- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2000

Evander Holyfield, the former heavyweight champion of the world, fought John Ruiz, a former ticket-taker for a Boston Harbor cruise line, for the vacant World Boxing Association title Saturday night. This is a common occurrence in boxing these days former champs fighting former ticket-takers for vacant titles.
Boxing titles have never been more plentiful or, it would seem, more disposable than they are today. Riddick Bowe once threw his World Boxing Council championship belt in the trash rather than make a mandatory defense against the top-ranked contender, and Lennox Lewis did much the same thing with his WBA belt when the organization demanded that he fight Ruiz. So Ruiz and Holyfield, the No. 2 contender, were convened instead, and the winner Evander, in 12 unimpressive rounds was declared the new champ.
At least, I think that's what happened. With boxing, you can never be quite sure.
The little-known Ruiz was rated No. 1 by the WBA, No. 5 by the IBF and not at all by the WBC going into the bout. (The WBC, apparently, heard about his 19-second KO by David Tua back in '96.) But boxing rankings aren't to be taken seriously, anyway not like, say, the Snyder Poll. Gentleman Jim Corbett would probably be rated eighth by the World Boxing Organization if it weren't for the fact that he's dead.
As insubstantial as Holyfield's competition was, though, at least he won the title in the ring. Lewis, you may recall, was handed his first championship by the WBC in '92, after Bowe decided he didn't want it. The WBC was similarly generous to Ken Norton in '78, declaring him the champ when Muhammad Ali refused to fight him for the third time (preferring to tangle with Olympic hero Leon Spinks). Norton lost in his first defense to Larry Holmes, ensuring his place in boxing history as the first heavyweight champion never to win a title bout.
The Holyfield-Ruiz rumble was broadcast on Showtime, if anyone cared to watch. (I didn't.) Two days later, I still haven't seen any pictures of the fight in the newspaper; all I've been able to do is read the blow-by-blow accounts. Guess it wasn't a very eventful evening no knockdowns and, really, no strong personalities. Ruiz wouldn't say "Boo" if it was Halloween; he's a low-profile guy who, until now, has had a low-profile career. Evander, meanwhile, always has preferred to let his fists do his talking. This, in other words, was hardly a match made in publicists' heaven.
But, hey, the title was vacant. When your title is vacant, you take what you can get.
Which reminds me: The next time a heavyweight title is vacant, I think they should have Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post and John Feinstein, a former Postie, fight for it. Did you catch the verbal fisticuffs between those two on "The Sports Reporters" Sunday morning? Wilbon was rattling on about how wonderful an owner Dan Snyder is, and Feinstein, uh, begged to differ.
"For a while there," a friend told me, "I thought it was going to come to blows."
Maybe it should come to blows you know, to kind of clear the air. Granted, Feinstein would have to move up a couple of weight classes, but I think he could hang with him. If I were you, John, I'd tie him up early and try to take him out in the later rounds. Michael plays a lot of golf these days, and I'm not sure he has the stamina to go 12.
(The sportswriters on that show certainly are feisty, aren't they? Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe and Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News locked egos one week over whether Michael Jordan's Bulls played team ball, and Dick Schaap almost had to send them to neutral corners.)
Holyfield's narrow victory over Ruiz is further proof, the experts say, of his declining skills. He's just two months shy of his 38th birthday, the argument goes, and hasn't looked sharp since the second Tyson bout in '97. What's more, his last four fights have gone the distance, which suggests a loss of punching power.
But Evander is a crafty old soul. He duped Tyson into fighting him the first time by looking harmless in a win against used-up Bobby Czyz a miscalculation Mike paid dearly for. And someone Lewis? Tyson? may underestimate him again. Then, too, he can always wait for another title to become vacant and fight for that. In pugilism, anything's possible. Now more than ever.

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