Face to face with "Lights Out" and "The Real Deal"!

13.02.06 - By James Slater: The day of the James Toney v Evander Holyfield fight, back in 2003, I arrived at The Mandalay Bay early (much earlier than I had done at the De La Hoya v Mosley II fight, this time not having the rigours of a hangover to contend with). The place was already buzzing and a mock boxing ring had been set up along with two huge sized boxing gloves. One had Holyfield across it while the other was emblazoned with Toney's name. Programs and other merchandise were on sale and I further lightened my wallet. Two T-shirts, a cap and a program were now mine.

After a light lunch and a couple of beers I was strolling around the casino section. I was again enjoying the atmosphere and the anticipation that only a big fight can bring. I hadn't yet noticed any boxers or celebrities but put this down to my early arrival. Also, Holyfield v Toney didn't figure to be as huge an event as the De La Hoya fight. But then I had to double check my vision. None other than Evander Holyfield and a small entourage walked right past me! My pulse quickened, something I had grown accustomed to in the past few weeks, and I fumbled for my pen. I composed myself as best I could and approached Evander from the side as he was still walking..

"Mr Holyfield, sir, would you mind.?" I said, while motioning to the boxing program I had held open to a page with an image of "The Real Deal's" face that was now staring out at the real thing. He looked me straight in the eye, somewhat intimidating me I must say, and then said one solitary word. "No". I couldn't believe it. I was shocked not to mention disappointed. As I watched him turn and walk away, giving me an almost regal wave of the hand, as if to motion me from him, one of his aides said, "We're not signing anything today, sorry". And then I was stood alone feeling embarrassed. This was the first time I had been refused an autograph and by one of the sport's gentlemen, a man known for his approachability and fan friendliness.

What had I done wrong? I had certainly asked him in the usual polite way. I put it down to the fact that he was fighting later on that day. Maybe he'd simply had his game face on. I wandered over to the nearest bar and had a few more beers. Disappointment had surfaced for the first time in Vegas (perhaps this served me right, after all I had blown it with Iran Barkley a few days earlier. I know I should've bought him lunch, it was the least I could've done. For what it's worth, when I'm next in Vegas, if I see Iran again I'm going to do it right this time, no doubt) I knew I may never get another chance at Holyfield's autograph. Still, at least I had been face to face with the great man, even if the experience had unnerved me quite a bit. Evander had had a mean look on his face and if this had been a pre-fight stare down we had been engaging in, I would have certainly melted.

He was known as a nice guy, yes, but in that ring Holyfield has shown toughness, an ability to fight dirty if necessary and a frightening ability to take punches. I still considered it an honour to have at least seen him in the flesh.

As all this was going around in my head, I happened to look up just in time to see Evander's protagonist for the evening entering the casino. Only a few minutes after my encounter with Holyfield, I now had a possibility at meeting him too. Things were happening fast today. I had been unsettled by the previous rejection and I debated with myself whether or not to approach Mr Toney. Maybe it was simply better not to bother a boxer so close to a fight. Perhaps I should be more respectful. But I also knew how I might not get another chance to meet James and as he had stopped and was chatting to a group of people, I decided to give it a try. I was thrilled and relieved when he gladly signed my program. He asked me my name, and when he learnt we shared the same christian name, he joked how much the name "sucked". We both laughed and I wished him good luck, for which he very politely thanked me. Amazing. The so-called bad boy of boxing, the motor mouth who was often partial to the use of a few expletives while being interviewed post-fight, was friendly and accommodating. Maybe he just knew the value of good copy and deep down was a great guy. This is certainly my opinion today. He for one didn't mind being greeted by his fans, even on the day of his fights, this one being of the utmost importance to him.

As a result of James' kindness, the smile returned to my face. I knew now who I would be rooting for come fight time!

Article posted on 14.02.2006

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