'Warrior' uses brains with brawn Holyfield says savvy key to longevity, wins

November 04, 1995|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

LAS VEGAS -- Heart and guts always have been synonymous with Evander Holyfield, who battles Riddick Bowe at Caesars Palace tonight in the rubber match of their compelling ring trilogy.

"When writers call me 'the most courageous fighter,' those are the articles I clip and save," the two-time former heavyweight champion said with a laugh.

But, at the same time, this prideful man who fought his way out of an Atlanta ghetto to become boxing's all-time moneymaker (an estimated $120 million) feels slighted when critics fail to acknowledge his boxing IQ.

"Sooner or later, someone will realize that I couldn't have lasted this long as a fighter -- 12 years as a pro -- and become the cruiserweight and heavyweight champion without being able to think," Holyfield said. "I love fighting, but not as much as I love myself.

"I'm proud of being called a warrior, and I've got the ability to endure fatigue and recover better than any heavyweight in the world. I work harder at what I do because I'm usually giving up weight and reach.

"People don't realize I'm not getting hit as much as it seems. If I did, I wouldn't have a head," he added with a laugh.

"My chin is no different than anyone's else. It's because I'm slipping and blocking punches, and knowing when it's time to box and time to slug. I'm the one who has to go to the hospital after these fights. I'm trying to make this thing last until the end of 1996.

"I don't need any more wars. I need to be smart. Small things will win this fight. I have to create some traps Bowe will fall into, make him go for a knockout and get careless, then nail him."

Holyfield, considered a small heavyweight at 213 pounds, has never been known for devastating power, but knows how to compensate.

Emanuel Steward, who was in his corner when he regained the title from Bowe in 1993, said: "He's special. He loves challenges. He's just a fierce competitive guy. He's not a big puncher or fast jabber. Just a basic talent. But he is very determined."

Current trainer Don Turner said it is a mistake to consider Holyfield a one-dimensional fighter who simply tries to outlast his opponent. He has the awareness and ability to adapt and change his strategy according to the flow of the fight.

"When you're building a fighter, grit may be the first thing you look for," said Turner. "And Evander is a warrior by nature. But he's also a very intelligent fighter.

"I know Bowe's got a real genius man in his corner in Eddie Futch. If Evander gets away with something one time, Futch will pick it up.

"But it's like a pitcher battling a hitter. You've got a lot of options to get the batter out, and the pitcher usually wins. It's the same with Evander. He's smart enough to find the right options."

Futch begrudges Holyfield respect.

"With Evander, you've always got to watch for the surprise attack. He'll fight you back when you least expect it, especially when you've hurt him and think you can relax."

Because Holyfield always seems at such a physical disadvantage, it surprises most boxing experts that he is still practicing his trade. Ring epitaphs were written after he was diagnosed as having a heart problem in losing his heavyweight crown to Michael Moorer in 1994.

"Everything with my heart is fine, now," he said. "That was just a misdiagnosis. I had a bad reaction to some medication for shoulder pain and got dehydrated. I've been checked out and I'm healed."

Holyfield needed almost a year to get medical clearance before returning against Ray Mercer last May. But he admits to having had self-doubts.

"In the first seven rounds with Mercer, I really wasn't sure I belonged back in the ring," he said.

"I was asking myself, 'Why am I still doing this?' But when my eye was cut, and there was a chance they'd stop it, I quit worrying and just went after him. That's when I knew everything was OK."

Holyfield believes his faith has allowed him to remain in a brutal business where 33 is considered middle-aged.

"God has restored me and allowed me to get through tough times," he said. "I'm thankful he has allowed me to continue doing what I enjoy. I've been champion twice and made a lot of money, but that is not why I'm still fighting."

Holyfield wants to leave the ring solely as a champion. He does not deem Bowe's WBO belt worthy of claiming, even though he believes they are the best two heavyweights in the world, Mike Tyson included.

"I'll fight any of the champions, even though I doubt if they'll ever fight me," he said, alluding to Bruce Seldon, Frank Bruno, plus Frans Botha and Axel Schulz, who will vie for the vacant IBF title.

"If they're not available, I will go after Mike Tyson or Moorer. I don't want to fight anyone else. What I really want is to put 'champion' on the final line of my resume."

Although the Bowe-Holyfield rivalry is being compared to the classic Ali-Frazier trilogy, both fighters insist there will be no encores after tonight.

Their two previous encounters in 1992 (a unanimous decision by Bowe) and 1993 were voted Fight of the Year. The fighters were upstaged in their second bout by the appearance of the "Fan Man" in the seventh round -- a bizarre event Bowe later used to explain the loss of his title.

"The truth is, Bowe's management knew he was losing, and shouted, 'Now, Fan Man, now!' " said Holyfield, enjoying his own joke.

Fight facts

Who: Riddick Bowe (37-1, 31 KOs), Fort Washington, Md., vs. Evander Holyfield (31-2, 22 KOs), Atlanta.

What: 12-round nontitle bout. Bowe's World Boxing Organization crown will not be at stake.

When: Tonight, approximately 11:30.

Where: Caesars Palace, Las Vegas.

TV: TVKO, pay-per-view, suggested price, $39.95. Telecast will begin at 9 p.m.

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