Inner voice counts Holyfield: Tyson challenger dismisses talk of doomsayers and listens to what his heart is telling him: He can win.

November 08, 1996|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

LAS VEGAS -- The voices sound like a Greek chorus, full of foreboding for the fate awaiting Evander Holyfield tomorrow night when, after a five-year wait, he finally confronts Mike Tyson in the ring.

Just listen to the litany of dire warnings.

Former manager Shelly Finkel: "I advised Evander to quit over a year ago when there were questions about his health, especially the condition of his heart.

"It was clear something was wrong with him when he had Riddick Bowe on the verge of a knockout, couldn't finish him, and ultimately lost the fight [in November 1995].

"After the fight, Evander spotted me and my wife, Beth, at ringside and thanked us for supporting him. I said, 'As a friend, 'I think you should quit.' He said, 'God will tell me if I should fight again.' And I said, 'God just told you to quit, and you should listen to Him.' I just hope it's a one-punch fight and Evander gets on with his life."

Former co-trainer Lou Duva: "I stopped training him after his first loss to Bowe in 1992.

"At the time, Evander said he was retiring, but then hangers-on started whispering in his ear that he had really beaten Bowe that night. I told him flat out, 'You lost. Accept it.'

"Of course, he came back and beat Bowe [in November 1993]. But watching their last fight was real sad. When he had Bowe hanging on the ropes, we were all yelling, 'Throw the punch!' But he obviously had nothing left in his tank."

Veteran trainer Eddie Futch: "Evander showed in his last fight with Bowe and, more recently, against Bobby Czyz, his reflexes have slowed appreciably. And, like most fighters, he's the last to realize it."

Perhaps even more distressing are the concerns for Holyfield's well-being voiced by doctors serving on the medical staff of the Nevada Athletic Commission.

After Holyfield's fatigue led to his knockout by Bowe, neurologist Albert Capanna wrote a personal letter, urging him to retire. Capanna suspected that Holyfield might be suffering from congestive heart failure.

In order to be relicensed by Nevada, Holyfield was forced to undergo a series of tests last August at the Mayo Clinic, which reported that the former champion was "in excellent health with no sign of cardiac abnormality, and no restrictions should be placed on his boxing."

But Capanna remained skeptical. As he told Newsday, "There is no way the Mayo Clinic can duplicate what happens in a fight. I don't want him to get hurt. In my opinion, there is a high possibility he will."

But the deeply spiritual Holyfield hears only his inner voice, and it tells him a far different story than the doomsayers and Las Vegas oddsmakers who have made him a 17-to-1 underdog.

At 34, and with career ring earnings over $100 million, he still pursues the dream of winning the heavyweight crown a third time.

"The critics aren't fighting, I'm fighting," he said. "They just assume Tyson is a harder puncher. I'm not going to let anyone who never fought somebody justify my abilities in the ring.

"You can't look at me like a man and say what I can and can't do. I don't let anything that someone says get into my spirit."

He attributed his failure to finish off Bowe in their third fight a

year ago to a weakened condition brought on by a virus. And regarding his unimpressive fifth-round TKO of a bloated Czyz last May, "I got overly excited and fought like an amateur."

Holyfield managed to maintain his cool during a vituperative barrage from Tyson and his handlers at a news conference in New York last month to kick off the pre-fight publicity.

Co-manager John Horne accused Holyfield of ducking a match with Tyson in 1991, after it was postponed earlier because of a rib injury suffered by Tyson in training.

"Holyfield said he would never fight a rapist," said Horne. "My man wasn't even tried at the time. Tyson has never raped anybody, and the only rape is going to be committed in the MGM ring, Nov. 9."

Holyfield shrugged off the remarks as just another example of the tasteless conduct of Team Tyson.

"Tyson's people are telling their man that I was talking about him when he was in jail," he said. "Of course, it's not true. They want him angry to the point he can walk right through me. They figure if Tyson gives me respect, it could be a tough fight. I understand what they're doing."

Holyfield said he also knows what makes Tyson tick. Their relationship goes back over a dozen years, when both were competing for a spot on the 1984 Olympic boxing team.

They had trained together in Colorado Springs, but avoided each other in amateur competition because Tyson was a full-fledged heavyweight and Holyfield, a light-heavyweight. Both dominated their Golden Gloves rivals, and words between them inevitably led to a hotly anticipated sparring session.

"He weighed 200, and I was 178," Holyfield recalled. "Mike was loading up, looking to land a big punch. I had quicker hands and was able to catch him with my jabs. After one round, I guess our coach, Pat Nappi, thought we were getting too serious, and he stopped it."

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