“Fighting Words” – Letting Evander Holyfield Down Gently
by David P. Greisman
It is not so much hypocrisy as it is inconsistency.
When the fighters are in the ring, we exhibit blood lust, expecting the combatants to abandon caution and common sense in favor of inordinate amounts of violence and valor.
Yet when these warriors are in decline, we show mercy. They are not what they once were. They cannot give us what we still want. And so we no longer want them to fight – even though that is all we know of them, and even though that is all they know themselves.
How long have we pleaded for Evander Holyfield to retire?
How long have we heard him speak of his goal to once again become “the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world”?
How long has he pursued that goal with tunnel vision, never getting any closer than he was when he first voiced it?
How long have we watched him get older but keep on fighting?
It has been 10 years and five months since Holyfield last won a world title fight, more than a decade since that first bout of his trilogy with John Ruiz was contested for a vacant title belt.
He has fought 13 times since then, winning six, losing six, and fighting to one draw. He has challenged for titles, losing to Ruiz in their March 2001 rematch, drawing with Ruiz in their December 2001 rubber match, losing to Chris Byrd in December 2002, losing to Sultan Ibragimov in October 2007 and losing controversially to Nicolay Valuev in December 2008.
He is no longer better than the best.
He is no longer even better than the second-tier of titleholders.
But he is still better than the others.
He is still better than the journeymen such as Jeremy Bates and Vinny Maddalone.
He is still better than others who are old and past their prime yet still fighting, those vaguely familiar names such as Francois Botha and Lou Savarese.
He is 48 now. He is still fighting for the same purpose, for the goal of attaining that undisputed heavyweight championship of the world, even though his opponents are not the men who would get him there.
There are no bouts with Wladimir Klitschko or Vitali Klitschko in front of tens of thousands in Germany, or against David Haye in front of tens of thousands in England.
Instead, there are the cards put together as curiosities, such as his fight this Saturday against Sherman Williams, a 38-year-old with a 34-11-2 record who will stand across from Holyfield in a ring in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia – a remote resort city of about 2,500 in a remote county of less than 35,000.
Instead, there are the cards that are little but circus acts, such as his fight in March against Brian Nielsen, that nearly 45-year-old whose 64-2 record who never truly stepped up in competition except for the two times he lost – against a measuring stick named Dicky Ryan and against the 2001 version of Mike Tyson. Nielsen has not fought since 2002, but he and Holyfield will bank on nostalgia in Nielsen’s native Denmark.
We talk of being concerned about the damage accumulated over the course of a career, of fighters leaving the sport while they still have their health and before they endanger their ability to enjoy retirement.
We talk of the increased danger fighters face as their reflexes decline, as their stamina decreases, as their ability and athleticism diminishes.
We hold the Holyfields to a higher standard than we do anyone else.
Rare are the ageless wonders who can still compete at the highest levels – a nearly 46-year-old Bernard Hopkins who can fight to a draw with the light heavyweight champion, Jean Pascal; a 48-year-old Jamie Moyer who can still be an effective pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies; a George Blanda who at 43 could still quarterback and kick for the Oakland Raiders.
Holyfield could not be that ageless wonder in the past decade. He will not be that ageless wonder now.
But he has not been damaged despite fighting on against opponents the caliber of Bates or Maddalone or Savarese or Botha. He should not be in any danger against Williams or Nielsen.
Holyfield is a fraction of what he once was. As is Roy Jones Jr. As are numerous other faded former stars. And commissions must take that into account should these faded stars want to face those who have replaced them at the top.
There is a tremendous difference between how Jones looked against Jeff Lacy and how Jones looked against Danny Green and Bernard Hopkins. There is a tremendous difference between Holyfield standing across from the men he has beaten – and even the titleholders, Ibragimov and Valuev, he has lost to – and him being in the ring with Haye or the Klitschkos.
If athletic commissions will still allow the men Holyfield has beaten to fight, then the same commissions must allow Holyfield to fight as well.
To an extent.
These fighters believe they can relieve their glorious pasts, that they still have what it takes – if only they could have the opportunity.
Jones had to learn otherwise painfully.
Holyfield must eventually be let down gently.
He must realize, soon, that he is getting older, that the audiences are getting smaller, that the paychecks are becoming lesser, and that the window of opportunity is getting thinner.
When Oscar De La Hoya finally understood that he could no longer compete with the best, he knew it was time to step away.
When Jermain Taylor finally came to terms with the idea that he could get hurt whenever he fought the top-ranked fighters in his division, he knew it was time to take a sabbatical, to ponder whether his career should continue.
We show mercy and gratitude for these fading fighters. They are not what they once were. They cannot give us what we still want.
We do not ask them to relive their glory days, but rather to step away so that those glory days – and not their decline and their defeats – are what we will remember them for.
