Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Oh sure, he hears it...but it doesn't bother him.
In fact, when Evander Holyfield comes upon yet another opinion critical of his latest in-ring forays, he simply chalks it all up to experience.
"It?s really no different. I'm accustomed to it," the 44-year-old said, in a Tuesday evening phone interview. "I've been hearing it for so long that I really don't even hear it.
"They said it when I fought Bowe, back in 1993, that I was too old and he was gonna tear me up, and I was only 30. Then when it was Moorer and Tyson, I was too old and I had a bad heart. People have spent a lifetime trying to snuff me out. I lose three fights in a row and then it was because I had 'become old overnight.' No matter what, it?s always something."
The aging Georgia native will fight for the 53rd time in a 23-year professional career on Oct. 13 -- when he meets unbeaten hometown belt-holder Sultan Ibragimov for the WBO?s heavyweight title at the Khodynka Ice Palace in Moscow. The bout was put together when a scheduled unification match between Ibragimov and WBA champion Ruslan Chagaev was scuttled after Chagaev pulled out with an undisclosed injury.
Holyfield is unbeaten in four outings since the two-year hiatus that followed a three-fight losing streak to Chris Byrd (UD 12), James Toney (TKO 9) and Larry Donald (UD 12). He claimed the defeats stemmed from lingering shoulder maladies, but had his plans at recovery delayed when his license was stripped by the athletic commission in New York -- presumably ending his career.
Problem was, the desire never faded.
"I wasn't going anywhere. I hadn't retired. They took my license," he said. "So what I had to do was be ready to go as soon as I got it back. I had to be able to hit the ground running right away. I kept working, and then when I got back, people noticed. They were saying, 'His hands are faster. He?s throwing more punches. He?s not as lethargic.'
Evander Holyfield will fight for the 53rd time in his 23-year professional career on Oct. 13.
"They still thought it was too much and that every guy I fought after the first time was just me biting off more than I could chew. But by the time I won the fourth fight, they were saying, 'There ain't nothing wrong with him. There?s no way he could've been too old and then come back. Something must've been wrong and now it?s corrected.'"
Holyfield eventually secured a license in Texas and returned with a two-round TKO of Jeremy Bates in August 2006 in Dallas, then scored a unanimous decision win over fringe contender Fres Oquendo three months later in San Antonio. He stopped Vinny Maddalone in three rounds on March 17 in Corpus Christi and made it four straight with a 10-round nod over Lou Savarese on June 30 in El Paso.
He?s also cashed in to some extent on his celebrity status, first appearing on ABC?s "Dancing with the Stars" competition and this week crossing over with an appearance on the WWE?s "Saturday Night?s Main Event" wrestling show on NBC, which was taped Tuesday afternoon.
"You have to keep coming up with creative ways to keep people interested and to let them know you're still alive, because when you get older, they think, 'That guy can't draw anymore,'" he said. "A lot of the same people that watch wrestling watch boxing, too, so if this can get their attention and get them to watch my fight and be entertained, then that?s the idea."
The meeting with Ibragimov will be Holyfield?s 24th world title bout, continuing a string of spotlight events that began when he defeated Dwight Muhammad Qawi for the WBA cruiserweight championship in July 1986. He was 6-0 in title bouts at 190 pounds, then won his first four as a heavyweight before losing to Riddick Bowe in November 1992.
He?s 6-4-2 in 12 title fights since, but will nonetheless approach this one in "rookie" fashion.
"You've got to have different adjustments every time, really," he said. "I've been down this road a lot of times, and now I've got to find the way to get the best response out of a 44-year-old?s body. Being 38 was quite a lot different. And 34 was different, and 30 was different and 28 was different. Even 23 was different, too, but when you're a champion you ride with it and find the best solutions.
"You can't spar as much and you can't tear down your body as much. You have to fine-tune your way to the proper fight without leaving it in the gym. It?s not about getting in the best shape today, it?s about getting in shape and being able to maintain it on the night of the fight so you'll rise to your best effort, not three weeks before or one day after. For me, it?s got to be Oct. 13."
And as for Oct. 14 and beyond... the jury?s still out.
Holyfield insists he'll not retire even with a win over Ibragimov and refuses to set a firm timetable on his ultimate goal -- the division?s undisputed championship. Chagaev holds the WBA title. Oleg Maskaev will defend his WBC crown against Samuel Peter in New York on Oct. 6. And Wladimir Klitschko, regarded by most as the best of the crowded field, last defended his IBF belt on July 7.
"If you're gonna stand on a hill and call yourself the champion of something, there shouldn't be anyone else on that hill but you, right?" he said. "When Ali was the champion, it was him. He was the man. Now it?s not the fighters who are making the decisions, it?s the managers and the promoters and the business people. And that ain't boxing.
