He Ain't Heavy, He's Evander

By Michael Katz


He Ain't Heavy, He's Evander

I was there when Evander Holyfield made his pro debut in 1984, I doubt if I'll be around at the end. He was a gift from ABC to Shelly Finkel and Main Events. It was a golden night - a bunch of the Los Angeles Olympics winners turning pro on the same card. Mark Breland, who was the biggest name among them at the time, insisted that the fans be allowed in free as thanks for New York's support during his amateur career. ABC insisted that Holyfield, who was robbed of his gold medal, be included in the promotion. There were some special fighters on that card. Meldrick Taylor, Pernell Whitaker and Steve McCrory, who had made his pro debut earlier. There was Tyrell Biggs, whose biggest victory was against cocaine, but Holyfield was the real special one.

No one could argue that Taylor or Whitaker were less talented than the Real Deal from Atlanta. But it was Holyfield's dignified reaction to the robbery in Los Angeles, when the Yugoslav referee (you remember Yugoslavia, don't you?) disqualified him after he knocked out Kevin Barry a split second after the official called "stop," thus allowing a Yugoslav fighter to have a walkover in the gold-medal round.

Holyfield accepted his bronze. One of my least favorite editors at the New York Times said Holyfield would go on to be a heavyweight champion. I doubted whether Holyfield would become a heavyweight. "Too small," I said.

He willed himself to greatness. Damned if there ever was a heavyweight that a prime Holyfield would not have given a fight. He might give one to the ordinary Fres Oquendo tonight, but for $45, I'm going to pass. He's 44, didn't look all that good against an insurance salesman named Jeremy Bates last August when he came back after two years and that ugly loss to Larry Donald. He stopped Bates in the second round, but did get hit a couple of times by someone who wouldn't have laid a grenade on him 20 years ago.

He has every right to chase windmills. It isn't as if he hasn't been checked out by the finest doctors. He's not some poor joker who has to box in order to pay the bills. Those are the ones we should worry about, not a multimillionaire whose faith brought him to the top and who will not give up on it. He says he can't retire until he is once again the undisputed heavyweight champion. "No man can tell me to stop what I'm doing," he said at the press conference in San Antonio this week. "God can. He's the only one."

God forbid. He can fight, but I can't watch. I won't contribute my shekels to those who are making a buck by displaying the ancient warrior at the Alamodome. Let Murad Muhammad rip off someone else. Let Fres Oquendo find a more suitable opponent to back the promoter's claim that he is a "top contender." From the time he outpointed a Joe Louis look-alike in Lionel Byarm, back in that 1984 debut, until now, Holyfield has been in too many strange fights.

There was the bites from Mike Tyson, the Fan Man who dropped out of the sky to interrupt his second of three matches with Riddick Bowe. I was there for those, for the lame trilogy with John Ruiz, the two fights with Lennox Lewis and I've seen enough. It's bad enough I have to watch the current heavyweights.

For example, on Saturday night, it behooves me to watch Wladimir Klitschko defend his slice of the pie against Calvin Brock from Madison Square Garden. Klitschko, a PhD., is wise enough to know that he is NOT the heavyweight champion, not as long as three other quacks are out there wearing that same alphabet mask. He is a good man. He has made it so that UNIECEF will share in every ticket sold to benefit a particular African village. He is not a great fighter, despite Emanuel Steward claiming he could be the greatest of all time.

I take it Emanuel must have graduated from Dewars and water to believe that someone knocked out by Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster should be considered better than, oh, George Foreman to name a few.

But Klitschko, despite a questionable chin and a noticeable fear of combat - every time Samuel Peter raised a hand in anger, the Eastern front went in full retreat - does have considerable skills. He can punch, although not as hard as his retired big brother, Vitali. He throws combinations with good speed and, at 6-feet-6-inches, has built-in defense.

He is a deserving 4-1 favorite in this battle of college degrees. Just look at the nicknames: Dr. Steelhammer vs. The Boxing Banker. Brock, who has a degree in finance from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and a resume that includes the Bank of America, is certainly not very scary. And at 6-2, 224 ½ pounds, he is considerably smaller than the 241-pound trim Klitschko.

But the Banker has some assets, including an undefeated pro career. He too can punch, as witnessed by his single left-hook stoppage of the journeyman Zuri Lawrence this year. He has heart, as witnessed by his getting off the deck from a Jameel McCline hook and winning the rest of the round on the way to a decision. He can box some and he is smart. He is the total package, except in a smaller size.

Steward has worked wonders with Klitschko's confidence since taking over following the Brewster debacle. But Baby Brother still looks apprehensive before he can ascertain whether or not the opponent can hurt him. Brock can hurt him. This could simply be a case of whoever lands the big one first. Klitschko's height and reach would indicate that he should be favored for that, too, but if Brock, as expected, jumps on him from the start, there could be a major surprise. It is worth watching on HBO.

Not so worthy is the taped replay of the one-man dance Floyd Mayweather put on last Saturday at the expense of the left-footed Carlos Baldomir, although I am curious to hear the HBO patter and see the confrontation with Larry Merchant.

PENTHOUSE: Reader David Landry pointed out that maybe Mayweather's cautionary approach to the plodding Baldomir was due to the absence of Uncle Roger in the corner. Mr. Landry said Roger always pushed his nephew to throw combinations, that it wasn't enough just winning with defense, that he had to make a spectacle of himself to entertain the fans. With Roger unavailable, Floyd fell back into the safety-first style he learned from his father.

OUTHOUSE: The posturing that passes itself off as negotiating for the Oscar de la Hoya-Floyd Mayweather Jr. match. Yes, it'll bring in money by the recordful. But it's not exactly Ali-Frazier I or Leonard-Duran or Pryor-Arguello or Hagler-Hearns in terms of expectations. It's certainly not Basilio-Demarco II or a bunch of the Pep-Saddler faceoffs. De la Hoya was a very good fighter in his time; he's 33, has won once in a couple of years and that was against the made-to-odor (cq) Ricardo Mayorga. Mayweather is at his peak, if his hands are okay. De la Hoya has size and power on him, but that should not be enough. In other words, while it COULD be an upset, the chances are that it's just a very expensive feather in Mayweather's bling. Pretty Boy said he was going to retire after one more fight, he doesn't need the money. Beating a de la Hoya past his expiration date will not do that much for his legacy. The only reason he really wants this fight, I suspect, is to show up his father, Oscar's trainer. Let him tear his eyes out if the fates intervene. There are better fights out there. If this one doesn't get made, so be it. If it does, hopefully it will get made quietly, and then we can turn up the volume to hear the dissing between Floyd Sr. and Floyd Jr.


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