Evander Holyfield insists he has at least one more great fight left in him. If he can summon it on Saturday night, he’ll become the oldest man to regain the world heavyweight title.
Standing between the 46-year-old American and a record fifth championship is the tallest and heaviest boxer to hold a major belt, Russia’s Nikolai Valuev. With his skills clearly diminished, some observers fear that Holyfield is putting his long-term health at risk by simply getting in the ring.
But the Atlanta native is confident.
”I’ve been boxing for 38 years and have always had to make adjustments to fight someone,” said Holyfield, now more than a decade removed from his two wins over Mike Tyson. ”Sometimes his arms are going to be longer than yours. This time they’re a lot longer.”
Holyfield will also concede nearly 45kg in weight to the 2,13m Russian, who has lost only once in 50 career bouts and comes in as the bookmakers’ overwhelming favourite.
Holyfield weighed in on Friday at a trim 97,2kg, with Valuev tipping the scale at more than 141kg.
Valuev says he is not thinking about the age difference, though he adds that he watched the ”legend” Holyfield a decade ago and dreamed of meeting him in the ring.
”I don’t think it is going to play a big role,” the Russian said of Holyfield’s age. ”We are just two boxers who will fight one another. Only that matters.”
But the battle of the oversized Valuev, who has avoided the biggest names in the division, and the ageing Holyfield has generated much scepticism.
Frank Maloney, the British promoter of ex-champion Lennox Lewis, described the bout as a ”freak show”.
”It’s a sad state of affairs that Holyfield is fighting for a world title,” Maloney said in Britain’s Daily Telegraph. ”Holyfield was one of the great heavyweights and he is now reduced to fighting and losing to ordinary fighters. I just don’t know why he can’t seem to call it a day.”
Maloney also had poor words for Valuev, whom he once co-managed.
”He is not a great fighter,” Maloney said. ”Holyfield in his pomp would have beaten him with speed and the heart of a great fighter.”
Holyfield has consistently downplayed his age and size disadvantages, but acknowledged in a recent interview that he will have to rely on mobility to neutralise Valuev’s long reach and huge fists, which have knocked out 34 previous opponents.
”If he has to take one step, then I can come at him. You can’t do this when your front foot is up,” he said, mimicking Valuev’s jab and a planned counter. That might indicate Holyfield will avoid a toe-to-toe encounter, but the fighter added: ”If I catch him with a good shot and he doesn’t see it coming, I know I’ll knock him down.”
While Valuev has great power, he has benefited from a number of close decisions in recent years and has yet to gain the recognition as champion that has been given to the Klitschko brothers, who hold the other major belts. This would be the biggest win of the 35-year-old Valuev’s career.
Holyfield can look to the example set last year by the similarly sized Ruslan Chagaev, who beat Valuev by majority decision to take the WBA crown. Chagaev then had to relinquish it because of injury.
Holyfield, whose dismal run prompted New York state to revoke his licence three years ago, still speaks of reuniting the division’s top belts as its undisputed champion. Deep down, he may realise that Saturday’s fight in Zurich’s Hallenstadion may be his final chance of more glory.
”It’s been a tough seven years,” admitted Holyfield, who has lost five of 11 fights over that span, and is 0-3-1 in his last four title bouts.
Holyfield, 42-9-2 in his career with 27 knockouts, hasn’t fought at all since losing a one-sided decision to then-WBO champion Sultan Ibragimov over a year ago, but said of Valuev: ”He doesn’t even try to move at all. He’s going to take your best shot, and I’m punching in combinations.”
Holyfield underwent five hours of medical tests in Germany last month to show he was fit to fight. He is expected to earn between $750 000 and $1-million for fighting Valuev, with bigger purses waiting for unification bouts should he win.
But a loss or even a draw could finally bring his storied career to an end.
”I have to answer that question when the fight is over,” Holyfield said. — Sapa-AP