'I can't put a date on it. When I become it, then I'll have become it. I can't make the fights myself. I'm hoping it'll all happen in 2008, but if it doesn't I'm not going to quit on what I want to accomplish. It doesn't change the goal. Eventually, I'm just going to make all of these people say, 'OK, so when is he gonna finally go away?'"
Elsewhere among the heavyweights, score one for the promotional acumen of Don King.
After all, only the controversial electric-haired chatterbox could transform something as deflating as Vitali Klitschko?s latest aborted comeback into an entertaining hype-fest for one of his own upcoming events.
In one fell e-mail swoop, King turned middling heavyweight contender Jameel McCline -- who'd been scheduled to face the Kyrgyzstan-born champion emeritus in his planned return from a nearly three-year hiatus -- into a hot property now slated to face fellow mid-range veteran DaVarryl Williamson on the Maskaev-Peter undercard on Oct. 6 at Madison Square Garden.
Klitschko, who'd originally discussed a comeback bout with Williamson before shifting his interest toward McCline, announced earlier this month that he'd not be able to make their planned Saturday night date after a back injury prompted immediate arthroscopic surgery in Austria. And, according to King?s math, the pull-out marked the fifth straight time Klitschko was "unable to participate" in a scheduled bout.
"Williamson vs. McCline is a fight made by Vitali Klitschko," King said. "Vitali?s people couldn't come to terms with me for Williamson, and Vitali himself did what he usually does, he backed out of a fight, this time with McCline. Now I've brought Williamson and McCline together to prove they are worthy of a world title shot."
Both have proven dubious in previous assaults on both the Klitschko name and titles in general.
McCline was stopped after 10 rounds in a December 2002 try for Wladimir Klitschko?s WBO heavyweight crown. He went on to drop a 12-round split decision to IBF champion Byrd in November 2004, then suffered a serious knee injury and had to retire after just three rounds of his last fight -- an ill- fated challenge of WBA belt-holder Nikolay Valuev in January.
Meanwhile, Williamson led on one scorecard before falling to the younger Klitschko in an October 2004 non-title bout in Las Vegas, and also lost a 12- round nod to Byrd in an unsuccessful grab at the IBF belt a year later in Reno. He?s won two straight since the Byrd loss, stopping Mike Mollo in four rounds and Maurice Wheeler in three rounds.
He claims to have sparred with Vitali just a day before the injury was disclosed.
"I don't know what they anticipated from me, but I will tell you they got their money?s worth. It was competitive on both sides," Williamson said. "I sparred with Vitali on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday (Sept. 4, 6 and 7) and didn't notice anything unusual. I didn't know anything about his injury, which they said happened the next day on Saturday. I don't know what happened between Friday and Saturday morning."
Predictably, McCline had a few choice words of his own.
"I'm very disappointed that the fight with Vitali is not happening on Sept. 22, but I promise that whenever and if he ever steps into the ring with me I will put him on his now surgically repaired back," he said. "Now that Vitali?s backed out, DaVarryl Williamson has stepped up and he?s getting knocked out. There is no way I'm going to be denied on Oct. 6."
Luckily, the fun wasn't limited to the big-boy division.
Welterweights Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Ricky Hatton -- who combine for a pristine 81-0 lifetime record -- began the press tour Monday in Los Angeles for their scheduled Dec. 8 get-together in Las Vegas.
And, predictably again, the "Pretty Boy" wasn't at a loss for words either.
"I'm going to go out there and be the same Floyd Mayweather I always am," he said.
"I'm gonna be focused and be the best I can be. I don't have to intimidate a guy that?s already intimidated. I'm putting the pressure on him. There?s no pressure on me. You must realize when I beat Ricky Hatton, I'm supposed to beat Ricky Hatton. If he beats me it?s an upset, but I'm supposed to beat him. Every fighter I'm faced against, I'm supposed to win."
Hatton, who last fought in June when he stopped Jose Luis Castillo to defend his IBO crown at 140 pounds, poked fun at his soon-to-be opponent in a brief video montage that mocked Mayweather?s upcoming participation in "Dancing with the Stars." Mayweather responded with, "I'll do my dancing and then I'll dust you off," then later referred to the British challenger as "Vicky Fatton."
Manager Leonard Ellerbe said, "The timing is great. He?s going to win the competition, and he'll also destroy Ricky Hatton."
Mayweather defeated Oscar De La Hoya by split decision on May 5, winning the WBC light middleweight title and improving his career record to 38-0. He surrendered the 154-pound crown to hold onto the WBC belt at 147, which he won with a 12-round nod over Carlos Baldomir in November 2006. He previously held world titles at 130, 135 and 140 pounds.
Hatton, now 43-0 with 31 knockouts, stopped Kostya Tszyu for the IBF?s light welterweight title in June 2005, then moved up to 147 to earn the WBA welterweight crown with a defeat of Luis Collazo in May 2006. He went back down to 140 to win the IBO belt and defended it with the destruction of Castillo at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
"Maybe he doesn't realize I'm quite as good as I am," Hatton said.