Time to retire the anti-Holyfield agenda
By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Sorry folks, but I'm coming up empty on the search for outrage.
While other writers, fans and analysts seem unanimous in their righteous condemnation of Evander Holyfield's quest for the WBA heavyweight title this weekend in Zurich, I'm having a hard time finding anything other than misguided optimism he might actually pull it off.
And if nothing at all else, I think he at least warrants a chance.
For at least a couple of reasons.
First of all, speaking merely of the fight itself, I'm not so sure it's the ridiculous mismatch that those so quick to judge have branded it.
For those who haven't seen him -- and in spite of the gaudy 49-1 record and two reigns as champion -- Nikolay Valuev ain't Ivan Drago.
Oh sure, he's seven-feet tall and, yes, he weighs in somewhere north of 300 pounds, but in terms of actual in-ring prowess he leans far more toward Barnum and Bailey than Ali and Frazier.
Evander Holyfield remains able to contend with most of the flotsam and jetsam in the top 20.
And though he's admittedly won seven of eight fights over the last three years -- perhaps leading to his billing as a 9-to-1 betting favorite -- the opposition he's faced is hardly head and shoulders above Holyfield, even at age 46.
Valuev's decision wins over John Ruiz were at least questionable -- and to some, criminal -- while TKO defeats of Monte Barrett, Owen Beck and Jameel McCline don't clearly mandate any more confidence than Evander's recent beatings of Fres Oquendo, Vinny Maddalone and Lou Savarese.
Meanwhile, Valuev's one defeat in that stretch -- a wide scorecard loss to 6-foot-1 Ruslan Chagaev -- revealed a lot more weaknesses than any of the victories cemented strengths.
In spite of an 11-inch height disadvantage and a 90-pound discrepancy in weight, Chagaev -- who'd spent a career beating the Sherman Williamses, Rob Calloways and Michael Sprotts of the world -- schooled the "Russian Giant" with superior athleticism and technical acumen.
Both of which Holyfield, even in his advanced years, will still possess come Saturday night.
Though he's clearly not the fighter he was even a decade ago, Holyfield remains able to contend with most of the flotsam and jetsam in the top 20, and, on a good day, to compete admirably with the tier just beneath the Klitschko brothers atop the heavyweight heap.
He proved as much in his last championship go-round last October, going the distance and even winning the occasional round from then-unbeaten WBO claimant Sultan Ibragimov, who was widely considered the division's next-best inhabitant behind Good King Wladimir.
Not great, but, against a pedestrian Valuev... perhaps just good enough.
"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 (my) body," Holyfield said, in a 2007 FitzHitz interview. "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."
Not all that long ago, such regimens seemed out of his control.
A winner in 16 of 24 career title bouts, Holyfield was nearly drummed out of the sport when a three-fight losing skid between 2002 and 2004 -- which he long insisted was due to injury -- prompted the grandstanding New York State Athletic Commission to strip his boxing license.
He turned up in Texas with a clean bill of health in 2006 and strung together defeats of Jeremy Bates (TKO 2), Oquendo (UD 10), Maddalone (TKO 3) and Savarese (UD 10), before securing the shot at Ibragimov when Chagaev conveniently pulled out due to his own undisclosed malady.
Now, amid myriad reports of financial ruin, he's back again -- for $24.95 on pay per view.
"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," Holyfield said. "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."
And while such efforts are fodder for wordy indignation, they've got no basis in fairness.
Regardless if his goal is heavyweight domination or fiscal rehabilitation, it's a step in the wrong direction to sentimentally deny Holyfield a chance to ply his trade simply because he's no longer at the Hall of Fame level he occupied in his 20s and 30s.
Is he still of the vintage that toppled Bowe and tamed Tyson? Of course not.
Would I have rather seen him with one or two losses, rather than nine or 10? Naturally.
But as long as he's in better condition than most heavyweights (which he clearly is) and is still able to beat men that 99 percent of practicing pros couldn't beat (which he's surely shown), there's no reason to hold him to any greater threshold simply because the year is 2008... and not 1993.
"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."
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This week's title-fight capsules:
WBA heavyweight title -- Zurich, Switzerland
Nikolay Valuev (champion) vs. Evander Holyfield (No. 12 contender)
Valuev (49-1, 34 KO): Second WBA title reign -- 5-1 (3 KO) in six career title fights
Holyfield 42-9-2 (27 KO): Four-time champion in division -- most recently in 2000
FitzHitz says: Valuev by decision
Vacant WBC super featherweight title -- Cozumel, Mexico
Humberto Soto (interim champion) vs. Francisco Lorenzo (No. 2 contender)
Soto (45-7-2, 29 KO): Lost via DQ to Lorenzo in June; lost WBO title shot in 2007
Lorenzo (33-4, 14 KO): First world title fight; unbeaten since February 2007 -- 6-0
FitzHitz says: Soto in 10
WBC flyweight title -- Tokyo, Japan
Daisuke Naito (champion) vs. Shingo Yamaguchi (No. 15 contender)
Naito (33-2-3, 21 KO): Fourth title defense -- 3-2-1 (1 KO) in six career title fights
Yamaguchi (23-5-2, 9 KO): Winless in two previous title fights at 108 and 112 pounds
FitzHitz says: Naito by decision
Last week's record: 2-1
Overall picks record: 50-20
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a 20-year veteran of sports journalism, a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a periodic contributor to "The Drive with Dave Smith" on KLAA radio (am830klaa.com) and "Cold Hard Sports" on the MVN network (coldhardsports.com). Reach him via e-mail at email@example.com.