Title-fight vet Holyfield expecting business as usual
By Lyle Fitzsimmons
To some, it's laughable, pathetic or even tragic.
But in Evander Holyfield's mind, it's unfinished business.
In a commercial promoting his Saturday showdown with WBO heavyweight champion Sultan Ibragimov in Moscow, the 44-year-old Georgian is shown floating happily in his backyard pool before overhearing the Russian's menacing prediction for what will happen when the two meet at Khodynka Ice Palace.
Tossing aside his inflatable water friend, the former four-time champion exits the pool with a sneer of his own, presumably heading off to defend his honor with whatever skills remain in a body that's endured 52 pro fights since the former Olympian debuted at Madison Square Garden in 1984.
And if you ask him, there's still plenty left.
"He's a tough guy, no question, but I'm up to the challenge," Holyfield said in a recent phone interview. "They said (I was through) 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."
Holyfield was nearly drummed out of the sport with consecutive losses to Chris Byrd, James Toney and Larry Donald between 2002 and 2004 -- losses he claimed were the result of lingering injuries -- but has since returned with four straight victories, including a unanimous 10-round decision over Lou Savarese on June 30 in El Paso.
He got the shot at Ibragimov's title when the unbeaten 32-year-old's original opponent -- WBA champ Ruslan Chagaev -- pulled out of the planned unification bout with an unspecified injury.
"It's different over there," Holyfield said. "People don't realize it here. These guys don't walk around in Russia like rock stars. He won the Olympics (in 2000) and then he went back home and went back to work. It's a tough life. If he was over here, he'd be a star, but over there, he works hard and lives the hard life."
Evander Holyfield is 16-5-2 in title bouts at cruiserweight and heavyweight.
The defense will be the first for Ibragimov, a 21-0-1 southpaw who won his title with an upset 12-round decision over incumbent Shannon Briggs on June 2 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. He'd fought to a draw with Ray Austin in a title eliminator 11 months earlier, then stopped Javier Mora in one round at MSG in March.
Holyfield, who'll turn 45 just six days after the fight, is 16-5-2 in title bouts at cruiserweight and heavyweight, including belt-earning wins over Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Ricky Parkey, Carlos DeLeon, Buster Douglas, Riddick Bowe, Mike Tyson, Michael Moorer and John Ruiz.
He said a win over Ibragimov will not signal an end to his career. Instead, he's still aiming to recapture recognition as the division's undisputed champion, regardless of how long it takes to arrange bouts with other reigning champions Samuel Peter (WBC interim), Chagaev (WBA) and Wladimir Klitschko (IBF).
"I can't put a date on it," Holyfield said. "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?'"
My own sentimental guess, not quite yet.
FitzHitz says: Holyfield by decision.
Ok, you want a guaranteed sure thing this weekend? Take the Diaz fight and lay the points.
Stationed in one corner of the ring for a WBA/WBO/IBF lightweight title summit will be young Texas whirlwind Juan "Baby Bull" Diaz, who'll be shooting for the 33rd win of his still-pristine career against Mexican export Julio "The Kidd" Diaz in the 12-round main event of a 10-bout card at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
The former Diaz, a 24-year-old native of Houston, will be risking the WBA/WBO slices of the 135-pound title that he's held in one form or another since defeating Lakva Sim by unanimous 12-round decision before a partisan hometown crowd at the Reliant Center in July 2004.
He defended the WBA belt five times over two-plus years, then added the WBO strap with a punishing eighth-round TKO of Brazilian hero Acelino Freitas on April 28 at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn.
Diaz No. 2 is a two-time IBF belt-holder at 135, initially capturing laurels with a majority 12-round verdict over Javier Jauregui in May 2004 at the Sports Arena in San Diego. He surrendered the crown to make a grab for Jose Luis Castillo's WBC title in March 2005 in Las Vegas, then left empty-handed after falling via TKO at 2:23 of the 10th round.
He returned with consecutive one-round stoppage victories in June and August 2005, then won the IBF's interim title by 12-round decision over Ricky Quiles in May 2006 in Hollywood, Fla. Subsequently, he defended the full-fledged championship by third-round KO of veteran Jesus Chavez in February in Kissimmee, Fla.
Overall, Julio Diaz is 34-3 with 25 knockouts.
"I think this will turn out to be the fight of the year and maybe the fight of the century because both Julio Diaz and I want to win so bad," Juan Diaz said. "They will have to take me out of the ring on a stretcher for me to lose this fight."
"That's good to know," Julio Diaz said. "Now I have to bring a stretcher."
