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HOLYFIELD VS. TONEY Saturday, 5 p.m., Pay-per-view,
Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas

Holyfield Has His Heart Set on Recapturing the Glory

September 30, 2003|Steve Springer and Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writers

Evander Holyfield has been on the media circuit to hype his heavyweight boxing match Saturday against James Toney at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, a nontitle bout.

The first question facing Holyfield these days, though, is not who, but why. Why, after having won the heavyweight championship a record four times, why, with his 41st birthday only 21 days away, why, when he noticeably slurs his speech on occasion, does Holyfield continue to fight?

So, when Times Sports Editor Bill Dwyre and boxing writer Steve Springer sat down with Holyfield on separate occasions recently in Las Vegas, it was their first question as well:

Question: Why keep fighting?

Answer: I've set a goal to retire as undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. I'm not in a hurry. People think I'm old, but I'm not. I'm picking my fights carefully and the goal is still there.

Q: You've been heavyweight champ four times. Isn't that enough?

A: I've been a champion. The question is, how do I exit as a champion?

Q: If that's your goal, why are you fighting Toney, who doesn't have a heavyweight title and is moving up from cruiserweight? You were negotiating with promoter Don King for a match against World Boxing Assn. heavyweight titleholder Roy Jones. What happened?

A: I am not going to sign another contract with Don King. I am not going to let somebody abuse me. I want to fight for the title, but I just have to get back in line. For now, I was ready to take a fight and James Toney just happened to be the opponent.

Q: Do you look at Muhammad Ali, in his current physical condition, and fear that that might happen to you as well if you continue fighting?

A: It is interesting that Ali, in his career, was one of the fighters who didn't get hit a lot. From what I am told, his symptoms are not from boxing, but are from Parkinson's disease. It's funny. As a kid, I looked at those things and remember telling myself that I would be out of boxing by the time I turned 17. I didn't know I would be the one to grow up so big and be the guy knocking people around, rather than the other way.

Q: Weren't you supposed to be retired long ago because of a bad heart?

A: That was a misdiagnosis. We finally got a doctor at the Mayo Clinic to tell us the truth. I have the strongest heart they'd ever seen.

Q: How would you assess the heavyweight division today?

A: You've got Lennox Lewis, who can't make up his mind if he is going to stay in this game or he's going to get out. You've got Roy Jones, who shocked people by becoming heavyweight champion. Now, instead of fighting the next person in line, he's going back down to light-heavyweight. That doesn't show any respect for the heavyweight division. You wanted to be in it, now you don't want to be in it.

Q: Why do you think Lewis is stretching out his decision on retirement?

A: He wants to see if people care. And right now, I don't think people care. Either you are going to fight or you are not. How long are they going to let him keep getting away with this?

That's what hurts this game, when people think they are bigger than boxing. Nobody will strip him of his titles because they are afraid people will say they are taking advantage of poor Lennox Lewis.

How in the world would they be taking advantage of a person who chooses not to follow the rules and regulations by fighting [the mandatory challengers]? The rules and regulations serve everybody. Ali wasn't bigger than the rules and regulations. Tyson wasn't. Riddick Bowe wasn't.

They are letting Lennox Lewis take advantage of everybody in America because he's from London and London hasn't had a champion in so long. They let him tell everybody what he's going to do, who he's going to fight and who he's not going to fight. That's just not right.

Q: So with Lewis in limbo, where does that leave the division?

A: I think it will shake itself out. It's kind of left the division open for someone to come in who wants to be heavyweight champion of the world, someone who will want all three [major titles]. It will get to the point where someone will say, "Shoot, I'm just one-third of the champions. I don't want somebody in my era saying they were the champion at the same time I was." It will come to the point where there will be an undisputed heavyweight champion and that person will get the respect.

Q: And until there is an undisputed titleholder, can the current champions do anything to bring the division back to the level of respect it once enjoyed?

A: Fight everybody out there. Like a John Ruiz. He's got an ugly style that is going to make everybody look bad. But how can you say you are the best when you won't take a chance on looking bad by fighting this guy? You are the best fighter because you fought everybody who was there at that point in time. Was there someone a champion said, "Oh, I'm not going to deal with that opponent. I think I'll skip him."? You can't because that's all part of being the best

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