Holyfield offers hope of good fight


BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The hour is late. is long past his prime and maybe a little bit out of his league. He probably should have fought five years ago, or not at all.

Boxing has forced this match upon us because it has nothing better to offer. That, and because we will buy it. Tyson is the fight game's most compelling character since but the pay-per-view public has grown weary of watching him crush tomato cans.

If you're going to spend $49.95 on tonight's pay-per-view card from Las Vegas, you want to see Tyson tested by a guy who won't collapse at the first sight of his own blood. With Evander Holyfield, there is at least that hope.

''We won't know the audience till tomorrow,'' said Warner Cable Vice President ''It's an impulse buy. But we anticipate a larger audience on this fight. We know he's going to be there a while.''

Excluding his legal knockout by Tyson has not had an interesting bout since he lost to in 1990. His four post-prison fights have been so brief that some cable operators have taken to offering rebates based on the number of rounds. TKR Cable in Northern Kentucky will credit customers $5 if tonight's main event should end before two rounds are complete.

''A lot of people are a little leery to pay a high price for a fight that only goes one round,'' said TKR's pay-per-view coordinator. ''But I'm not sure it's what we're offering (that's helping sales). A lot of it is Holyfield.''

Evander commands respect

He is 34 years old, less than two years removed from heart problems that forced a temporary retirement, and still widely perceived as a ''blown-up'' cruiserweight competing as a heavyweight. Yet Evander Holyfield's credentials and character command respect throughout his brutal business. He may not win, but he will not wilt.

''It isn't in me to fear,'' Holyfield said. ''You think (Tyson's) going to get me to shake? I'm not the guys he's been fighting. I'm not that caliber.''

In another man's mouth, such words would ring hollow. Boxers are capable of reciting all sorts of outlandish scripts if it serves the purpose of putting people in the seats. (While we're on that subject, whatever happened to

Holyfield, however, speaks the simple truth. He has a warrior's spirit and the dignity of a Dickens hero. Fight fans should not fear that Holyfield will fail to give them their money's worth. They should worry that he won't know when to quit.

After Holyfield lost his World Boxing Association belt to two years ago, he lamented that he was unable to throw his punches properly. A doctor subsequently diagnosed a ''noncompliant left ventricle,'' a congenital heart defect Holyfield would later claim was cured through the intercession of an Atlanta faith-healer.

The Mayo Clinic has since cleared Holyfield to fight, but questions persist.

''I am absolutely bewildered about the hole in his heart and that diagnosis,'' physician and fight analyst, said during a telephone news conference this week. ''This smacks of a humbug, a con game. Some guy says he has a hole in his heart and then some guy puts his hands on him to close the heart. There is a lot of double-talk here. Someone is conning someone here.''

Confused ambitions?

You would hope Evander Holyfield isn't conning himself here. You would hope he has not confused his ambitions with his ability, or become obsessed with the silly notion that he still needs to validate his career against the ''baddest man on the planet.''

Holyfield has already secured his place in the archives of organized mayhem as a distinguished champion, if not a dominant one. Beating Tyson would surely enhance his reputation, but fighting him figures to bruise everything but Holyfield's bank account.

''I'm probably the only guy who's not afraid of him,'' Holyfield said. ''You got to fight Tyson to get his respect, then box him. Then you got to box him to get him in a corner, then fight him.''

Failing that, you hit the canvas at the earliest convenience. Based on recent results, the standard position to fight Mike Tyson seems to be face-down.

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published Nov. 9, 1996.