Jackman

November 12, 1992|By Phil Jackman

Most athletes, given to truth, will tell you they are rarely accorded enough credit for their accomplishments. Or maybe it's that they receive too much criticism when things don't go well.

Baseball players, as a whole, are particularly thin-skinned, gobbling up the adulation when their hits win a game while thinking a costly error should be glossed over as "just one of those things."

The pro who is probably most justified, even completely justified, to complain when his efforts are downgraded, though, are boxers.

For instance, take Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe, who are all set to climb into a Las Vegas ring tomorrow night to decide the heavyweight championship of the planet.

Their credentials appear impeccable, yet fault is consistently being found with their results, methods, styles and just about everything else but the color of their trunks.

Champion Holyfield has fought 28 times and won 28 times, 22 of the bouts ending with the other guy counting sheep. Yeah, but who has he fought, they ask?

"Everyone they put in front of me," is the way Evander usually answers. Who they've put in front of him over the last two years are a pair of 40-year-old former champions and a journeyman slugger.

It was no great feat beating George Foreman and Larry Holmes, but looking good against them was a different matter. They were in there not to win but to survive and collect a handsome, seven-figure salary.

"I would have liked to have put on a better show," says the champ, "but it takes two guys to make a fight."

While these waltzes with yesterday's champions were good for the billfold -- Fortune magazine says Holyfield will pay taxes on a $28 million gross this year -- many have screamed that the so-called top contenders have been frozen out.

For the most part, this is bull. The plan fact is most top 10 lists look like the back row of a used car lot: Tony Tucker, Tim Witherspoon, Phil Jackson, Ray Mercer.

Go back a few months and Holyfield was all set to get to work preparing for former Olympic gold medalist Mercer when Mercer was beaten by Holmes. Thus, Larry's claim to a shot was as valid as that of anyone else.

Granted, Foreman had fought what the man himself described as "stiffs" to get in position to challenge, but he had labored out there in the tank towns for three years. Besides, money is never a secondary consideration when discussing the fight game. Old George could draw cable TV coverage eating two cheeseburgers.

Similar to the champion, Bowe also is unbeaten (31 fights) and his knockout record (27) is even better than Holyfield's. But as Riddick settles in for his big shot, the question is, yeah, but who has he fought?

The answer is, the good, the bad and the embarrassing who make up this once-proud division: Bruce Seldon, Tony Tubbs, Pinklon Thomas, Tyrell Biggs and Big Foot Martin.

Stop and consider, is it really the fault of any of the top heavies today that the likes of Bob Baker, Yvon Durelle, Jimmy Ellis, Alonzo Johnson, Jerry Quarry and Zora Folley aren't around to cut their teeth on?

Presently, there are four or five fighters worthy of a title challenge, whereas a year ago there was probably only one aside from the man who held the belt, Holyfield.

So, as time has passed, Bowe has established himself, getting rid of a No. 1-ranked contender, Pierre Coetzer, and so has Lennox Lewis as the result of his recent starching of Razor Ruddock.

Until he beat Coetzer in July, there was ample reason to doubt Bowe's ability and desire since many of his bouts had resembled slapstick or opponents in there only because they had nothing else to do that night.

But as Foreman pointed out during the Coetzer fight on HBO, "Bowe has displayed much more courage than I gave him credit for and, if he gets by this fight, there's no doubt in my mind he'll be the champion of the world."

Still, since that fight and remembering that it took seven rounds for Riddick to dispose of the rugged, durable South African Coetzer, the whisper has been that his stamina is a concern.

Getting and giving punches that took on the appearance of a middleweight bout as regards the number of blows thrown and landed, Bowe had enough to end it with one potent uppercut fairly late in the going.

Holyfield, chances are, will carry the tag of being a blown-up cruiserweight into retirement even if he goes undefeated through a hundred fights and quits at the age of 65.

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