It's 6 a.m. and already steamy at the Main Boxing Gym in a seedy part of downtown Houston, where the sign outside advertises "House of Pain."
Inside, the heavyweight champion of the world is holding hands with his sparring partner and massage therapist as they begin a group prayer before training.
"All you guys are welcome to join in," assistant trainer Tommy Brooks tells a crowd of about 30 people in the gym. One by one, they do, eventually forming a circle as a man offers a "Boxer's Prayer."
Large doors are opened on either side of the gym to get more air into the fabricated metal building that lacks air conditioning. The early morning sun streaming through one door adds to the suffocating heat.
Gospel music begins to blare from a nearby boom box as Evander Holyfield stretches with sparring partner Gary Bell and a few others. The lighthearted banter stops briefly as Holyfield closes his eyes, seemingly deep in thought, and begins singing.
"I will celebrate, sing unto the Lord," he sings, sweat dripping from his face. "I will praise him. Hallelujah, Hallelujah."
The time left before Holyfield steps into the ring for his rematch with Mike Tyson is now being counted in days instead of weeks. But you couldn't tell it inside the gym, where trainer Donald Turner enjoys coffee and a donut and trades laughs with a small group of camp regulars.
For nearly five months they've been here every weekday at a training camp lengthened after Tyson cut his eye sparring and postponed the fight from May 3 to June 28.
"If they think they're pulling something by postponing the fight, it's not going to work," Turner says. "He's even better now than he was for the first date they had."
On this day, Holyfield stretches, hits the pads and jumps rope. He was supposed to spar four rounds with Bell but the plan was dropped.
"He went to the chiropractor yesterday and says he feels a little sore," Bell says.
It was Bell who pushed Holyfield for the first fight on Nov. 9, and Holyfield responded by stopping Tyson in the 11th round.
Bell, undefeated in 14 fights himself, plays the part of Tyson in the ring, rushing at Holyfield and winging punches like the ex-champ. He even has a part in his hair like Tyson.
"Before the first fight I was getting to him real easy but he's much stronger this time," Bell says. "Last camp I was pushing him around the ring, shoving him. Now, I can't do that. And I never catch him with the same punch twice. He's smart, he adjusts to it."
Holyfield still gets in some sparring on this day. But instead of the 237-pound Bell, he playfully trades punches with some kids whose parents brought them to the gym.
Laverne and Denton Thomas brought 2-year-old Denton Jr. and his baby sister, still sleeping in the early morning hour. They put big red gloves on Denton, but he still needs a hug from his dad before reluctantly getting in the ring. Holyfield drops to his knees and sticks out his jaw for the youngster to take a swing at.
"We'd rather see Evander as a role model than Mr. Tyson," his father says. "That's one reason I brought him here. And he'll remember this the rest of his life."
Unlike Tyson, who works out behind closed doors in Las Vegas surrounded by bodyguards, all are welcome at Holyfield's camp.
Houston computer programmer Richard Waters has taken advantage of that, day after day, week after week, getting up at 4:30 a.m. to faithfully stand in a corner of the gym.
"I wouldn't miss it; it's like gladiators preparing for the arena," he says. "My boss lets me arrange my schedule so I can be here. My girlfriend thinks I'm crazy."
Later, in the trendy River Oaks area of Houston, a rush of cool air hits like a jolt as Holyfield walks past a black Mercedes sports coupe through the garage and into his house.
Inside, a cook makes some turkey sandwiches and Holyfield, still sweating from his workout, runs up the stairs to take a shower. A few minutes later he's on his way out the door with the sandwiches, heading for the airport and a weekend at home in Atlanta with his new wife, Janice, and his six kids.
It's his last weekend at home before heading to Las Vegas for the biggest fight in boxing history. He'll make $35 million, the richest purse ever. Yet Holyfield is as relaxed as someone heading out for a friendly game of golf.
"I'm the man and he can't handle me," Holyfield says. "This individual can't get over the fact that I did it before. He may fight a better fight but I will have enough if he does. I don't forget what I went through and what I did to do it."
Holyfield is prepared for the inevitable questions of why a 34-year-old man who has made more than $100 million--most of which he still has--wants to return to the ring and risk getting pummeled. He would seem to have no more mountains to climb after beating the feared Tyson.
"What motivates a man who has money and family and is happy?" Holyfield asks. "If the love of the sport is there it doesn't get old. He loves what he's doing.