Evander Holyfield, the only man to ever hold at various times four of the widely recognized alphabet organizations’ world heavyweight championships, has been a master at employing the feint to trick opponents and, it would appear, more recently the public and himself.
Consider, for instance, the overhand right Holyfield exploded on then-undisputed champ Buster Douglas’ jaw in the third round of their 1990 title bout at The Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. It resulted in one of the few one-punch knockouts of the “Real Deal’s” 28-year professional career and the first of his multiple reigns in the heavyweight division. That big shot was hardly the result of luck or happenstance.
Douglas, fresh off his shocking upset of Mike Tyson and outweighing the challenger by 38 pounds, was standing tall when he attempted to throw an uppercut from the outside. Holyfield leaned back before launching the right, sending Buster to the canvas where he was counted out 1 minute, 10 seconds into the round by referee Mills Lane.
“George worked with Evander on that one,” Lou Duva, a longtime associate of Holyfield’s then-trainer, George Benton, said shortly after Benton died last year. “If Buster dipped to throw the uppercut, Evander would step back and throw the hook. If Buster stood upright to throw the uppercut, Evander would rock back and come in with the right hand. Was it a good strategy? Hey, look what happened.”
Too bad Benton wasn’t around to advise Holyfield to stick to the correct decision he made on Oct. 18, when he revealed that he would formally announce his retirement from the ring the following day, which was to be his 50th birthday. But instead of the fond farewell to one of the legendary boxing figures of the past quarter century so many of his fans had been hoping for, Holyfield feinted everyone by changing his mind just 24 hours later. He would continue his implausible quest to win a fifth heavyweight championship at an age that makes even fellow graybeard Bernard Hopkins (48) almost seem like a kid.
“I already told people I was going to retire, but this morning, when I woke up, I thought about it some more and now I’m not going to retire,” Holyfield said. “Boxing is what I do best. It’s what I know.
“They (the Klitschko brothers) won’t fight me. They have the right. If I can’t get the championship fight, then I’ll continue to wait. Somebody is going to beat them at some point and then I’ll fight that winner. I can beat them. I feel I can beat anyone.”
Those who admire Holyfield (44-10-2, 29 knockouts) and are hopeful he does not end with permanently impaired health aren’t apt to see his reversal as just another feint, but the continuation of a lengthy period of self-delusion. He has not fought since May 7, 2011, when he stopped another golden oldie, Brian Nielsen, in 10 rounds. Since 2001, he is 0-4-1 in legitimate or semi-legitimate title bouts, not counting his eighth-round TKO of the even more thoroughly faded Frans Botha for the vacant and virtually worthless World Boxing Federation strap in 2010.
It can be argued that Holyfield’s Quixotic quest owes less to a belief that he is still mostly what he had been as a fighter than to his well-publicized financial woes, which include foreclosure of his palatial home in suburban Atlanta and past-due child-support payments for the 11 children he reportedly has fathered with nine women.
Maybe Evander can fool us all and make more magic inside the ropes. The strong suspicion, though, is that this is one feint Father Time won’t fall for, and the guy who is going down hard is Holyfield himself.