by Lyle Fitzsimmons, photo by Tri Nguyen
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.
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 just as polished and surely 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 met journeyman Sherman Williams on Saturday, risking 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 broadcast went for a brazenly suggested $29.95 retail.
The main event was stopped after three rounds and ruled a no-contest when Holyfield was unable to continue due to a bloody gash on the left eyelid caused by an accidental Williams headbutt.
The two had split the initial two rounds before the injury occurred late in the second, with Holyfield moving well and attempting combinations, but struggling to land significantly against a compact foe whose offense consisted mainly of looping overhand rights he referred to as “conch” punches.
Holyfield was buckled several times in the third by shots toward the eye and lobbied the ringside doctor for an early exit before the bell for the fourth, protecting himself fiscally – if not exactly valorously – from the chance of a subsequent loss via TKO or on the scorecards.
“The blood’s getting in my eye,” he said, upon returning to the corner after the third.
“Ain’t no sense taking a chance with a wild guy.”
In the end, the nine inconsequential minutes proved little beyond the gullibility of PPV purchasers.
Even under the best of circumstances, few claim a defeat of the 38-year-old Williams would have proven much, given the Bahamian’s 34-11-2 record and wins only 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, simply surviving to fight on is another near-50 mission accomplished for Holyfield, who retains hope that a prolonged string of wins and competitive performances will yield the bucket list 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, let’s be perfectly clear.
I hope those fights – especially with the Klitschkos – never get made, either.
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 large 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 as some insist, 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 truly 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 Holyfield 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 greater thresholds simply because his current rank includes an extra digit alongside the No. 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.”
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBO junior flyweight title – Kempton Park, South Africa
Hekkie Budler (champion) vs. Gideon Buthelezi (unranked)
Budler (17-0, 5 KO): Second title defense; Seven wins over over-.500 opponents
Buthelezi (11-2, 4 KO): Second title fight (1-0, 0 KO); Incumbent IBO champion at 105 pounds
Fitzbitz says: “Neither is a terribly imposing champ, so give heavier man the nod.” Budler by decision
IBF minimumweight title – Brakpan, South Africa
Nkosinathi Joyi (champion) vs. Katsunari Takayama (No. 1 contender)
Joyi (21-0, 15 KO): First title defense; Former IBO champion (2006-08)
Takayama (24-4, 10 KO): Fourth title fight (1-3, 0 KO); Former WBC champion (2005)
Fitzbitz says: “Successful first defense for improving 105-pound title-holder.” Joyi by decision
WBC/WBO junior welterweight titles – Pontiac, Mich.
Devon Alexander (WBC champion) vs. Timothy Bradley (WBO champion)
Alexander (21-0, 13 KO): Third title defense; Made pro debut in Michigan (2004)
Bradley (26-0, 11 KO): Third title defense; First fight in Michigan
Fitzbitz says: “Bradley on the verge of pound-for-pound superstardom.” Bradley by decision
WBA super bantamweight title – Tokyo, Japan
Ryol Li Lee (champion) vs. Akifumi Shimoda (No. 6 contender)
Lee (17-1-1, 8 KO): First title defense; Eleven-fight win streak since 2007 (11-0, 5 KO)
Shimoda (22-2-1, 10 KO): First title fight; Five-fight unbeaten streak since 2008 (4-0-1, 2 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Streaking claimant should maintain through first challenge.” Lee by decision
WBA super featherweight title – Tokyo, Japan
Takashi Uchiyama (champion) vs. Takashi Miura (No. 4 contender)
Uchiyama (16-0, 13 KO): Third title defense; KO wins in six straight fights since 2008
Miura (20-1-2, 16 KO): First title fight; Four fights at 10-round distance (2-1-1)
Fitzbitz says: “Slugging champion makes it seven straight by stoppage.” Uchiyama in 9
Last week’s picks: 0-0
Overall picks record: 172-54 (76.1 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz . Tags: Evander Holyfield