- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 14, 2002

If you are looking for someone to blame for Evander Holyfield still fighting at age 40 when he steps in the ring tonight against Chris Byrd for the vacant International Boxing Federation heavyweight title, try Riddick Bowe.

There are many people who are concerned about the long-term effects that fighting at such an advanced age will have on Holyfield, particularly because he is such a warrior in the ring and has been in so many bruising battles.

One of those who is worried is the grand old man of boxing, the man who beat on Holyfield for 12 rounds in 1991 and won the heavyweight championship at 45 when he shocked everyone by knocking out Michael Moorer in 1995.

"I worry about Evander not so much being 40 but that he has had a few too many of his fights that have gone the distance," said former champion George Foreman, who will be at ringside tonight in Atlantic City, N.J., as a television analyst for HBO. "He is such a little guy, and he has had to take so many shots. That's what I don't like about it."

If you believe Holyfield, it is not about the money, or ego, for that matter.

"If it were about money, I'd have left after [Mike] Tyson," Holyfield said about the second Tyson fight, in June 1997, which ended in disqualification when Tyson bit him on the ears in the third round. "I got a lot of money, $35million for that incident, and I would have left if it were about money or ego."

Holyfield is one of the top moneymakers of all time, having earned more than $200million. But he has a few ex-wives who need lifestyle maintenance money and a baseball team of kids from various relationships who also need the type of child support that only a former heavyweight champion can pay for. Then there is his mansion in Atlanta, which would make Scarlett O'Hara's old haunts look like the help's living quarters.

That's a lot of money going out every month for a man who once had a wedding reception at a Shoney's restaurant.

He says the reason he is still fighting is because he made a promise to himself a long time ago that he again would become undisputed heavyweight champion. He would have fulfilled that promise nine years ago if not for Bowe.

Holyfield had been undisputed heavyweight champion holding the titles of the three most recognized boxing sanctioning bodies, the IBF, World Boxing Association and World Boxing Council when he knocked out James "Buster" Douglas in October 1990. And he held all three belts until Bowe took them away in their first classic battle in November 1992.

But two months later, the belts splintered when Bowe refused to fight Lennox Lewis, then the WBC mandatory challenger, and tossed a copy of the belt into a trash can, giving up that championship. So when Holyfield and Bowe fought their rematch in November 1993 and Holyfield barely won, he won just two of the belts, WBA and IBF.

So I guess the missing WBC belt was burning a hole in Evander Holyfield's soul, and he maintains that is the reason he keeps fighting to be undisputed champion again. He came close in his two fights with Lewis but lost a narrow decision in the second one, which made Lewis undisputed champion. (I guess Lewis didn't care about that goal as much as Holyfield. He gave up the WBA title rather than fight mandatory challenger John Ruiz and then took a $1million payment from promoter Don King to give up the IBF title rather than fight Byrd, the mandatory challenger, which led to tonight's bout.)

Holyfield is going to have to find another way to scratch that itch, though, because he is not going to become undisputed champion again unless he settles for the Shoney's title. He is not even going to become IBF champion tonight. Byrd is too quick and too talented a boxer for Holyfield. The 32-year-old southpaw was a 1992 Olympic silver medalist in Barcelona as a middleweight but moved up to become a small but elusive heavyweight whose last win was an impressive, dominating decision over David Tua.

In one of Holyfield's more lucid moments, before the Lewis-Tyson fight in June, he was talking to reporters about the heavyweight division and mentioned Byrd. Holyfield, who had never said he would not want to fight anyone, said he wouldn't want to fight Byrd because it was difficult to look good against him.

Holyfield won't look good tonight. Let's hope it is the last time, period.

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