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Fright Night : Holyfield Gets Tyson Five Years Too Late

November 09, 1996|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAS VEGAS — Finally.

Any fight worthy of a prominent spot on the marquee of one of this city's glamorous hotels is worthy of a good name. Finally is the one promoter Don King came up with for tonight's World Boxing Assn. title fight between champion Mike Tyson and challenger Evander Holyfield at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Bad name. Because for Tyson, this figures to be another bad opponent.

Not as bad as Peter McNeeley.

Not as ineffective as Buster Mathis Jr.

Not as frightened as Frank Bruno.

Not as fragile as Bruce Seldon.

But Holyfield shouldn't be expected to provide much more of a test for Tyson than any of those four other opponents he has plowed through in a total of eight rounds since his release from prison last year after serving three years for rape.

The boxing world is eager to see how the seemingly invincible Tyson--45-1, 39 knockouts--will do when he faces an opponent who can put some pressure on him, an opponent who can respond to his trademark onslaught with a counterattack, an opponent who can deliver a punch with knockout potential.

That would be a fight properly labeled Finally.

Don't expect it tonight.

"I don't think there's going to be no problems," Tyson said. "Holyfield's in for a lot of trouble. . . . He believes he's the best fighter in the world, but I know I am."

The oddsmakers certainly agree, having installed Tyson as a 25-1 favorite, odds that had come down to 12-1 by Friday.

It would have been a different story if this fight had gone off as planned five years ago. MGM Grand oddsmaker Gene Kivi figures Tyson would have only been a 2-1 favorite over Holyfield in 1991, when they first signed to fight. Holyfield, now 32-3 with 23 knockouts, was then the unbeaten, undisputed heavyweight champion.

It could have been an important moment in the career of Tyson, whose impressive ring achievements have always been tainted by a lack of credible opposition. That's partly because Tyson has fought during one of the weakest periods in heavyweight history, in terms of talent, and partly because he has avoided the few credible opponents out there since his return.

Tyson-Holyfield didn't happen in 1991 because of Tyson's difficulties outside the ring. First, he suffered a rib injury. Then he was charged with rape.

The ensuing years have been a struggle for Tyson, but they haven't been so wonderful for Holyfield either. He lost his title to Riddick Bowe, won it back in a rematch, then lost it again to Michael Moorer. Holyfield then was knocked out by Bowe in a 1995 rubber match.

He also sat out for a year because of heart problems before doctors decided he could return without risk.

But if there was some question about the health of Holyfield's heart, there has never been any question about its size.

Holyfield has been a fearless, dedicated warrior, ever in shape, never a quitter.

Holyfield's handlers view those qualities as a big plus tonight. They point out that he will not be held back by any of the shortcomings that did in each of his predecessors on Tyson's post-prison dance card.

Holyfield won't show fear. He won't let the menacing Tyson intimidate him. He won't be tentative or display a lack of strategy and resolve. And, if the worst should happen and he goes down, Holyfield will keep getting back up as long as his chin and his legs allow him to.

"There is no doubt that I'm a winner," Holyfield said. "The reality is that all big punchers, when they get hit, it affects them a little bit more. They are used to banging out everybody. . . . Yeah, if he hits me, he's probably going to drop me. But if I catch him, he'll drop too."

There are many, however, who view Holyfield's qualities as negatives.

At 34, how much does he have left? If it turns out not much, Holyfield's confidence, his refusal to be intimidated, his habit of wading in and his resolve to get back up could result in an early, devastating finish to the fight.

Conditioning is not expected to be a factor. Tyson weighed in at 222 pounds, within three pounds of his weight for his previous fights since his return. Holyfield weighed 215.

Still, there are those who question whether the 30-year-old Tyson is the fighter he was before going behind prison bars. Among those doubters, count Buster Douglas, the only man to defeat Tyson. Douglas, who lost to Holyfield, calls tonight's fight a toss-up.

"Tyson looks beautiful and he's as explosive as ever," Douglas said. "But Holyfield will surprise a lot of people. When Tyson gets hit, I see a different reaction than I've seen in the past."

When Douglas beat Tyson in 1990, it was considered the greatest upset in boxing history. A Holyfield victory tonight wouldn't be that shocking.

But it would be close.

Boxing Notes

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