Saturday in West Virginia: Welcome Back, Evander
By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Sorry folks, but the outrage-o-meter is still buried at zero.
While writers, fans and analysts are still panning Evander Holyfield's aim for a last crack at undisputed heavyweight recognition, I'm still not buying it.
It's not that I think he's got more chance than me against division-topping names like Klitschko, Klitschko and Haye -- which is to say not much chance at all -- but I can't go solely on that inkling to deny him a pass to keep fighting his perception of the good fight.
If an assessment that a great fighter is beyond prime were the sole litmus to prevent careers from continuing, a lot of the sport's history would have been written differently.
In most cases the past-vintage competitor would have been spared needless beatings and the long-term damage they prompt. But in some others, a righteous blockade would have snuffed out some of the game's most memorable moments.
Exhibit A: George Foreman.
Try as I might, I can't recall reading a single wordsmith two decades ago defending "Big George's" right to campaign as a 40-ish novelty, several D.C. administrations after he'd last won a title belt.
The analysis changed little while he padded the resume with names like Zouski, Crabtree, and Lakusta, leaving most to opine a proposed 1991 match with Holyfield was a shade shy of black-on-black crime.
Those cynics sampled crow after Foreman went the route and lost a competitive decision. It became a feast three years later when he KO'd Michael Moorer to win two of Holyfield's ex-belts at 45.
It's since become routine to see aging fighters hold their own with foes as young as their kids.
Evander Holyfield meets Sherman Williams, defending his dubious WBF championship.
One need not look beyond last month, when Bernard Hopkins -- weeks away from birthday 46 -- was a deserving winner after 12 with consensus light heavy king Jean Pascal, nearly 18 years his junior.
In Holyfield's case, no doubt, little evidence points to a similar script.
The belt-holders at heavyweight are as polished and more menacing than Pascal, while none of Evander's recent scalps -- though plentiful -- include anything resembling what Hopkins had beaten in the years before Pascal.
Fres Oquendo is no Pavlik. Vinny Maddalone is no Wright. And Lou Savarese is no Jones Jr.
That much is true.
But given the dearth of quality big guys these days, it's also true that a string of five wins in seven fights -- with the only losses coming in competitive title shots with Sultan Ibragimov and Nikolai Valuev -- means a late 40s Holyfield isn't as far from head of the class as most claim.
The computerized January ratings from the IBO placed him 16th in the world among non-champions, one spot behind a skidding Chris Arreola -- beaten in 10 one-sided rounds by Vitali Klitschko in 2009 -- and two higher than Dereck Chisora, whose own shot at Wlad Klitschko was later scrubbed by injury.
Another rung below Chisora is 42-year-old Antonio Tarver, whose flabby division debut with Nagy Aguilera in October was by no measure more convincing than a still-taut Holyfield's recent work.
Yet, Tarver's subsequent call for David Haye was deemed intriguing in the mainstream, while Evander's late-stage resume yields headlines like Friday's "Weekend preview: Unfortunately, Holyfield's back" from the resident hair- trigger cynics at De La Hoya Illustrated.
Holyfield meets journeyman Sherman Williams on Saturday, defending his dubious WBF championship atop a card of mid-tier driftwood like Kevin Johnson, Monte Barrett and Cedric Boswell in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., where the live PPV goes for a brazenly suggested $29.95 retail.
Few contest a defeat of the 38-year-old Williams will prove little, given that the Caribbean native's 34-11-2 career record features wins just the hardest of the hardcore would recognize, amid losses to suspects like Manuel Charr, Tye Fields, Kelvin Hale and Taurus Sykes.
In fact, the most-known foe on the list -- ex-WBA claimant Ruslan Chagaev -- beat him unanimously in an eight-round fight nearly six years ago in Germany.
Nonetheless, it'd be another mission accomplished for Holyfield, who retains hope a prolonged string of wins will yield the very championship series his lingering critics so vehemently protest.
"If it were left up to me, I'd fight the Klitschkos and David Haye, and that'd be it," he said. "If it were three more left, that's what I'd do. Or maybe one Klitschko fights Haye and I fight the other Klitschko, and the two winners fight. I'd take that, too. Whatever it takes to be undisputed."
As for me, I hope those fights -- especially with the Klitschkos -- never get made, too.
A genuine scrap with either Ukrainian behemoth could provide a beating like none he's known, or a respect-sopped 12-round sleepwalk with less venom than an impotent garden snake.
In other words, a lose/lose prospect for all interested parties.
Still, there's a sizable chasm of logic between hoping he won't get that shot and saying he shouldn't try, regardless of whether his actual quarry is glory, belts or money.
At best it's overprotection. At worst it's discrimination. And no matter how it's sliced, it's a call no state commission is qualified to make. Because it's simply not their job.
They confirm the venues. They hire the officials. They inspect the weigh-ins and squeeze the gloves.
In other words, let them stick to the details and let the fighters fight.
Meanwhile, let him fail a medical test or suffer a series of sustained beatings, and I'll be first in line to yank his license and bubble wrap him until induction day at Canastota.
But as long as he's in better shape than most heavies and can still beat 99 percent of them, there's no excuse for anyone to demand a greater threshold because his rank includes a digit next to the 1.
"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?" Holyfield 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."
TV TOPICS (Some fights may not be televised)
SATURDAY Direct TV - Bayamon, Puerto Rico Jonathan Oquendo (19-2) vs. Cecilio Santos (25-16-3) - 122 pounds FOX Espanol - Las Vegas, Nev. Diego Magdaleno (17-0) vs. Marcos Jimenez (18-2) - 130 pounds
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who's written professionally since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz.