Evander Holyfield is not hurting boxing. He's not committing some atrocity by fighting Sherman Williams in a pay-per-view bout on Saturday at the same West Virginia resort where Slammin' Sammy Snead was once the head golf professional.
He's working for a living.
He's selling a product: Himself. He's no different than a door-to-door salesman who is hawking vacuum cleaners and hearing no far more than he does yes. Holyfield gets that most fans aren't interested, but he's hoping enough of you will find his boxing matches of interest to pay $29.95 on Saturday to see it.
He's one of the four best pay-per-view draws in boxing history, along with long-time rival Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr. He'll be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame the first time he is eligible, though judging by the way he's going, that may not be until 2020.
But he's 48 now and not a very good boxer. He's no threat to win the heavyweight title, though he's still good enough to box the ears off guys like Williams.
Any time Holyfield fights these days, there's outrage. Six years ago, the legendary New York Times columnist, Ira Berkow, traveled to Holyfield's 54,000-square-foot mansion outside Atlanta to ask him why he refused to give it up.
Holyfield was a few months past an embarrassingly one-sided loss to Larry Donald that caused the New York State Athletic Commission to put him on an indefinite medical suspension for poor performance when Berkow made the trek to Georgia to interview him for a piece that appeared in the Times' Jan. 7, 2005 edition.
Holyfield was 42 then and had lost three in four and five of his previous eight, a stretch in which he went 2-5-1.
But, then as now, Holyfield was refusing to quit, telling Berkow his goal was to win the undisputed heavyweight championship one more time before he retired.
"I believe in the word of God," Holyfield told Berkow. "And I believe in what it says about overcoming. That no matter what the situation, you can overcome it. As the Bible says, 'I walk by faith, not by sight.' "
Holyfield hasn't wavered on that stance despite literally hundreds of calls for his retirement in the media. Bernard Fernandez of the Philadelphia Daily News, the long-time president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, became the latest to do so on Friday when he closed his column by writing, "Walk away, Evander. Nothing you do, in a professional sense, can add or detract to what you've already accomplished. You've earned your rest. Enjoy it."
Tim Dahlberg, the brilliant national sports columnist of the Associated Press, was ringside for most of Holyfield's biggest moments, including his stunning 1996 win over Tyson. On Tuesday, Dahlberg ridiculed Holyfield's resolve to regain the title.
" … Listen to Holyfield talk and you get the feeling he really does think he can be a heavyweight champion again," Dahlberg wrote. "Unfortunately, that's a dangerous thing for a 48-year-old who has been through way too many ring wars to speak."
Holyfield hears the critics, but he disagrees. Earlier this month, he uttered nearly the same words to Fanhouse's Lem Satterfield that he did to the Times' Berkow six years earlier. Asked by Satterfield about risks to his health by continuing to fight, Holyfield again referred to his religious beliefs.
"But the fact of the matter is that I'm a Christian, and I believe in Jesus," Holyfield said. "That is my protection. He's been my protection, and, so, you know what? Because I believe in the word of God, this is the reason that I'm able to do what I'm able to do. And there ain't been nobody that's been able to do it better."
He's one of the five or 10 best heavyweights who ever lived and has long since established his Hall of Fame credentials. No matter how bad he may look on Saturday, and no matter how much worse he may get, he can do nothing to obscure the fact that he's among the greatest to have ever stepped inside of a ring.
The outrage over his continuing to fight is because of a fear that he'll be injured, that he may wind up like Freddie Roach or, worse, Muhammad Ali, silenced forever by Parkinson's.
He's passed all the tests and so he continues to fight, undeterred by the critics and absolutely convinced that the undisputed title is his destiny.
I wish he would stop, because it's painful as a fan to watch. He's like Johnny Unitas with the Chargers or Willie Mays with the Mets, old men stumbling around and unable to come close to their former skill or grace.
But he's fighting on pay-per-view and there is no more democratic form of television.
If you're interested, plunk down your 30 bucks and buy it.
If you're not, skip it.
Me? I'll pass. I heard there's something good on QVC at that time.
- Evander Holyfield
- Ira Berkow