By Lyle Fitzsimmons
It’ll be 20 years ago this April.
And looking back, Evander Holyfield admits he learned a little something from George Foreman, even if he couldn’t actually say it at the time.
Foreman, then 42, was mounting a challenge for Holyfield’s IBF/WBA/WBC heavyweight titles and telling the few who’d listen that his advanced age was not a “death sentence.”
“Big George” lost a decision after 12 spirited rounds in Atlantic City, but proved his point three years later by KO’ing the man who’d subsequently taken the champion’s belts – Michael Moorer.
Now, as he prepares for the 56th fight of a 26-year career that many claim has dragged a decade too long, Holyfield recognizes the other foes his one-time opponent was facing.
But he remains just as determined to prove a similar point.
“Even as I was sitting there at 28, I was thinking about the things George Foreman was saying,” said Holyfield, now 48. “I was in agreement with him, about age not being a death sentence, but I couldn’t say that because I was getting ready to fight him and it was my time.
“But the fact of the matter is even though he didn’t beat me, he beat the man who beat me and he reached his goal. People said he’d never do it and he did. Now, because I’m continuing toward the goal that I have, the people have a problem with it.
“What they don’t realize is that I started boxing with a goal when I was a little kid – to be undisputed heavyweight champion of the world – and it took me 20 years to get it. I lost it in 1992 and didn’t get it back right away, so maybe it’ll be 20 years until I do. But I still have the goal.
“If you have a goal and you’re patient enough and good enough, why quit until you get it?”
Holyfield puts the “I’m not done yet” mantra to the test again on Jan. 22, when he faces journeyman Sherman Williams in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. The bout is billed as the initial defense of Holyfield’s universally-ignored WBF championship, but is as much a means to stay active and relevant enough to maintain flickering hope for another legitimate title chance.
He parlayed a 10-month, four-fight win streak over names like Bates, Oquendo, Maddalone and Savarese into a failed WBO shot against Sultan Ibragimov in 2007, which was followed 14 months later by a trip to Switzerland for a majority decision loss to then-WBA champ Nikolai Valuev that many ringsiders thought Holyfield had won.
He’s fought once in the two-plus years since, stopping multiple-time second banana Francois Botha in eight rounds to capture the aforementioned WBF crown at his old Thomas & Mack Center stomping grounds in Las Vegas. It was Holyfield’s first bout in Vegas in seven years and his first trip back to the UNLV campus since a unanimous loss to Lennox Lewis in 1999.
Still, the would-be resurgence has the Georgian placed no higher on today’s world stage than the No. 16 slot he occupies in the IBO’s computerized rankings for January.
And just as insistent in his ears is the ringing of naysayers who say it’s the money – and not the glory – that drives him toward rings at lesser venues like Colonial Hall at The Greenbrier, where the Williams fight is set next week.
Holyfield stubbornly claims the harangues carry no weight.
“I’ve become who I am and accomplished what I’ve accomplished because I’m not easily distracted,” he said. “There’s always somebody who’s going to say something, but what they’ve learned from me over the years is that I’m not insecure about anything I do. There will always be something and I’ve never let it interfere with what it takes to do the job.”
Instead, he says, his biggest concerns remain with the practical tools of the trade, and the increased necessity at his age to make sure his body peaks at the right time to guarantee maximum performance.
Whereas a training camp “back in the day” might have included multiple weeks of hard running and intense sparring, the 2011 version focuses more on pacing, recovery and taking advantage of technologies unavailable to fighters even 10-15 years ago.
“It’s a bigger, better world with better equipment and more knowledge,” Holyfield said. “And if you take care of your body you can do more than the people without that knowledge can do. Nothing I do is particularly amazing for my age, it’s just the advantage that a person with knowledge can have if they take care of themselves.”
Holyfield weighed 220 pounds for the stoppage of Botha, just two pounds more than he’d weighed for the infamous ear-biting disqualification over Mike Tyson in 1997. He was a career-high 221 pounds for the first of a three-fight series with John Ruiz in 2000.
Botha’s 250 pounds, meanwhile, were 28 more than he weighed for his initial title fight in 1995.
“If you don’t let your weight go up between fights, you don’t take as much out of yourself as some do. There’s less stress on the body,” Holyfield said. “I live a pretty moderate lifestyle, and it’s the things like that which allow for a longer career than others.”
And so, Evander, exactly how long will that career end up lasting?
“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.”
“I’m not the kind of guy you can go to sleep on, and these guys know that. They say I’m taking a big chance by fighting them, but they’re taking a big chance fighting me, too.”
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No fights scheduled.
Last week’s picks: 1-0
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 [email protected] or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz .