Evander Holyfield: Respect His Right To Fight
24.08.06 - By Stuart Cornwell: Evander Holyfield continues to fight on amidst the hysterical calls for him to hang up his gloves. A week ago he beat a man of decidedly limited boxing ability inside of two rounds. Some reports suggest his next opponent will be Sinan Samil Sam, a tough fighter on the fringes of world-class. He has no intention of retiring yet and everyone is aware of that. His declared goal is to be the world=s undisputed heavyweight champion once more. In my last article I asked, Awhat has the old man got left ?@, because frankly, if we are going to talk about him in the context of his boxing today then it is perhaps the most relevant question.
Article posted on 25.08.2006
I have noticed a lot of people are concerned with the idea of Holyfield continuing to fight. People do not want to see him get hurt again, or rushed into a fight with a top fighter and maimed. No one wants to see him getting beaten up again, or punched into a coma. Or killed.
No one wants to see him ten or twenty years from now in the same condition as Muhammad Ali is now, or as Jerry Quarry was at the end. No one wants to see him suffer the same fate as Michael Watson, Gerald McClellan, Greg Page. That is understandable.
Articles and comments harangue the man for his ambitions. He is in denial they say. He is deluded they say. He is ignorant. He is setting himself unrealistic goals. Okay. So what if he is ? Where would boxing be without stubbornness ? Where would boxing be without men chasing those unobtainable dreams ? Where would boxing be if men limited themselves only to what other people say they are capable of ? If men never took risks ? If they took the word of the oddsmakers as final ? There would be no boxing. If Holyfield is all those things he is accused of - and I am not saying he is - then surely he is just one of the many who keep the spirit of boxing alive.
Evander Holyfield continues to step into the ring because he has a goal. A goal that has become an obsession. Maybe it is an unrealistic goal. Maybe it is a dangerous obsession. But it is his personal mission to become the world=s undisputed heavyweight champion. It is something he wants to achieve and he is willing to do everything in his capacity to get there. He is not hanging on in boxing because he needs money. Nor is he simply addicted to the adulation of the fans. He is trying to achieve something for himself. He does not need to justify it. Ninety-five percent (or more) of boxing fans and Aexperts@ probably think his goal is an impossibility - and most of them probably think that has already been proven - but the opinion of others is of no consequence to Holyfield.
If all the boxers in the world who are motivated by the Aunrealistic@ goals they harbour, and the Aimpossible@ dreams they chase, were advised to retire, and all duly took that advice, then god knows where we would be. We would probably be left with the worst bunch of palookas and bums imaginable. But Evander Holyfield is not only a man motivated by goals and dreams - he is a man who acts on that motivation. He trains hard and perseveres. He strives for improvement. He does not wander around in a mental state of middle-aged semi-retirement or expect everything to be easy simply because he is Evander Holyfield the legend. He knows where he is. He has hunger, and he uses it.
Despite him being a model of determination and sacrifice - an embodiment of the fighting spirit - now it is being said by some that his involvement with boxing will be the death of it. His ambitions offend the Aexperts@. They fear for Holyfield=s safety should he get in the ring with a good young fighter. They fear that if something terrible were to befall Holyfield it would damage the image of the sport irreparably. And of course they despise - or pretend to despise - the media circus that hovers around a Aname@ fighter such as Holyfield, and the TV companies and promoters who legitimize and encourage the continuation of his career.
But I think the problem these people have with Holyfield (and until very recently I would have counted myself among Athese people@) is not essentially a problem with Evander Holyfield, or a concern over his future. I think the problem is that they - or Awe@ - have a problem with boxing itself, and our involvement with it. Boxers are getting beat up all the time - and losing brain cells in the process, being pummelled toward premature dementia. Boxers are being over-matched as a matter of course. It happens all the time and we accept it as part of the game. There are fighters out there who have lost their last ten or last twenty fights - guys who have been knocked out or beaten senseless dozens of times. We do not want to see fighters get maimed or killed but it will happen again. And again.
Boxing is never safe. So why all this sudden concern over one fighter and his safety ? Perhaps because Holyfield is loved by almost everyone as a great fighter, as one of our favourites. Every time a fighter gets beat up, maimed or killed it is someone's favourite fighter or loved one. It is some mother=s son. And fighters who are not particularly good are the ones who tend to be in the most danger. Obviously the tough, brave world-class types who can take a ton of punishment over 12 rounds are also in a lot danger - and Holyfield certainly was/is one of those. But if it is a case of not allowing him to take too many punches then perhaps he should have retired back in 1989 or thereabouts. When did everyone suddenly become horrified and morally outraged by the fact that he took punches ? Was it when his matches started to become less exciting ?
His last fight, against one Jeremy Bates last week, has been picked apart by many who saw it. Jeremy Bates was a weak opponent. The weakest Holyfield has faced in the last 20 years. But since Holyfield is considered finished as a world-class fighter it seems odd to strongly criticize him for fighting the lower-rung journeymen. Going into the fight knowing Holyfield had been struggling with progressively weaker opponents over the last few years and was coming off a 21 month layoff (not the mere 19 months I mistakenly stated in my last article), I thought Holyfield might even struggle with a mediocrity like Bates. In fact he looked far superior. A lot has been made of the fact that Holyfield was caught with an overhand right he saw coming (ah, there, the tell-tale sign) from a fighter who admitted he was in disbelief over the fact that he had landed a punch on a legend. Apparently that punch landing means that if Holyfield does fight Sinan Samil Sam next he will most likely get mangled. So the doomsayers tell us.
So, the predictions are that Holyfield would get badly hurt by Sinan Samil Sam if they were to fight in November. Maybe those predictions will turn out to be correct. But I do not think so. Sam=s last two opponents went the distance with him and they were Saul Montana of Mexico, and George Arias of Brazil, not world-class fighters. Are they any better on paper than Holyfield ? I do not think so. Are they any better in reality ? I doubt it. On paper at least - and on current form - Holyfield versus Sam is not some disgusting mismatch. Maybe Holyfield should take a few more easy fights as tune-ups - like Larry Holmes and George Foreman did when they were over 40 - but it is not as if he is proposing to take on the world=s best fighter in Sam. If Sam beats him up then so be it. Holyfield has the right to take that risk. If he passes the medical examinations he should be allowed to fight.
As I said in my previous article, I am inclined to give Holyfield the benefit of the doubt regarding his claims that he was impaired in training and in the ring by injuries these last few years. He looked immobilised during a one-sided points loss to Larry Donald (in 2004), and an injury is definitely a plausible reason. And he looked the same suffering a similar result against Chris Byrd (in 2002), and even mentioned injury in the post fight interview. I will not rule out the possibility that he could improve on those showings when up against world-class fighters. But even if he cannot he should not be denied his right to try.
Of course I do not want to see him suffer another beating like he did against James Toney (in 2003), when his body just seemed to be old, worn-out, over-used. I am not a physician but I figure that the strains put on him over the years must do damage, invisible damage, damage that stays. Damage that re-surfaces during tough fights, leaving an old fighter tired and bruised from a long career=s worth of hard battles, after just a few rounds. The resilience and recovery time greatly diminished from what it should be, maybe gone forever. The Toney fight appeared to show all that up. I think Toney was brilliant that night but those punches seemed more hurtful than they should have against Holyfield. It was a bad beating, and it was the fight that finished Holyfield as a world-class fighter. I do not want to see him suffer another beating like that but I defend his right to take the risk. I understand him pursuing his goal and I respect that.
Evander Holyfield will fight on. You can watch or look away. You know why he is fighting and you can be sure he is taking it seriously and giving one hundred percent effort. If he beats a single top 10 ranked contender or fringe contender (Sam is rated 5th in WBC lists, for what it is worth) he would have proved most of you wrong anyway. And I think it is possible. If he gets maimed or killed then at least we know boxing meant a lot more to him than it did to a lot of the poor souls who got killed in the ring. People have been telling him to retire for over 12 years. The Aexperts@ all said Mike Tyson would kill him or do permanent damage. They saw those tell-tale signs of him being Ashot@ back when he fought Riddick Bowe and Bobby Czyz.
The Aexperts@ have dusted off those old Joe Louis-Rocky Marciano cliches. But it is time to pack them away again. We have already seen Holyfield beaten up and Ahumiliated@. Painful to watch, I know. He has heard the calls to retire and he has explained why he is not ready yet. He wants to be champion of the world, as do a thousand other fighters, most of whom have even less chance of achieving that goal than he does. He might still be a good fighter. He might not. But he should not be denied the right to be a fighter or told not to be one. Everything he has achieved in boxing has been achieved for his own personal satisfaction, not ours.
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