Evander Holyfield is in the middle of what you'd expect a 44-year-old former world champion boxer to do on a routine weekday around his Atlanta neighborhood.
"No. 5 combo with a sweet tea," Holyfield ordered at the McDonald's counter last week. Seconds later, a small crowd gathered, praising Holyfield for his 1996 and 1997 victories over Mike Tyson, and asking for any mementos he could provide.
But Holyfield's relaxed diet and basking in past accomplishments are only temporary activities.
He's actually still fighting, and today -- six days shy of his 45th birthday -- the former four-time world champion is pursuing a fifth heavyweight belt when he takes on unbeaten 32-year-old World Boxing Organization heavyweight champion Sultan Ibragimov in Moscow.
"I've taken care of my body," Holyfield said. "I have not done things to damage myself. I can get more out of my 45-year-old body than those who are 25 or 30. I've shown if you do it the right way, you can stay in it longer than most."
The renewed question for Holyfield as he steps into the ring again with a 6-5-1 record since 1999 is, how long is too long?
"People tell me to go ahead and sit down, that my time has passed," Holyfield said. "This is the reason I like our country. People can have opinions, but they can't stop you from doing what you want to do."
Today's bout will be Holyfield's 53rd as a professional, and he's less than three years removed from a beating at the hands of journeyman Larry Donald that caused the New York State Athletic Commission to place him on an indefinite medical suspension.
In that bout, Holyfield "was getting out-punched 4 to 1" and was reduced to "a sitting duck," said a New York commission member.
Back then, New York State Athletic Commission Chairman Ron Stevens told the New York Daily News: "To my practiced mind, Holyfield shouldn't be fighting anymore. It's the responsibility of the state athletic commission to save a boxer from himself."
Boxing fans who have long followed Holyfield also noted how his speech has slowed, causing some writers to draw comparisons between Holyfield and Muhammad Ali, who has Parkinson's disease.
Holyfield would ultimately disclose to New York officials that he labored to defend himself against Donald because of surgeries on both shoulders.
New York's commission, however, demanded Holyfield undergo a series of "seven sophisticated exams," including cognitive tests, according to a commission member, and the boxer's performance resulted in a 2006 decision to amend the suspension to "administrative." That meant other states could use their own discretion in judging Holyfield's physical and mental fitness to fight.
"We tried to make him pause and reflect about what he wants to do with his life," said a New York official who requested anonymity because of the confidential nature of Holyfield's medical results.
Texas cleared Holyfield, and he has fought there four times since, winning two bouts by technical knockout and two more by unanimous decision. Texas allows boxers to undergo a physical by a personal doctor as long as an electrocardiogram and electroencephalography brain-wave test are conducted along with an inspection for possible neurological troubles. Any abnormalities require additional information, said a spokesman for the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.
After Holyfield's March TKO triumph over Vincent Maddalone, New York lifted its administrative suspension at the request of Holyfield's promoter, Main Events.
"He hasn't made an application to fight here, but we take all circumstances into account before we clear a fighter -- his history, his recent performances, all of his medicals," Stevens said. "I could let a guy fight Fighter A if I felt it'd be a good fight, but not Fighter C, if I thought it'd be a mismatch. Our first responsibility is the health and safety of the boxer."
The problem, added California State Athletic Commission Executive Director Armando Garcia, is that pre-fight medical scrutiny of boxers is uneven among U.S. states. Garcia said Florida, for instance, requires that fighters pass only tests for HIV and hepatitis.
If he were fighting in California, Holyfield would be obligated to undergo a cognitive impairment test that would require him to answer questions, repeat commands and draw things to establish if his skills were below that of a normal person his age, or if he was exhibiting signs of dementia, Garcia said.
"The only way we can all sleep better at night is to have standard medicals and a data bank we can all look at," Garcia said. "It's a problem in boxing."
Dr. Tony Alamo, chairman of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, similarly bemoaned the absence of "a magical diagnostic test" that would allow state officials to determine which fighters can return to the ring.