Holyfield Fights On

By Tri Nguyen: This Saturday, Evander Holyfield will step into the ring for the 56th time in his professional career, continuing his pursuit of a fifth world heavyweight title.

When Michael Jordan was asked why he was making a comeback at age 38, he famously said "It’s an itch that still needs to be scratched, and I don’t want that itch to bother me for the rest of my life." It’s that competitive spirit that drives Evander Holyfield to continue fighting at an age when most boxers have long retired. He’ll turn 49 in October, but he’s determined to regain a version of the world heavyweight crown before he hangs up the gloves for good. On Saturday, January 22, he will be in the ring against Sherman “The Tank” Williams at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

What else does he have to prove? The former undisputed Cruiserweight and four-time Heavyweight champ has done it all; Bronze medal in the 1984 Olympics, countless millions in prizefight earnings and the respect of every athlete who has ever heard his name.

His ring career has been eventful, to say the least. He was center stage for two of the most infamous boxing events in recent history. On November 6, 1993, while battling Riddick Bowe in a rematch for the IBF and WBA titles, a parachutist wearing a makeshift fan-propelled apparatus landed in the ring, creating one of the oddest scenes in sports history. Forever known as "The Fan Man Fight" it would be outdone in absurdity by "The Bite Fight" in November 8, 1997, when Mike Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear not once, but twice, leading to his disqualification. But even these two events don’t overshadow his accomplishments. He has fought every heavyweight of his era including, Larry Holmes, George Foreman, Buster Douglas, Michael Moorer, Lennox Lewis, John Ruiz. In short, he has ducked nobody.

His record stands at 43-10-2 (28 KOs). Through allegations of steroid use and money woes, Evander "The Real Deal" Holyfield forges on. He says he’s 48 but feels as good as if he were 38. He has taken care of his body, doesn’t cut corners, trains hard, and eats right.

Boxing is not a sport for the uncommitted. It tends to weed out the lazy and the passive. Evander Holyfield may be the most passionate athlete ever to lace up the gloves. In his younger days, he trained incessantly. Always the envy of other fighters for his physique, he still looks like he’s 28, although he says he trains smarter now. He doesn’t spar as often and admits it takes his body longer to recover.

But don’t expect him to slow down. He wants to fight three times a year and hopes to generate enough attention to force one of the Heavyweight beltholders to fight him. When asked about which one of the Klitschko brothers he’d like to face, he enthusiastically says either one would be fine. He acknowledges, however, that it’s still a long shot, since there is no incentive for any of the three major beltholders to fight him yet. But he points out that he’s been on the other side of the equation before. When he was a 29-year old champion, the public demanded that he fight 42-year old George Foreman. It was a dangerous no-win fight for him; if he won, he would get no credit for fighting an old man but if he lost, he would tarnish his legacy. Eventually, the money was right and the fight was made, concluding in a decision victory for Holyfield. So he plans to fight on and generate enough attention until the situation and money are right.

History is littered with great athletes who hung around too long in pursuit of glory. The aforementioned Michael Jordan played with diminished skills and grew tired of losing before he gave up for good. Sugar Ray Leonard absorbed a few humiliating losses before he hung ‘em up. Rickey Henderson was demoted to a minor league baseball team before finally retiring.

There are also happy endings for aging athletes. Joe Calzaghe recently retired undefeated and ended his career beating two ring legends in Roy Jones Jr. and Bernard Hopkins to cement his legacy. John Elway walked away holding a Lombardi Trophy and David Robinson hoisted an NBA Championship trophy.

It remains to be seen how Evander Holyfield’s career ends. Will it end with a sad defeat or will he be wearing a belt one final time? After Saturday’s fight, he has already scheduled a fight in Denmark against Brian Nielsen. From there, things become more uncertain, but only Evander Holyfield will know whether the itch has been scratched.

January 19, 2011
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