A guy was talking about Evander Holyfield the other day and said, "It's hard to believe it's been 10 years."
He was talking about how long it has been since Mike Tyson gnawed off a piece of Holyfield's ear during a heavyweight title fight in Las Vegas.
Here, I thought he was talking about how long it has been since Holyfield had won a significant fight.
Holyfield, though, is moving inexorably toward a heavyweight title shot simply by defeating the boxing equivalents of the Washington Generals.
On Saturday on pay-per-view in El Paso, Texas, Holyfield meets Lou Savarese in the latest step on his, well, comeback to the heavyweight championship. But Holyfield, now 44, isn't content to stop at one belt.
He plans to keep fighting until he has won all four of the major belts. That's about as likely as Kobe winning the NBA's assists title, but you can't blame a man for trying.
Holyfield understands the skeptics and almost laughs when he's asked the last time he's had a truly significant victory.
"It's been a while, really," Holyfield said.
You have to go back to 2002, when he scored a technical decision over Hasim Rahman in Rahman's first fight after losing the heavyweight title to Lennox Lewis.
He's 3-3 since, with the wins coming over less-than-imposing types such as Jeremy Bates, Fres Oquendo and Vinny Maddalone. He managed to lose his license to fight in New York due to diminished skill.
Now, I admire Ron Scott Stevens, the chairman of the New York Athletic Commission, but if he were going to yank the licenses of all heavyweights with diminished or limited skills, there might be five guys left fighting.
Holyfield doesn't agree with Stevens' decision to yank his license, which forced him to sit out 2005, but he's not the type to complain publicly. He said, though, that he has an excuse that will explain it: a torn rotator cuff.
That's not so surprising, but it is surprising that Holyfield said he suffered the injury in a 1992 fight with Riddick Bowe and that it has affected him ever since.
"People don't need to hear us complaining about our problems, because they have problems of their own," Holyfield said. "They have to worry about the kids going to school and putting food on the table. They don't care about a fighter's shoulder bothering him."
But Holyfield's trainer, Ronnie Shields, had worked as an assistant trainer for Holyfield in the early part of Holyfield's career but left in 1992 after Holyfield lost the title to Bowe.
When he returned as lead trainer in 2004, he said he instantly knew something wasn't right.
"He couldn't raise his hands in the air," Shields said. "He couldn't hook. Anybody who knows him knows he has one of the best jabs there is, but he had trouble just straightening out his arm to throw a jab."
He was routed in 2004 by Larry Donald, the boxing equivalent of dropping the season series to the Pittsburgh Pirates. You do that and you know your championship aspirations are over.
The loss to Donald is what prompted Stevens to yank his license. Shields, though, wasn't ready to give up on Holyfield because he saw there was something physically preventing Holyfield from competing.
"I asked him what was up, because after the fight we felt these knots on his back," Shields said. "They were huge. And he told us he'd been in great pain and that he should have had surgery and taken two years off to let it heal. Think about that: They told him he should be out for two years healing it up and he's out there not saying a thing trying to fight."
Holyfield subsequently had the surgery and rehabilitated the shoulder, in large part thanks to the New York commission's forced time off.
Saturday's fight will be his fourth in 10 months and, Holyfield hopes, his last before he gets another shot at the heavyweight title.
He thought he'd be meeting WBO champion Sultan Ibragimov if he got past Savarese, but Ibragimov announced on Tuesday he'd face WBA champion Ruslan Chagaev on Oct. 13 in Moscow.
With his typical patience, Holyfield accepted the decision with equanimity.
"I'll get a chance sooner or later, but I'll just get in line and wait my turn," he said.
Shields remains convinced that the 'real' Holyfield is soon to reappear. He estimated that Holyfield is at about 40 percent of what he was at his peak, but said defiantly, "Forty percent of Evander Holyfield is better than about 95 percent of any heavyweight out there."
Holyfield wouldn't put a number on it, but said he's feeling better and competing better. He said he understands the numerous skeptics, though, and declined to say anything about what will happen in the fight.
That is largely because he knows no one is going to buy his words any longer. He needs to speak by performing. It's mentioned to Shields that it has been since Rahman in 2002 that Holyfield has had a significant win and the normally low-key Shields says defiantly, "Yeah, but I guarantee you – I guarantee you – that right now, he'd destroy Rahman. No contest."
Holyfield gives you the impression he feels the same way, but remembers his fight is on pay-per-view. If you want to see, you're going to have to buy.
"I'm definitely a lot better, but it don't mean much 'til people see me fight," he said. "At this point, the only way I can convince anyone is by going out and doing my job and winning my fights. You can decide with your eyes."
- Evander Holyfield