Boxing
Holyfield back in business, say it aint so
Lyle Fitzsimmons

By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Boxing Contributing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the heavyweight water...Evander Holyfield might be headed for a title shot.

The former Olympic bronze medalist, who'll be a ripe old 45 come October, has been rumored near the top of the list of potential foes for newly minted champion Sultan Ibragimov, who defeated first-defense pretender Shannon Briggs for the WBO honors last Saturday in Atlantic City.

Holyfield, whose very right to fight was called into question after a painfully one-sided decision loss to Larry Donald in 2004, has since become drunk with the success of a three-bout streak that's seen him claim the only-slightly-more-threatening scalps of Jeremy Bates, Fres Oquendo and Vinny Maddalone since August.

With a win in his next bout, set for June 30 in El Paso against young- trialhorse-turned-old-trialhorse Lou Savarese - not quite spry himself at age 41 - the God-loving Atlanta native will step directly to the front of the line of challengers itching to take a shot at the unbeaten Russian southpaw.

Predictably, the idea of a belt try for a nearly AARP-eligible boxer has some enflamed.

I disagree.

Not necessarily because I'm such a big fan of Holyfield. In fact, I still cringe when I recall the 100 bucks he cost me by coming back to upset Riddick Bowe in their second championship bout - the same night in 1993 on which Vegas fight fans were introduced to the motorized hang-gliding phenomenon known as "Fan Man."

Evander Holyfield
Evander Holyfield has been rumored near the top of the list of potential foes for newly minted champion Sultan Ibragimov.
Instead, it's out of the something combining sympathy, pity and respect I have for "older" fighters who, while admittedly not still at the levels for which they became famous, are nonetheless still willing enough, brave enough and conditioned enough to get into a ring and swap punches with an evil-intentioned opponent.

Is Holyfield legitimately among the 10, 20 or maybe even 50 best heavyweights in the world? Perhaps not. But if he's healthy enough to pass the battery of neurological and assorted other tests given by the host athletic commission of choice, who's to say he's unworthy of the chance?

And based on his status as a still-familiar player in a sport elbowing for middle-tier space alongside poker, bass fishing and arena football, why would anyone be surprised if an enterprising businessman like Leon Margules - who works for Seminole Warriors Boxing, Ibragimov's co-promoter - wanted to milk him for one more lucrative gate?

Like it or not purists, that's still the "Real Deal."

Speaking of ancient relics with Jeremy Bates ties, here's Andrew Golota.

The controversial Polish giant, inactive for two years and winless for nearly four, will make a homeland return on Saturday when he meets Bates in the semifinal of a Don King-promoted card that'll feature an IBO cruiserweight title bout between former 175-pound champ Tomaz Adamek and Latin journeyman Luis Pineda.

Golota was last seen stateside in May 2005, stumbling across a Chicago ring en route to an embarrassing 52-second TKO loss to then WBO heavyweight title-holder Lamon Brewster. That bout came six months after his previous title bout, which ended in a unanimous 12-round scorecard loss to WBA champ John Ruiz.

The 39-year-old has had four championship bouts in all, previously losing via one-round KO to WBC kingpin Lennox Lewis in 1997 and fighting to a 12-round scorecard draw with IBF titlist Chris Byrd in 2004.

All that in addition to a pair of DQ losses to Bowe in 1996, a surrender against Michael Grant in 1999 and a TKO collapse against Mike Tyson that was subsequently changed to a no-contest when his equally infamous foe tested positive for marijuana.

He's clearly a favorite of both King and a fervent Polish fan base, however, which keeps him at least within a bolo punch's reach of a fifth shot at jewelry in a division still largely controlled by the clout-wielding power broker.

And as with Holyfield, Golota's past unquestionably puts him head and shoulders above lesser belt-holding heavyweight lights like Ruslan Chagaev, Oleg Maskaev and Ibragimov in terms of both name recognition and seat-filling potential.

'Cmon, even the most esoteric of fans or PPV button-clickers would have to admit more intrigue with the idea of another Golota "event" than the prospect of a duel between consonant-filled ex-Communists or even less-interesting American retreads like Byrd, Hasim Rahman and James Toney.

Makes you wonder if Tyson-Morrison can be too far behind.

From all accounts I've read, Juan Diaz is a super guy.

He's gracious, humble and earnest outside the ring. While in it, he incorporates a high-intensity grinding style that's rendered 32 straight opponents - including seven in lightweight championship fights - clueless in their efforts to contend with it.

He's exactly what the sport needs, by every conceivable measure.

But leave it to the WBA to have spoiled it this week.

By raising the 23-year-old's status from plain old lightweight champion to the completely ridiculous "super champion" level, they've managed to tangle Diaz in the web of sanctioning body nonsense that's plagued the sport for last several years.

Oh sure, some would consider the superlative a worthy honor for a rising star, and in a perfect world it'd be exactly that.

But anyone paying attention lately knows it's actually something far less laudable - a blatant money grab by a Panama-based organization more than happy to fill a vacant "regular championship" while charging sanctioning fees to two more contenders, and simultaneously collecting the same toll every time Diaz defends his elevated crown.

It became even better for the bag-holders on May 11, when Jose Miguel Cotto and Prawet Singwangcha fought to a 12-round draw for Diaz's old belt - meaning they'll get to do it all over again in a few months with a whole new round of check-signing for Gilberto Mendoza and the boys down in Panama City.

Too bad the "Baby Bull" had to be dragged in as an accomplice.

It'll sure be tough on the thumbs this weekend.

Between the Golota circus on MSG Saturday afternoon and the dueling main events involving Cotto/Judah on HBO PPV and ex-light heavyweight king Antonio Tarver on Showtime later that evening, the one guaranteed result is battle fatigue for the flicking hand.

But it's a fatigue I'll suffer gladly.

Whether out of prurient interest or something worse, I'm sure to at least take a peek at the Polish card during breaks from sun-worshipping.

Then, it's a slam dunk that the comebacking Tarver will get a look as he duels with Yugoslavian export Elvir Muriqi in Hartford for the WBO's 175-pound belt.

The more-than-welterweight price tag for Cotto/Judah makes it a bit more of a financial question, but the intriguing nature of the match-up might just be worth eschewing a few extra bags of Swedish Fish and a half-tank of gas to instead fire the needed cash toward my local cable provider.

It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.

And as for the picks, FitzHitz says:

1. In Poland, it's Golota in 2 and Adamek in 6.
2. In Hartford, Tarver in 10.
3. And in New York, look for the upset - Judah in 7.

Jabs, hooks or knockouts, Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com.