Holyfield and His Critics Face The Moment of Truth In Showdown in San Antonio

evander holyfield10.11.06 - by Stuart Cornwell, photo by Ramon Hermandez. Against a backdrop of excessive finger wagging and the shrill protestations of boxing writers and other all-knowing members of the boxing community, Evander Holyfield will enter the ring at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas on Friday night to continue his quest to regain the heavyweight titles he once so proudly held. Facing him will be former contender Fres Oquendo. Some twenty-four hours before fight time I have seen Holyfield quoted as a 6/4 underdog.

Oquendo is a capable fighter with his own ambitions of acquiring a title belt. Most observers believe he should have been awarded the IBF title three years ago when he seemingly outboxed Chris Byrd in front of three incompetent or dishonest judges. Since then Oquendo has produced nothing remarkable but remains on the fringes of world class. Certainly a win over him could be viewed as adequate currency in Holyfield’s scramble for a title shot.

A win for Oquendo is unlikely to garner him as much credibility for the simple reason that Holyfield is no longer considered a world class fighter. However, the high degree of publicity a name like Evander Holyfield brings to a match can do wonders for the advancement of Oquendo’s career and the raising of his profile, especially if he performs well in the fight. Not to mention he is certainly getting a far bigger payday here than he can hope to be offered elsewhere.

The last time Holyfield took on an opponent on the fringes of world class he suffered a pathetically one-sided loss against Larry Donald. That was two years ago. Since then Holyfield has come back with a win against part-time clubfighter, part-time insurance salesman Jeremy Bates, a relatively meaningless result. And before the loss to Donald there was a beating at the hands of James Toney, preceded by a befuddling at the hands of Chris Byrd.

Those three consecutive losses (in 2002 - 2004) showcased a progessively more plodding version of Holyfield each time out. The loss to Toney may have been the worst but the loss to Donald is the one cited as inescapable proof that Evander Holyfield is now beyond all hope. It is now safe to write off The Real Deal once and for all say the naysayers. His reflexes are gone, he can no longer defend himself - this is the consensus among the experts.

Holyfield puts his poor performances down to injuries to his shoulder and back. This is plausible. According to all manner of stringent medical tests he has been subjected to since the New York State Athletic Commision decided to withdraw his license to fight, Holyfield is of sound mind and in fine health. Eyesight, brain function, heart function - he passes all checks with flying colours. For some reason the NYSAC still refuse him a license to fight in the state of New York. Anyhow, the fight with Oquendo is in Texas. And Holyfield is insisting he is injury-free and a far better fighter than he has been in years. The critics are doubting his every word of course. He has been labelled “deluded”, “a maniac”, “stubborn”, “sad” and “annoying” by some well-known boxing writers. And labelled so repeatedly. It seems to be open season on the old warrior.

The moment the bell rings to signal the commencing of hostilities between Holyfield and Oquendo is the moment of truth. The day of reckoning. Not just for Holyfield - who insists he can still fight - but also for his critics - who insist he cannot.

A convincing win for Holyfield here will prove the naysayers wrong, for not only is Oquendo a decent opponent (aside from the controversial loss to Byrd, only John Ruiz - then WBA champion - and David Tua, at the time a top contender, have beaten Fres), he is also the type of fighter a completely washed-up Holyfield (or the Holyfield of the Toney and Donald fights) would never be able to beat. Some commentators have remarked that Holyfield has matched himself foolishly in this second fight of his 2006 comeback. Fres Oquendo can box and move a bit. A fighter who can box and move a bit beats a slow 44 year old fighter with zero reflexes, surely. Hence Holyfield the underdog.

Personally, I have more than an inkling that Evander Holyfield will beat Oquendo. Perhaps I am thinking with my heart more so than my head, but my head tells much the same thing. What I sense in Holyfield is a burning ambition combined with an intelligence that is easily overlooked. I think this time Holyfield has gone back to the drawing board, gotten himself fit and injury-free and has genuinely and honestly assessed himself.

He may not be as good as he thinks he is but he knows he is a lot better than he was in the Byrd, Toney and Donald fights. Of course I might be wrong. But I am sticking my neck on the line and stating that I expect an improved Holyfield. I expect Holyfield to be too strong and too determined for Fres Oquendo.

If Holyfield beats Oquendo and beats him impressively then he is firmly in the race for a shot at one of the titles. Recent holders of the WBO title Lamon Brewster and Serguei Lyakhovich received their shots at that title without beating anyone as good as Fres Oquendo. Brewster’s resume was particularly weak and he had lost to fighters who were less capable than anyone Holyfield has lost to thus far. The current WBO champion Shannon Briggs beat fighters of a far lower caliber to earn his shot.

The current WBA champion Nicolay Valuev only squeaked past Larry Donald for his best result in 42 fights to earn a crack at John Ruiz, who also was first thrust into the title picture on equally flimsy credentials. This year Valuev has defended the WBA against Owen Beck and Monte Barrett. Needless to say, neither of those two had the record of a contender. Beating a fighter like Oquendo is actually a better than par claim for a title shot in today’s heavyweight climate. The critics would do best to remember that fact should Holyfield be victorious in San Antonio.

Ten years ago to the day Holyfield went up against Mike Tyson in a fight the critics said he had no chance of winning. The odds were anything from 6/1 to 25/1. The experts cited his recent track record as inescapable proof that he was washed-up. Holyfield had lost two of his last four matches, and had looked in bad health during both those losses, had been (mis)diagnosed as suffering from a heart condition at one point, and had struggled in his most recent outing against the far smaller and lightly-regarded Bobby Czyz.

Holyfield showed all the hallmarks of a finished fighter. Some of the writers openly feared for his life. Holyfield handed Tyson, the odds, and the critics, quite a beating that day. If he had listened to the experts then, and had accepted and believed what they were telling him, we would not be talking about him now. In fact, if he had listened to the negative voices at any time in his life there would be no Evander Holyfield. Whether the critics turn out to be right or wrong this time is immaterial - Holyfield’s deaf ears are an integral part of his recipe for success, that’s just the way it is.

Article posted on 10.11.2006

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