Elsewhere on the card, Illinois natives Mike Mollo and Art Binkowski will square off in a 12-round heavyweight match for the WBA Fedelatin title. Also, former world heavyweight title-holders Ruiz and Sergei Liakhovich are tentatively set to face as-yet-unnamed opponents in separate 10-round bouts.
"Juan said boxing is like a hobby to him," Julio Diaz said. "He has school and other things to fall back on. I have hobbies, too, like going fishing and playing golf. But boxing is my love and passion. It's also my job. I'm fighting for my family. Anytime I am up against the wall, I just think about my family and my intensity rises. I'm confident I'll be standing in the end."
FitzHitz says: Diaz (Juan, that is) in 9.
One of Holyfield's biggest fans, at least for this weekend, will take center stage a night before the "Real Deal" at the Twin River Event Center in Lincoln, R.I.
Heavyweight lightning rod Joe Mesi, who won 29 straight fights before a controversial injury drove him from the ring for more than two years, inks the latest page in his second chapter when he faces journeyman Shannon Miller in a 10-rounder on Friday night.
Mesi, who'll be 34 in November, is 6-0 against nondescript opposition since returning to the ring in April 2006. He defeated former cruiserweight champion Vassilly Jirov in March 2004, then lost his boxing license when it was revealed he suffered brain bleeds in the violent 10-round bout.
He's fought in Puerto Rico, Quebec, Arkansas, Michigan, West Virginia and Arkansas in his comeback, including a one-round stoppage of Ron Johnson in April. He was scheduled to meet Sherman Williams in late summer, but was forced to pull out after suffering a back injury in training.
Mesi took a step toward legitimacy in September when he signed a multi-year promotional contract with Classic Entertainment & Sports Inc., joining a stable that includes unbeaten cruiserweight Matt Godfrey, recent super middleweight title challenger Peter Manfredo Jr. and 2004 U.S. Olympian Jason Estrada.
"We felt that at this point of my career it was in our best interest to get with a promoter," Mesi said, in a statement released by CES. "After talking with a lot of promoters, we decided that CES and Jimmy Burchfield was our best bet.
"He is very well respected, liked and trusted, which are uncommon in boxing. There's something special about him in the community and he has no enemies. Everybody's happy. We've signed with CES and Jimmy so he can assist us in getting back into the top 10 and eventually into a world championship fight."
Jack Mesi, who manages his son's career, said a fight with Holyfield had been discussed before the four-time champion was selected to meet Ibragimov this weekend.
"That's a fight we'll definitely be watching and we'll be hoping (Holyfield) wins, no question," he said in a recent interview. "He's the biggest name out there and that's a fight we'd be interested in making if things work out for him.
"It's about the title. Look at Evander, he's 44. So there's no time limit as long as things are going well. Winning the championship is the goal."
Elsewhere on the world title map this weekend, one-loss South African veteran Isaac Hlatshwayo makes the first defense of his IBO welterweight crown on Friday night when he takes on unbeaten Aussie giant Robert Medley at the Panthers Leagues Club in Penrith, Australia.
Hlatshwayo, who turned 30 last week, won the vacant belt with a 12-round decision over Joseph Makaringe on May 12.
He briefly held the IBO's top honors at lightweight before moving up to 147, initially defeating Cassius Baloyi (UD 12) for the vacant title in August and defending it against Aldo Nazareno Rios (UD 12) and Nate Campbell (SD 12), then fighting twice at 140 -- including a 12-round defeat at the hands of Kendall Holt, his lone career loss in 28 fights.
Medley, a 26-year-old right-hander, has won 18 straight since turning pro in May 2003. His last fight took place May 4 near Sydney, Australia, where he defeated Somchai Nakbalee when the Thai retired at the end of the ninth round with a fractured jaw.
On Saturday, in addition to the previously mentioned goings-on in Moscow and Illinois, WBA light flyweight champion Juan Carlos Reveco defends his title for the first time in a scheduled 12-rounder against Mexican veteran Humberto Pool at Estadio Luna Park in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Reveco, a 24-year-old native of Malargue, Argentina, won his vacant belt with an eighth-round KO of Thai import Nethra Sasiprapa in a matchup of unbeatens on June 22. The stoppage was his fourth in six fights after beginning his career with just three stoppages in 10 outings.
Pool, who'll be 33 in November, has won six straight bouts since starting his career at 8-4-3. He beat Angel Rezago by unanimous 10-round decision in his last outing, on July 14 in Campeche, Mexico.
Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is a periodic contributor to the Dave Smith Show, broadcast weekdays from 6 to 9 a.m. on Sporting News Radio (radio.sportingnews.com).