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In His Heart, the 'World's Tallest Heavyweight' Is a Pacifist

December 06, 1987|DICK WAGNER | Times Staff Writer

Mike White, the boxer who is 7 feet tall and weighs 275 pounds, was fighting recently in the Spruce Goose dome in Long Beach. The great plane was only slightly more immense.

White looked down on his opponent, Oscar Holman, then clubbed him with both blue-gloved fists. Viciousness wasn't a part of White's manner, but his blows, from the look of Holman's left eye, had a bludgeoning effect.

Holman wanted to hit White, to be the first to mar that regal face, but as always it was unreachable. White's long left arm kept the 6-foot-1 Holman almost as far away as the spectators.

The fight had the aura of a circus sideshow, with White the object of gawkers from the time his 81-year-old manager helped him out of his black robe and he was dramatically introduced as the "world's tallest heavyweight."

A fan who knew that White also is a basketball player yelled "Slam dunk!"

And others in the crowd, with that eternal hope of seeing a giant slain, encouraged Holman:

"Come on, Tiny, knock him out."

"Jump and punch."

Rounds passed and White never changed his expression, which could be construed as either a mean frown or a subtle smirk. The ring thumped under his weight as he danced. Sweat glistened on his massive midsection, which lacked the tautness that veteran fight watchers think will be necessary if White ever meets heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.

"Whale his body," a fan instructed Holman.

Holman, squinty and bloody, kept trying. "I'm from Philly, I don't go down," he said to White, who's from Long Beach and has never been down.

But White wasn't trying to knock Holman down. He was putting on a show and wanted it to last, to give the fans their money's worth, to satisfy all but the most bloodthirsty among them.

He wasn't about to satisfy anyone's curiosity as to whether he really has a knockout punch.

Finally, in the fifth round, a man in Holman's corner threw in the towel.

White departed with his 19th win in 24 professional fights.

Bill Field, White's trainer/manager who has been around boxing for 60 years, said of White in the dressing room: "He has the potential to go all the way; he's really dedicated."

As he left the building, White was surrounded by well-wishers, autograph seekers and old boxers. He politely bended for their never-ending advice, 99% of it, he said later, he never listens to.

"People always said someone my size was too big to box," White, 29, said the next morning at the American Fitness Gym in downtown Long Beach, where he often trains. The gym cat sat on his lap. Two 250-pound punching bags, which White supposedly once knocked off their hooks, hung from the ceiling.

White got into boxing after he won $50,000 in a Tough Man contest in Pontiac, Mich., in the early '80s. Those macho tests were open to all comers and conducted in boisterous, beer-filled settings.

At the time, White was manager of a clothing shop for big men in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, taking advantage of the marketing and tailoring classes he said he had at Eastern Kentucky University. He said he also played basketball there, but a school official last week could not recall him.

Boxing appealed to him in a way basketball didn't, he said, because "it was all in my hands, I had control over it."

White tries to be to boxing what Julius Erving used to be to basketball. "Dr. J was the epitome of grace," White said. "I want to look good while I fight, even if I get knocked out.

"That's what makes it fun, to get in there and see how good you can look and still win. I'm putting on a show. People don't want to pay all that money and see 2-3 punches and it's over in one round.

"I'm risking injury, risking getting knocked out, but I get a charge out of that risk."

At heart, White is a pacifist.

"I don't want to kill or injure anyone," he said. "People love to see that, but I'm happy if I can outpoint a guy or cut him a little bit."

Field, though, said he is trying to convince White that crowds would rather see knockouts.

White picked up a newspaper and read that Holman said White didn't hit as hard as Tyson when the two were sparring partners.

"Maybe Tyson does hit harder than me," White said. "So what? Ol' Tyson has to worry about getting close to me. If he stays at the end of my reach (87 inches), he can't hit me. That's why I move so much."

A pacifist, but no powder puff.

"I could have taken (Holman) out early," White said. "I will be punching a hell of a lot harder real soon."

White, who knocked out contending heavyweight Buster Douglas a few years ago, said he wants to be ranked in the Top 10 by next spring.

"He needs to fight better opponents, be on national TV, get the exposure," Field said.

In January, White is expected to fight California heavyweight champion Dee Collier, whom he beat in a non-title bout in July.

Charlie Williams, the gym owner and a trainer who has worked with White, praised the big man in words that never sound surprising in boxing's world of hyperbole and hope.

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