Instantly noticeable in the aftermath of Evander Holyfield’s, 42(27)-9-2, latest attempt to annex a portion of the fractured heavyweight title was the lack of demand for his retirement. Ronnie Shields and Freddie Roach both spoken openly of their preference for the 45 year old to hang up his gloves, it’s becoming a habit for Roach who distanced himself from his own charge, James Toney in recent months too, but the en mass clamour for his retirement hasn’t reached the fever pitch it did following his slam-dunk losses to Larry Donald, in 2004, and the aforementioned Toney in 2003.
The story, of Holyfield’s age, eroding ability and delusion is not new. In truth, he has become a parody of himself. He was, after all, considered shot and worn out as long ago as 1996 before the famous victories over Mike Tyson, more recently the New York commission’s decision to revoke his licence in 2004 was regarded as the death knell to his illustrious career. Put out to pasture with dignity before some hungry young puncher did, inflicting further damage in the process. ‘Saving Holyfield from himself’ the story went. It would always take more than three well intended bureaucrats to keep the old dog down.
Holyfield just kept on believing. Kept the faith. Found opponents he could beat, found an excuse he could sell; the shoulder injury and slowly, incredibly the expiring career was resuscitated. The renaissance of support was palpable too. It became fashionable to believe again, to clamber aboard the bandwagon. Wizened hacks began to evangelise about his recuperation and about the possibility of him winning a title bout. Something he hadn’t done since squeaking past John Ruiz in 2000.
Suddenly, the campaign, the quest had something Holyfield lacked. Legs. I admit. I succumbed. Not entirely. But I began to believe too. I ignored the evidence presented; the questionable Oquendo decision, the inactivity of Savarese and the crude limitations of Bates and Maddalone, the birth certificate placing him as a child of the 1960’s, the cumulative effect of the wars he’d survived, manifesting itself in a deeper drawl to his voice and a heavier brow. I let my heart lead my head.
Like so many, I looked across the men holding belts and found little to condemn the notion of a Holyfield victory as the nonsense it proved to be. Even 50% of Evander Holyfield could overcome the likes of Chagaev and Ibragimov, couldn’t he? I suspect, like the generation that preceded me in embracing George Foreman’s rejection of the perceived wisdom that age is a barrier to achievement, I wanted to believe more than I actually could.
I wanted Holyfield to prove it was possible to aspire beyond your thirties. To reach for physical and professional success without the fuel of youth in the tank. Showing a child of my time could still rule the world (I wont allow the fact he’s a decade older than me interfere here).
But he got beat. With ease.
Now I’m back from Narnia I can’t bring myself to add my voice to the campaign for his forced ejection from the sport because I know its pointless. I do, along with everyone who cherishes Evander Holyfield and the sport he graced, fear where the story will end. Holyfield, inevitably, plans to continue. He hopes to find ways to improve and adjust to be more successful in the future. A delusion at the age of 45? More than likely. Boxing will be rocked to its boots if Holyfield does suffer in the ring in the future, and will suffer more if he eventually experiences the type of problems Mike Quarry, Greg Page and Muhammad Ali endured when the final curtain drops on his long career.
But, as it seems the boxing world has finally digested, telling Evander Holyfield to quit is simply pissing in the wind. So they’ve stopped asking.