Evander's big heart tells him to hang it up

April 27, 1994|By Phil Jackman

The doctor's words hit like a ton of bricks.

"Evander Holyfield fought most of the fight with his heart failing," said Dr. J. Ronald Stephens of Atlanta, the former heavyweight champion's personal physician. "It was a miracle he was able to finish."

As a result of that disclosure yesterday, two-time champion Holyfield has called an end to a distinguished 10-year professional career.

It was after he had lost the World Boxing Association-International Boxing Federation title to Michael Moorer in Las Vegas last Friday that tests in a hospital disclosed Holyfield was suffering from a kidney ailment which, in turn, uncovered a problem in his heart.

As Dr. Stephens described it, "Evander has a noncompliant left ventricle. It squeezes blood out normally, but doesn't fill up with blood normally during the pumping process."

Holyfield was taken to the hospital after losing a somewhat controversial majority decision to Moorer to be treated for severe dehydration and fatigue. Fluids had to be pumped into his system to combat the dehydration and, according to Dr. Stephens, "his system couldn't handle the load. Fluid began to build up in his lungs."

At no time was Holyfield in danger of dying in the ring. "He just would have given out, because his heart wasn't pumping enough blood to supply [energize] his muscles," said the doctor, who explained how this condition would never have shown up on any regular test and it was only discovered now as a result of the kidney problem presenting itself.

Holyfield said it took him no time to decide what to do once the doctor explained the situation and recommended he quit the ring.

With the fight last weekend, Holyfield passed the $100 million mark in earnings and, after losing the title to Riddick Bowe a couple of years ago, he had retired with every intention of remaining that way.

"Now that I've recovered a little bit," said the fighter, "I feel pretty good. I'm happy I finally know what the problem is. It always bothered me not knowing why I got fatigued and why it took me so long to recover."

The fighter has been assured that his condition will present no problem once he adopts a normal life. Ironically, last week Evander was discussing what he would be doing once his boxing career was over and he was quick to reply, "coaching and working with youth," something he does a lot of now.

Tonight, at 10, Home Box Office will replay the TVKO pay-per-view presentation from last Friday and, of course, yesterday's news will be added to the show. It should make for a very interesting show in light of subsequent events.

After Holyfield knocked Moorer down in the second round, for instance, Evander said, "My left arm hurt so bad I didn't want to press it [the advantage]. It [the arm] was killing me and I told the guys in the corner."

Nothing was made of it immediately in the corner, but HBO commentator Larry Merchant reacted. As HBO producer Ross Greenburg said, "Larry said we didn't hit the Round Two incident hard enough at the time, so we went back and discussed it in the post-fight."

As blow-by-blow announcer Jim Lampley reveals, "Evander hardly threw any jabs after that second round."

What sets the fight apart from most, although Las Vegas has had more than its share of bizarre happenings over the years, is the fact that one of the judges, in a move best described as unique, called the second round even, 10-10, despite the fact Moorer ended up on his britches.

Usually, when a guy scores a knockdown, especially the champ, he receives a 10-8 score for the round, or at the very least a 10-9. But even?

What comes into play here is the fact the judge, Jerry Roth, scored the bout for Moorer by a slim margin, 116-114. Had he followed conventional judging with regard to the second round, he too would have ended up calling it a draw and Holyfield would have retained his title.

Holyfield, it will be noted, steps out of character by not battling three minutes of every round, as in the past, hoping to "steal" rounds with late flurries, a la Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard in their heyday. And now we know why.

HBO's commentary serves to heighten the controversy surrounding the decision, George Foreman being almost vehement about Holyfield winning the fight, although the punch statistics favor Moorer by a huge margin and witnesses at ringside agreed it was a just decision.

Right after the fight, the Holyfield camp registered a protest, knowing the decision wouldn't be changed, but that it might facilitate a rematch. In the light of events since, however, it's academic.

"Isn't it tragic that Holyfield's career proceeded almost totally from the heart and, in the final analysis, it's what finishes it?" says Lampley.

The replay will be repeated on HBO Friday night at 12:30 a.m.

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