Holyfield's punches still packed with pride

Boxing: A vow to himself keeps the ex-heavyweight champion, who will fight Hasim Rahman on Saturday, slugging it out at 39.


May 30, 2002|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - The billboards around this gambling city leave no doubt as to the marquee fighter in Saturday's heavyweight bout. Evander Holyfield is up front, and Hasim Rahman is very much in the background.

Which is how it should be. Rahman may have more recently held the world title, but Holyfield is indisputably The Man. Among the top 10 highest-grossing, pay-per-view bouts of all time, Holyfield has fought in five.

"The big-payday people are [Mike] Tyson, myself and Lennox Lewis. But after that fight [Lewis-Tyson on June 8], for anybody else to make the big money, I'm the guy they've got to come to - unless they don't want to make no money," Holyfield said.

Holyfield will get $5 million for Saturday's 12-round fight, which will determine the World Boxing Council's No. 1 contender and likely lead to a title bout against the Tyson-Lewis winner. But Holyfield said he's not thinking about the money he'll make. No, he's fighting for you, the boxing fan.

"Whenever I go into the fight, I'm not thinking just about myself. I'm thinking about the people who come to watch, too, because they're coming to see me do something they can't. They can't box, they can't fight, so they are living through me in a way," Holyfield said.

"People say, `You know what? That's my man, and we're going to go in there and do it.' I fight for a lot of people, and I never cheat myself in a fight, so that means I don't cheat anybody else.

"The fans are entertained, because they get a chance to see me and my ability to take punches and also to punch you. What separates me is that I fight them all. I don't make no excuses."

How will Holyfield fare against a man 10 years his junior and significantly heavier (about 217 pounds vs. 235)? Holyfield, who will turn 40 in October, is 1-2-2 in his past five bouts. And he looked old and sluggish in his last fight, a 12-round decision loss to World Boxing Association champion John Ruiz in December.

But Holyfield, the sport's first and only four-time heavyweight champion, will tell you he doesn't feel debilitated.

"One thing I can't take for granted is my health - not to be in shape or get on some kind of substance," he said. "I go to the doctor and get checked out, too. I love me. I love my kids. I have a family that I love, and I don't take my health for granted."

"Some fights go to the next level, so you're going to get hit. Sometimes, it's back and forth against somebody who fights just as hard and just as good as you. But I don't get concerned, because I pay the price to be the best."

That was evident during a 90-minute workout Tuesday night in the Ocean Ball Room at Bally's Hotel & Casino. During a spirited sparring session, Holyfield hammered a 28-year-old, 6-foot-5, 225-pounder named Majestic Moutakilou.

At one point, he shook Moutakilou with a leaping left hook, followed by an overhand right to the temple. Later, he jabbed his way in before planting his feet and followed a double left hook with a straight right hand that drove Moutakilou into the ropes.

Holyfield later danced, jabbed and hooked with an imaginary opponent, waving off trainer Don Turner, who tried to wipe the cascading sweat from his body.

"The man still has it. He can punch. His speed is still there. His timing's still great," Moutakilou said. "Hasim Rahman better be ready to fight, because Holyfield is still great."

The fact that he sparred only days before the fight said something. Most fighters these days won't risk the possibility of injury and a big payday.

"Anytime you start trying to take the danger out, you're functioning in fear, but I trust in my abilities," Holyfield said. "When you're sharp, skillful and confident in your boxing ability, you don't worry about those things."

Holyfield no longer fights for the money, he said, but to fulfill a promise to himself to retire as undisputed heavyweight champion. He nearly did at the age of 28, after earning the crown with a third-round knockout of Buster Douglass.

"I said, `Let me fight Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis, then I'll let them have this so I can spend more time with my kids,' " said Holyfield, who has nine children by six different women.

"But after I lost to Riddick Bowe, I got home and my son was crying. I was reminded that I'm not supposed to quit as a loser. I was champ, but that was past tense."

Holyfield won the title again in a 1994 rematch with Bowe but lost to Michael Moorer. Then Holyfield appeared to also lose his boxing career after doctors diagnosed heart problems, including a tiny hole in his heart. His boxing licenses were revoked.

"I got on my knees and said, `Lord, I didn't quit. They took my license, and I can't fight no more.' I know my commitment to God was that I would be the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world when I retired," he said. "But the law said I can't fight because of my heart."

Holyfield credits a visit to faith healer Benny Hinn at a Philadelphia religious retreat in June 1994 for resurrecting his career.

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