Holyfield's passion for sport might also prove his undoing

November 09, 1997|By Doug Krikorian | Doug Krikorian,LONG BEACH PRESS-TELEGRAM

LAS VEGAS -- His personal wealth exceeds $75 million, and he lives in a sprawling 45,000-square foot mansion near Atlanta that is a monument to his fistic achievements.

He is now 34 years old, and has been pursuing his cruel trade for most of his life against men determined to hurt him, even against one maniac last June 28 who chewed off a piece of his ear.

He is a throwback to another generation, a humble, dedicated athlete who doesn't engage in posturing theatrics, a valiant artist with a deep sense of pride and dignity who never has ducked dangerous opponents.

He has become a venerated boxing figure because of his incredible courage and stirring triumphs, including those two over Mike Tyson that stunned the sporting landscape.

There is no compelling reason for Evander Holyfield still to be walking into a ring to exchange punches with guys bent on hurting him, but was a ritual he practiced again last night when he faced Michael Moorer at the Thomas & Mack Center.

There is no compelling reason for Evander Holyfield still to be risking his sound health in a pursuit in which the occupational hazards include death.

There is no compelling reason for Evander Holyfield, rich beyond his wildest childhood dreams, secure in his prize fighting legacy, not to be fading quietly into a peaceful retirement far removed from the grueling sparring sessions and blood-smeared brawls that have been such a frightening part of his existence.

Evander Holyfield has nothing left to prove, especially against a mediocrity like Moorer who was handed a gift-wrapped, undeserving decision over Holyfield 3 1/2 years ago. But unfortunately Evander Holyfield can't let go. Like the Muhammad Alis and Joe Louises and Sugar Ray Robinsons and Sugar Ray Leonards and Roberto Durans and so many others, he also seems on a self-destructive course toward a painful and regretful ending.

"Quit?" Evander Holyfield says when you broach the subject to him. "Why? This is what I like doing, and this is what I do best. I honestly think I'm in better shape now and fighting better now than at any time in my career. Quit? Why should I? I'd like to unify the heavyweight title, and then maybe I'll quit. But until then, I'm going to continue doing what I do best. And what I do best is fight."

It is a familiar anthem recited by so many other pugs across the years, and it is a sad anthem because the risks in boxing to aging performers like Holyfield aren't the same as to those in baseball and basketball and other sports.

Willie Mays might demean his reputation with forgettable play with the New York Mets in the 1973 World Series against the Oakland A's, but neither his kidneys nor his brain cells was damaged by his fielding follies.

Yes, what Evander Holyfield does best is fight, but this decent man has been involved in too many vicious fights in his career, fights in which he has had to reach into the deepest recesses of his formidable heart to remain in a vertical position.

Unlike an Oscar De La Hoya, who has been shamelessly coddled by Top Rank's Bob Arum and steered clear of legitimate rivals like Felix Trinidad and Ike Quartey, Evander Holyfield never has been pampered.

In just his 12th professional fight, Holyfield went up against the WBA's junior heavyweight titleholder, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, a fierce fellow with a granite chin and wicked left hook.

The two men battered each other unmercifully for 15 harrowing rounds, and Holyfield emerged with a victory and his first world title.

He would be involved in other memorable debates, including those three with Riddick Bowe and the ones with Tyson, George Foreman, Michael Dokes and Bert Cooper.

He held victories against all these men Bowe did beat him twice and also conquered the likes of Buster Douglas, Larry Holmes, Alex Stewart and Pinklon Thomas.

He has fought everybody and short-changed nobody and his place in the sport's pantheon is safely secure, yet he continues to fight even though he's quite aware of the pitfalls that lurk around the corner.

"Listen, life is a risk," he says.

Evander Holyfield is a 2 1/2 to 1 favorite over Moorer, and should be against the reluctant IBF champion who hasn't looked the same since he gained his greatest notoriety on Nov. 5, 1994, when he was flattened by George Foreman.

Since then, Moorer has scored uninspiring victories over Melvin Foster, Axel Schulz, Francois Botha and Vaughn Bean and he reportedly has looked sluggish during recent training sessions.

But who knows?

At 29, Moorer is five years younger than Holyfield, and hasn't been in nearly as many draining fights.

He is a left-hander, and his unorthodox stance did give Holyfield trouble in their first meeting, although I had Holyfield a two-point winner at the finish.

Evander Holyfield, who is the WBA champion, says his goal now is to unify the heavyweight title by meeting the WBC claimant, Lennox Lewis.

"And after I beat Lewis, I'd then consider retiring," he says.

Alas, in his dangerous business, Evander Holyfield's retirement, like that of so many other storied fighters, might well be decided for him by an opponent's fists.

Pub Date: 11/09/97

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