Holyfield/Valuev: Evander Holyfield: Still the 'Real Deal'?

holyfield valuevBy Michael Klimes, photo by Photo Wende -- Evander Holyfield was a member of that outstanding 1984 Olympic team which produced Tyrell Briggs, Meldrick Taylor and Pernell Whitaker. He is probably the most well known boxer of that group among the general public. He achieved this standing after his noteworthy days in the cruiserweight division by moving up to the heavyweights. He shattered the scepticism of his doubters by his exceptional toughness, courage and a considerable amount of skill as well.

Has there been any fighter of the last thirty years who has been perceived as the underdog so consistently and come out on top? I doubt it, even though Bernard Hopkins would probably regard himself as the greatest underdog alive and reminds us of it each time he steps up to a podium. One of the endearing qualities of Holyfield is that he never felt the urge to broadcast his brilliance. Perhaps it was part of his professed Christianity?

Nevertheless, one could not help but be impressed by the statements Holyfield made at heavyweight with his performances. He is a former-four time heavyweight champion, one half of the legendary Bowe vs. Holyfield trilogy and the man who irreparably damaged Mike Tyson’s aura. He was also preserved enough by the time he fought Lennox Lewis to be considered one of the latter’s memorable victories.

Now it is Holyfield whose aura, which was once redoubtable, is now doubtable. He is a name but a damaged one. It is a sad occurrence that he is fighting Nicolai Valuev this Saturday for a world title. Valuev is not the most skilled fighter but it is nearly impossible to see how Holyfield will defeat him. Holyfield is much smaller and older than his adversary. Similarly, Holyfield has that dangerous glaze in his eyes that all the brain damaged fighters have and I fear he is going in the direction that countless others have. Has he met Meldrick Taylor recently?

The deluded obsession he has of becoming a five-time world heavyweight champion and surmounting George Foreman’s status as the oldest heavyweight champion in history is poignant. With his famous financial mismanagement, Holyfield has to keep on fighting for the foreseeable future, maybe indefinitely. Perhaps there are some who think Holyfield deserves his current predicament as he has squandered the vast money he earned on a lifestyle which was unsustainable. In that regard, he is the twin of Tyson who is also seen by many as undeserving of our sympathies. I think that these perceptions and the objects of these perceptions are tragedies.

Still, it appears that Holyfield will keep on battling for years to come regardless of any fact or interpretation that can be waved in front of his nose. There are two observations which are worth thinking about here. Firstly, George Plimpton says at the end of ‘When We Were Kings’ of Ali, “I think it was Oscar Wilde who said ‘you destroy the things you love’ but it’s the other way round, what you love destroys you.” Apply this quotation to Holyfield. The second observation is my own and it comes from David Remnick’s seminal biography of Ali, King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero.

One of the book’s picture features a young Ali walking down the street with Joe Louis in the early Sixties. Ali’s face is alert to its surroundings; Louis’s has that look of confusion. In twenty years, I can imagine a similar picture of Holyfield with a younger fighter who idealises him with an arm around his shoulder. Holyfield will wear a bewildered complexion of distress. The young fighter’s face will not heed the warning of the tragedy in front of him. So the cycle will continue in the subsequent generations.

Article posted on 18.12.2008

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