Holyfield and Billy Bob shooting for the stars

By George Willis


Holyfield and Billy Bob shooting for the stars

I took my daughter to go see "the Astronaut Farmer" the other day. That's the movie where Billy Bob Thornton plays a man whose career as an astronaut was cut short when he had to drop out of the space program and return home because of the suicide death of his father. Yet, he still harbors a deep-seeded dream of building his own rocket, lifting off into space and orbiting the earth before landing safely in his own backyard.  Most of his friends, neighbors, and the government think he is crazy. Nonetheless, he is undeterred. He builds his rocket in his barn, piece by piece, ignoring the critics, the haters and the obstacles, determined to fulfill what he believes is his destiny.

I won't give away the rest of the movie, but it came to mind Tuesday when I was listening to Evander Holyfield talk about his quest to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world again.  There was a time I thought he was delusional.

But listen to Holyfield long enough and he'll convince you he's not crazy, punch drunk or desperate for money; that his goal to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world again isn't just a delusional fantasy of a boxer who doesn't know when to quit.

Listen to Holyfield long enough and you figure maybe it's just a matter of time before he builds his own rocket and proves the skeptics wrong. "This is what I desire to do and I have to fulfill my life the way everyone else has to fulfill theirs," Holyfield said during a press conference at Spanky's BBQ in mid-town Manhattan.

The 44-year-old four-time heavyweight champion was there to formally announce his upcoming fight against Flushing heavyweight Vinny Maddalone on March 17 in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Maddalone (27-3, 19 KOs) is a straight-ahead brawler with a take-a-few to throw-a-few style that has resulted in his face needing some 500 stitches during his career. He isn't a marquee name that will launch Holyfield into a title fight, but Maddalone's combative nature could appeal to those wanting to see Holyfield in a rugged battle.

"I want the guys who are going to try to knock me out," Holyfield said, "the guys that want to hit me with the bomb. It's easier to fight the guy who's going to hit me with the bomb."

It's the next step in Holyfield's quest to fulfill what he believes is his destiny.  We thought his career was over when he was suspended by the New York State Athletic Commission following a 12-round loss to Larry Donald in 2004. That was his third straight defeat and his dismal performances had people concerned about his health and safety.

Holyfield now says he was suffering from painful shoulder injuries during that time. Now that he's healthy again, he says he’s more than capable of regaining his title.  "I can dodge punches better. My balance is better and I can throw six-punch combinations," Holyfield said. "I can throw more jabs. I'm 44 and I'm doing better than when I was at 35."

Holyfield (40-8-2, 26 KOs) has won twice since returning from his suspension. He stopped Jeremy Bates in two rounds last August and earned a 12-round decision over former title contender Frez Oquendo last November.

"I'm a lot better now than when I stepped in with Bates and when I stepped in with Oquendo," Holyfield said. "I'm not injured and my body is starting to respond the way I want it to respond."

He admitted he has made concessions to age. He doesn't do as much road work anymore and spars every other day instead of every day. And he doesn't lift as many weights. "Every time I go in the gym I want my body to be fresh," Holyfield said.

Holyfield hopes to be the undisputed champ sometime in 2008.  Should he keep winning, it's almost certain he'll get a title shot by then. One of the current beltholders-Shannon Briggs (WBO), Wladimir Klitschko (IBF), Oleg Maskaev (WBC) and Nikolay Valuev (WBA)--will jump at the payday he would bring.  "I'm going to be the undisputed champion so it doesn't matter who's first," Holyfield said. "I'll fight whoever wants to draw the people so they can make some money."

There will still be critics and obstacles.  In fact, during the press conference, Holyfield was confronted with questions about his name being linked to a grand-jury investigation into performing enhancing drugs being sold on the Internet.

Holyfield said he knew nothing about the report and denied having any involvement with owners of an Alabama pharmacy that was recently indicted and, according to report in the Albany Times-Union, had his name on an alleged customer list that also included Los Angeles Angels outfielder Gary Mathews Jr., and former baseball player Jose Canseco, an admitted steroid user.

"I've never heard of it," Holyfield said.

The indictment in Alabama, according to the Times-Union, is part of an investigation into Internet drug sales that could expose widespread illicit steroid use by professional athletes and thousands of people across the nation. The report said more than two dozen doctors, pharmacists and business owners have been, or will be, arrested in the coming days in Alabama, Texas, Florida and New York on sealed indictments charging them with various felonies for unlawfully distributing steroids and other controlled substances.

Pat English, an attorney for Main Events who promotes Holyfield and a long-time friend of the boxer, said it was "inconceivable" Holyfield would use performance-enhancing drugs. "I've known him for 20 years and it's not within the realm of possibility," English said. "He was tested every time he fought in Nevada even before it had formal testing. And he was tested when he fought in New York and all those came back clean."

Said Holyfield, "I'm still the same (size) that I've always been."

Obstacles and critics will likely always be part of his career for however long it lasts. But one thing is certain, like the Astronaut Farmer, Holyfield won't give up his dream until he's ready.

"I was taught life is about having a plan," he said. "I know when it all ends up, I'm going to be the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world."

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Send questions and comments to: gwillis@boxingtalk.com