A Holyfield title win could be problematic

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

Forget, for a moment, the question of how wins over Jeremy Bates, Fres Oquendo, Vinny Maddalone and Lou Savarese qualify one to compete for the world heavyweight championship.

Forget, as well, the more than five years between victories over a top 10 opponent. And ignore, if you can, the links to a pharmacy that is being investigated by the federal government for supplying athletes with anabolic steroids and human growth hormone.

The most amazing thing that may occur on Saturday in Moscow is that boxing may land a new heavyweight champion who won't be able to fight all opponents in all states.

There's a chance, however slight, that some state athletic commission may see the need to protect the new champion from someone who it believes may hurt him.

If Evander Holyfield wins the WBO title from belt-holder Sultan Ibragimov on Saturday at Khodynka Arena in Moscow, a unification bout with IBF champion Wladimir Klitschko seems to be the match all concerned parties would try to make next.

And that could present a major problem, especially if promoters opted to put the fight in New York's Madison Square Garden.

Ron Scott Stevens, the chairman of the New York Athletic Commission, said it would "not be out of the realm of possibility" that the commission would meet to discuss whether to approve such a match.

"Someone who was indefinitely suspended and red-flagged (for poor performance), would probably require some discussion by the commission along with the chief medical officer and the medical advisory board," Stevens said.

The New York commission placed Holyfield on an indefinite medical suspension not long after his one-sided loss to Larry Donald on Nov. 13, 2004, a bout in which two of the three judges gave Donald 11 of the 12 rounds.

Stevens, who has been a licensed matchmaker since 1981 and a licensed promoter nearly as long, was concerned by what he saw from Holyfield.

"And it wasn't just in that bout," Stevens said. "We were also mindful of fights he had had against Chris Byrd and James Toney. He was giving these very poor performances and wasn't letting his hands go."

Holyfield announced after the Donald fight that he had a shoulder injury so bad it later required surgery. He didn't reveal that to the New York commission's doctors at the time of his pre-fight physical, even though he had been asked about injuries that might have been hampering him.

Federal law prevented Holyfield from fighting anywhere in the U.S. while he was under New York's indefinite medical suspension.

In order to be allowed to fight again, Holyfield underwent a series of medical tests, all of which he passed.

"I had some poor performances because I was injured and not able to do the things that I could normally do," Holyfield said. "After James Toney and Larry Donald beat me, people kept saying I was shot, but I knew that wasn't the truth. I knew it was because my shoulder wasn't right."

When Holyfield passed the examinations it had requested of him, New York officials were obligated to lift the medical suspension. Stevens then promptly placed Holyfield on an administrative suspension in the state as a result of what he saw as a repeated series of poor performances.

The administrative suspension was not binding upon any other state. It simply would have brought to the attention of officials in states where Holyfield may have considered fighting that New York boxing officials felt there was something wrong.

Holyfield, who at a week shy of his 45th birthday would be the second-oldest man to win a version of the heavyweight title, scoffs at the notion that he needs an athletic commission to protect him.

He won't quit, he says, until he becomes the undisputed champion, which means collecting the WBO, WBC, WBA and IBF belts simultaneously.

He won't quit even if he is given a boxing lesson by Ibragimov, a man a prime Holyfield would have handled quite easily.

"I'll just get back in line and wait for my turn," Holyfield said. "One thing about me, I always follow the rules and regulations. Whoever they say I have to fight, that's who I'll fight."

Though none of the four men he's defeated since the dreadful performance against Donald were formidable, Holyfield at least showed a competence in those bouts he hadn't displayed since 2002, when he won a technical decision over Hasim Rahman.

And he's probably good enough now to handle Ibragimov, a left-handed with a solid but not overwhelming punch. Ibragimov was just beginning to get attention as one of the few decent heavyweights when he fought to a draw with Ray Austin.

Austin later lost a title fight with Klitschko and was derided as among the worst challengers for the heavyweight title in many years. Drawing with him hardly did wonders for Ibragimov's reputation.

Holyfield's reputation has taken a beating over the last several years as he's chased the belts in a seemingly never-ending quest.

His name was linked on Feb. 28 with Applied Pharmacy Services, which is being investigated for providing anabolic steroids and HGH to professional athletes.

One of the names federal investigators discovered as a customer of APS was Evan Fields, whose birthday of Oct. 19, 1962, is the same as Holyfield's. The address listed for Fields is similar to Holyfield's.

Holyfield denies using any performance enhancing substances and said he's never failed a test.

If he's proven nothing in the 23 years since he became a star in the 1984 Olympics, it's that Holyfield doesn't give up easily.

He has an almost messianic faith in his ability to succeed. He first won the title nearly 17 years ago when he knocked out Buster Douglas in a parking lot behind The Mirage hotel in Las Vegas on Oct. 25, 1990.

When he goes for the belt on Saturday in Moscow, he will be looking to become a heavyweight champion for a record fifth time.

And he insists there is little question that he'll win this one on Saturday.

"When I've been healthy, whether I was 24 or 44, there weren't many people out there who could beat me," Holyfield said. "I lost fights when I was not close to where I should have been (health-wise). And I'm better now than I was when I was younger.

"This Evander definitely would beat the younger Evander. I have learned so much about myself and the game that there is no doubt in my mind about that. So if I'm this good and capable of winning any fight I take, why should I quit until I reach my goal?"