The 10 Count
1. On its premise alone, it was a compelling interview and a fascinating news story – a one-on-one talk with commentator and trainer Teddy Atlas about the rumors that Alexander Povetkin's promoter, Sauerland Event, was moving to have Atlas fired as Povetkin's trainer.
Atlas, after all, had last year convinced Povetkin to pass up a mandatory shot at the heavyweight champion, Wladimir Klitschko, because he felt Povetkin needed much more seasoning. Atlas had passed up earning a percentage of Povetkin's payday and instead had his fighter taking lesser fights against lesser opponents in the hopes of making Povetkin into a more formidable foe.
The video interview was conducted by Polish boxing website Bokser.org – which apparently is a sister site to this one – and posted on YouTube.
Atlas called out the Sauerlands with some personal insults in the video, according to other media members' accounts of the interview – and I have to write things that way because of the maddening part of all of this:
You can't watch the interview anymore.
The video hasn't been "removed" from YouTube so much as it's been "made private." It is the same on Bokser.org – which has kept available subsequent sections of the interview not involving Atlas attacking the Sauerlands.
There's a brief answer. There's a deeper answer. And then there's my commentary on something that never should've happened.
Briefly: An editor from Bokser.org told Fightnews.com that they had been asked to take the interview down "because it makes too much scandal."
Here's the rest:
2. The pressure to take the video down came from Povetkin's manager, Wladimir Hriunov, according to Lukas Furman, editor of Bokser.org, who spoke to this scribe via e-mail.
"Hriunov was asking us to remove this video since we published it. There was no threats from him … We agreed after [a] couple days of him begging for this.
"For us it makes no sense, because video which disappears makes even more comments and [gets] even more interest," Furman said. "But he told us it makes so much perturbations and complication for him and Povetkin, that we finally agreed to remove this."
The pressure had come from Hriunov through the interviewer, Przemyslaw Osiak.
"And I agreed that we make this video private," Furman said. "We have very good relations with Hriunov, so it was like a 'friend asking for favor.' … He was begging for this. It looked like he was in big trouble because of this video."
3. First, some credit to Furman of Bokser.org, who answered questions about a situation he'd rather not have been dealing with publicly. That's more than can be said about Elie Seckbach, the video interviewer for AOL Fanhouse who came under fire last November prior to Antonio Margarito's fight against Manny Pacquiao.
Seckbach had uploaded an interview with Margarito and members of his camp, including lightweight Brandon Rios. In that interview, Rios and Margarito appeared to be mocking Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, for his Parkinson's disease.
There was an uproar. And then suddenly the interview wound up being replaced by an edited version that removed the offending material.
This brought another uproar, and ultimately Fanhouse put the original video back up, adding a note: "The above video was previously pulled in error. We apologize, and it is now available, in full."
As Barry Petchesky said on the Deadspin sports blog, "We assume it was also initially edited to remove the offending segment 'in error.' "
Many tried to get in touch with Seckbach. I don’t recall him ever putting himself out there to answer for his actions.
Here's the issue…
Media members are not there to be friends of the people they are covering. Media members should not be concerned about access and about doing their jobs in a certain way so that they can continue to have such access to those within the sport.
If something said during an interview is newsworthy, then the reporter is doing his or her job by presenting that information. It sets a terrible precedent to take down an interview just because a subject is embarrassed or criticized or in trouble because of something that was said.
In Rios' and Margarito's case, they deserved to be criticized. And Seckbach’s desire to stay on good terms with his interview subjects got in the way of his responsibility as a journalist.
And in the case of the interview with Teddy Atlas, it is chilling that a media outlet such as Bokser.org would allow Alexander Povetkin's manager to essentially censor Atlas.
I appreciate and respect that Furman took the time to respond very politely to critical questions about his website's actions. But I don't understand why that one Atlas interview video still hasn’t been put back online for everyone to see.
4. The metaphorical wisdom of Teddy Atlas, part one, as brought to you on ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights” during Round 10 of Edwin Rodriguez-Aaron Pryor Jr:
“You know, Rodriguez, for the most part tonight, has shown me he’d be a terrible bank robber.” Atlas said. “Because he gets in the vault, and before he takes money, goes out. He leaves. Take some money!
“See, now he’s taking some money. He’s taking tens right now. Now he’s gotta start looking for the twenties and the hundreds. See, he went out again. You don’t want to go back out. Stay in that vault, both hands, and grab that money. Empty that register.”
5. The metaphorical wisdom of Teddy Atlas, part two, as brought to you during Round 2 of Peter Manfredo Jr.-Daniel Edouard:
“You know, everybody tells you milk is good. You know, you have a glass of milk, it build the bones. But sometimes milk can be bad. You have it at the wrong time, with the wrong meal, and indigestion. … Same thing with the jab.
“Everyone says a jab is good, a jab is good, but you throw a jab – and I see Edouard every once in a while, right there, he just missed with the right hand – you throw the jab at the wrong time, and you lean in a little bit? Bad. It doesn’t give you indigestion. It gives you dizziness. Because when you lean in with the jab, you get countered with the right hand.”
6. Remember Jan. 7, when Teddy Atlas passed on the bad news that Micky Ward's mother had died?
"Last week I was given some bad information," Atlas said on the Jan. 14 broadcast of ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."
"Still my responsibility, because I should've been absolutely sure before I went on the air with that information. But Micky Ward's mom has been very, very sick, and I reported that she had passed away. Thankfully she is still alive, and still very sick."
It's an embarrassing gaffe for Atlas, but his on-air correction was a long-needed step in the right direction.
I'd spoken before about how ESPN needs to keep Atlas on a close leash when it comes to his "breaking news" that originates with questionable anonymous sources (as in his reporting about supposed e-mails from Manny Pacquiao's camp to Floyd Mayweather's camp about keeping quiet any positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs) and little birds (that said, wrongly, that Michael Grant had pulled out of a fight with Tomasz Adamek).
As I've said before, Atlas is not a reporter, but rather is a boxing expert who has the ability to be a pretty good analyst (which he definitely was during last week's broadcast), albeit one who dominates the commentary.
Atlas does have connections in the industry, however, and so he will be handed tips. Hopefully this latest experience has finally taught him to confirm information before presenting it to his audience. And hopefully his bosses have finally learned that analysts need to be held to the same standards as the actual journalists on staff.
(I sincerely hadn't intended for this edition of The 10 Count to be all about Teddy Atlas. Let's move on...)
7. While we’re at it, though, there still needs to be better sourcing when it comes to written boxing journalism. We need to do better than citing an “inflamed source” as telling Michael Marley that, as of noon on Jan. 13, only 339 tickets had been sold for Timothy Bradley’s fight with Devon Alexander. That report was carried on this site.
Anonymous sourcing should only be done when completely necessary. And when it is done, it needs to be done in a way so that readers can have some idea as to the credibility – and any potential motivation – of where this information is coming from.
It isn’t just a matter of accuracy. It’s a matter of responsibility, too.
8. Yes, Mike Tyson has spoken of fading into “bolivion,” of driving nose bones into brains and of making Razor Ruddock his girlfriend, but what might be most impressive in the way the Hall of Fame heavyweight speaks is…
This was demonstrated in Tyson’s recent conversation with Dan Rafael of ESPN.com, conducted while Tyson was on a trip to China.
“I’m here for 10 to 11 days. I’m picking up a check,” Tyson was quoted as saying. “I’m in China. I’m a regular schnorrer now and pay the bills and all that stuff, but I love it. I love being a schmuck.”
Schnorrer: “a scrounger who takes advantage of the generosity of others,” per Princeton University’s WordNet.
Schmuck: “a jerk.”
It’s a shame Tyson was in prison during the years when Mike Myers’ “Coffee Talk with Linda Richman” was on Saturday Night Live. I would’ve paid good money to hear Tyson say the classic line: “Now I’m getting verklempt! Talk amongst yourselves!”
9. You can take the guy out of the Catskills, but you can’t take the Catskills out of the guy…
10. Aaron Pryor Sr. is 5-foot-6. Aaron Pryor Jr. is 6-foot-4. Stephan Pryor is 5-foot-10.
Buddy McGirt is 5-foot-6. James McGirt Jr. is 6-foot-1.
Call the milkman!
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
Follow David on Twitter at twitter.com/fightingwords2 or on Facebook at facebook.com/fightingwordsboxing, or send questions and comments to [email protected]
[QUOTE=Hitman932;9972328]If Bute were a heavyweight he would be targeting Holyfield, who even today is more deserving of a title shot than Brian Magee.[/QUOTE] And what does Bute have to do with this article and Holyfield again ? Oh wait, I…Comment by Hitman932 on 01-17-2011
[QUOTE=BatteredKessler;9972248] As long as he keeps fighting these journeymen, there is no real problem, as David has suggested. Fortunately enough, the Klits respect Holyfield enough not to give him a shot. I hope it is the same for Haye...[/QUOTE] If…Comment by Tiozzo on 01-17-2011
Honestly, at 48, Holyfield is in much lesser danger of getting hurt than Roy Jones, or many other people for that matter. When was the last time Holyfield took severe punishment ? It is back in 2003, when James Toney…Comment by TaurusJ27 on 01-17-2011
As long as he still has the skills and gets a match , I guess he'll continue but there is no way he'll get a fight with hayes or the klichko's like he mentioned in the interview.Comment by crold1 on 01-17-2011
Nice work DG.Post a Comment - View More User Comments (7)