By Lyle Fitzsimmons
And now, coming to a theater near you this winter – it's Rocky IV... again.
The story of an aging American ex-heavyweight champ who travels to, errr… Zurich, to take on an unbeaten and seemingly impenetrable new kingpin amid plaintive wails from the press that the ought-to-be-retired veteran is in for a frightful beating.
But thankfully this time, Stallone and Brigitte Nielsen are nowhere to be found.
Playing the role of the “Italian Stallion” will be former four-time title-holder Evander “Real Deal” Holyfield, who's long-since graduated from the prime-time TV dance ranks to win six of eight bouts and position himself as the world’s preeminent 48-year-old – he’ll be 49 by fight night – heavyweight.
And playing an infinitely less menacing Ivan Drago is WBA belt-keeper Alexander Povetkin.
OK, we all know the rightful WBA champion is Wladimir Klitschko after he gamely stayed awake for 12 rounds against David Haye, but for purposes of this exercise let’s pretend the Panama-based organization actually cared as much about legitimacy as profit when they labeled Wlad as “super.”
Holyfield became front-runner for the December try on Saturday night in Germany, when the bout’s scheduled other half – the 6-foot-2 ex-Olympian with exactly one Top 20 victory prior to 2011 – won a 12-rounder over Ruslan Chagaev, the on-again, off-again champ with zero Top 20 wins since 2007.
It’s a distinctly wise fiscal move for the dubious newbie title-holder, who’s been an exclusively European commodity since a golden run through Athens that included the scalps of Sergey Rozhnov, Mukhtarkhan Dildabekov, Roberto Cammarelle and Egypt’s version of “The Greatest,” Mohamed Aly.
Needless to say, he’s a champion in need of career definition.
And it's not as if Holyfield hasn't been through it all before.
The Georgian twice played the Drago role in all-American versions of the young/old screenplay – initially defending his titles against 42-year- old George Foreman in Atlantic City and against similarly vintage champ Larry Holmes, also 42 at the time of their bout, a year later in Las Vegas.
He was a grey-skulled Stallone in 2007 while dropping a unanimous decision to puffy WBO Drago stand-in Sultan Ibragimov in Moscow, then had the WBA crown snatched from him via widely jeered verdict against 7-foot WBA freak of nature Nikolai Valuev a year later in, errr… Zurich.
Last seen in Denmark stopping a 46-year-old Brian Nielsen, Holyfield again claims a win this time around will be only the first stage of a never-ending quest to unify the fractured division.
Full disclosure… Nielsen hadn’t fought – let alone won – a fight in nine years.
And that last win was against Uriah Grant.
“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.
“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 (soon), 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?’”
Of course, with far larger-scale obstacles blocking the road these days – the name Klitschko comes immediately to mind again – it's much more likely that an unlikely Holyfield triumph will serve as a final professional chapter than a transitional one… in spite of Evander’s stubbornness.
But that's OK. I'm in no mood for a Dolph Lundgren film festival anyway.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF middleweight title – Hobart, Australia
Daniel Geale (champion) vs. Eromosele Albert (ranking unavailable)
Geale (25-1, 15 KO): First title defense; Held IBO title from 2007-09 (one defense)
Albert (24-4-1, 12 KO): First title fight; Has fought in five countries
Fitzbitz says: “Aussie incumbent becoming more relevant at 160.” Geale by decision
WBA super flyweight title – Tokyo, Japan
Hugo Fidel Cazares (champion) vs. Tomonobu Shimizu (unranked)
Cazares (35-6-2, 25 KO): Fifth title defense; Held WBO title at 105 from 2005-07 (five defenses)
Shimizu (18-3-1, 9 KO): Third title fight (0-2, 0 KO); Four straight wins by stoppage (4-0, 4 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Frequent-flyer champion prolongs latest title reign.” Cazares in 10
IBF welterweight title – Biloxi, Miss.
Jan Zaveck (champion) vs. Andre Berto (ranking unavailable)
Zaveck (31-1, 18 KO): Fourth title defense; First fight in United States
Berto (27-1, 21 KO): Eighth title fight (6-1, 3 KO); Held WBC title from 2008-11 (five defenses)
Fitzbitz says: “Returning Floridian ends four-month title drought.” Berto in 9
IBO super middleweight title – Biloxi, Miss.
Thomas Oosthuizen (champion) vs. Aaron Pryor Jr. (No. 9 contender)
Oosthuizen (15-0-1, 11 KO): Second title defense; First fight outside South Africa
Pryor (16-3, 11 KO): First title fight; Has fought in 10 states
Fitzbitz says: “Second-generation challenger falls short in initial spotlight try.” Oosthuizen by decision
IBO bantamweight title – Yerevan, Armenia
Vic Darchinyan (champion) vs. Evans Mbamba (unranked)
Darchinyan (36-3-1, 27 KO): First title defense; Held titles at 112, 115 and 118 from 2004-11
Mbamba (18-1, 9 KO): First title fight; Lost only fight outside South Africa
Fitzbitz says: “Raging Bull stays relevant in chase for 118-pound payday.” Darchinyan in 7
Last week’s picks: 2-1
Overall picks record: 238-77 (75.5 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz .