LAS VEGAS — There's a fight at the end of the tunnel for Evander Holyfield. A big, big, BIG fight way down the tunnel.
Not against Lennox Lewis and not against Riddick Bowe, although those two probably will get their turns. There is only one fight, Holyfield now realizes, that can suitably cap his career.
A fight against Mike Tyson.
Using religious overtones and emphasizing that he is not underplaying the importance of his fight against Michael Moorer tonight, Holyfield, 31, said this week that a force greater, wiser and more powerful than even, say, Don King, is making a Holyfield-Tyson fight inevitable for 1996.
"I think it's predestined I'm going to end up fighting Tyson," Holyfield said. "Things just seem to be fitting that way for some reason."
Here's how it could work: Holyfield beats Moorer, setting up a heavyweight unification bout against Lennox Lewis, who holds the only major belt that Holyfield does not. He beats Lewis, probably this November, as a set-up to the rematch he feels he owes Bowe. He beats Bowe.
By that time, 1996 will be here, and Tyson, who has said from the Indiana prison where he is serving time for rape that he fully intends to resume his career, should be getting into shape. He will be 30.
"I need to fight all of these fights, then I can get out of boxing," Holyfield said. "I think I'm in it until I fight Tyson. That's what I believe."
Ever since Atlanta landed the Summer Olympic Games for '96, Holyfield has said he wanted to end his career in conjunction with his hometown's big bash. Tyson, meanwhile, is scheduled to be released sometime in 1995.
Some predict a Holyfield-Tyson fight could make more than $100 million.
A deeply religious man, Holyfield said a minister friend had prophesied that Holyfield's future would take this exact route, telling him there was meaning to a career spent in a sport not usually considered a higher calling.
"I keep asking myself, why do I keep fighting? Well, I prayed about it . . . and it seems God meant for me to be in there until Tyson comes out," Holyfield said.
"God has got things left for me to do in boxing."
After stalking one another for years, first when Tyson was champion and then after Tyson had lost to Buster Douglas, Holyfield and Tyson were originally set to fight in November of 1991. Tyson's rape conviction ended that possibility.
Holyfield has said he probably should have retired right then, that he lost a sense of purpose when Tyson, the dominant fighter of this generation, was removed from his career path.
But Holyfield has remained at the top of the boxing ladder far longer than anyone had ever thought, long enough to bring an eventual ex-convict, ex-champion back into view.
"It's important for me to fight him when he's ready, not when he's just come back," Holyfield said of Tyson. "What would be the benefit for me to go out there and fight him after coming out, no tune-ups or anything like that?
"I think it'd only cheapen my victory. You beat a man that was in jail for two years, the man hadn't worked, you only got him because of that.
"Everybody thought he was invincible, he would be it for the next 15 years if he decided to."
To some observers, Holyfield's sharp focus on a fight at least two years away is a sign of distraction on the eve of a very dangerous matchup.
"He should only be concerned about one thing--Michael Moorer," said Lou Duva, who trained Holyfield for most of his career. "And then after that he can be concerned about Lennox Lewis.
"If he's talking about Tyson, then he's really screwed up. I mean, how can you look two, three, four fights down the road?"
Another former trainer, Emanuel Steward, scoffed at any Holyfield claim to heavyweight Valhalla.
"His whole claim to fame has basically been off of two fights with one guy," said Steward, who trained Holyfield for the last Bowe fight and then was let go in a salary dispute.
"(Holyfield was) a good, courageous loser and next time fought a smart fight and won. But I don't know if he'll be considered one of the greats because he hasn't established that, and time is kind of running out."
Holyfield, however, says he clearly realizes that his two fights against Bowe are the ones that have raised him to a special level.
Holyfield visited Bowe in February at Bowe's Washington, D.C.-area home--and admits the two chatted about a second rematch.
"I truly believe the reason why Larry Holmes didn't get the respect he should have gotten is because he was so much better than everybody else," Holyfield said. "The right person didn't come along to challenge him to that point. He beat people easily. He beat them with one hand.
"With me, I'm blessed to have a guy like Riddick Bowe, who fought the daylights out of me.
"If I had went on and won 15 matches in a row and never had a tough fight like that, people would have pretty much thought the same thing: Hey, you didn't fight anybody. It's good to run into tough customers like Riddick Bowe.