Boxing: Dangerous game for Holyfield

Tonight's world heavyweight title fight should end quickly, writes Ken Jones in Las Vegas
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The Independent Online
A big difference between the four contests Mike Tyson has undertaken since being released from prison last year and tonight's defence of the World Boxing Association heavyweight champ- ionship against Evander Holyfield at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas is that his opponent has been receiving equal, if somewhat morbid, attention.

This is partly because of the edge Holyfield held in the betting five years ago when Tyson was due to challenge him for the undisputed title. A rib injury caused Tyson to withdraw, but before the contest could be re-arranged, he was indicted on a rape charge. They could have fought before Tyson went for trial, but Holyfield, a God-fearing man, refused to entertain him.

Time changes most things and now Holyfield, at 34 a long-odds outsider, is thought to be taking a terrible chance with his future well-being. Required tests at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota proved Holyfield to be physically sound, but going in with the one of the most devastating punchers in heavyweight history causes people to doubt his sanity.

Although boxing has frequently defeated the process of logic, a widespread point of view, and one I share, is that the challenger will last only as long is takes Tyson to draw a bead on him. Three rounds maximum, probably sooner.

Where it would have been difficult to arrive at a conclusion in 1991, the bout now looks so one-sided, so fraught with peril for Holyfield, that one member of the Nevada State Athletic Commission's medical panel is said to have disassociated himself from sanctioning it.

Bearing this in mind, it may be significant that the choice of referee has fallen not on one of Nevada's two leading officials, Richard Steele and Mills Lane, but Mitch Halpern, a 29-year-old who comes fresh to a world championship in the heavyweight division.

It is considered important that Halpern took charge of a contest for the World Boxing Council junior-lightweight championship in May last year, when Jimmy Garcia slipped into a coma after an eighth-round stoppage by Gabriel Ruelas, and later died. Since Halpern admits to being still traumatised by the experience, and contests under WBA rules are automatically terminated if a fighter goes down three times in one round, Holyfield appears safe from the extent of his spirit.

Not though from the predictable immediacy of Tyson's violent attacking. Emanuel Steward, who worked with Holyfield and now trains Lennox Lewis, said: "It's impossible to make out a case for Evander, but if he can stand up to Tyson's punches and get in a few of his own it could be interesting.

"The four guys Tyson has fought since coming back haven't been able to lay a glove on him. Peter McNeeley shouldn't have been in there, Buster Mathis simply covered up, Frank Bruno was petrified, Bruce Seldon brought nothing. Evander will bring all the guts in the world and he's still capable of hurting Tyson. Anything can happen when heavyweights are in the ring, so you can't write him off completely."

One way of beating Tyson involves a column of motorised infantry. James "Buster" Douglas found another when inflicting the only blemish on Tyson's professional record. Taking advantage of Tyson's ravaged condition, Douglas got his punches off first, made good use of a stiff left jab, moved just enough, then got in solid rights to the head. Douglas (inactive since slovenly preparation cost him the undisputed title in a first defence against Holyfield), who is being brought back by the Las Vegas promoter Bob Arum, said: "I was firing hard against Tyson. My mother had just died and I said: 'Screw it'. You can't get caught up in all that Tyson hype.

"He's a normal man. He's just built up to be supernatural. That's where most of his opponents have made a big mistake. Instead of trying to duplicate Buster Douglas, they should enhance their own style. Don't get out of your own element if you see someone throw a punch in a different way. When I went in against Tyson, I worked on what I did best."

The best advice Douglas thinks he can offer Holyfield is to work off his jab. "Tyson has shown that he can take a good shot so one punch won't do it. You have to sustain the effort, wait for the storm to blow itself out. This fight interests me because there are a lot of questions to be answered. Tyson really hasn't been tested. He hasn't lost his hand speed. Evander can box, but he's got a short fuse. He wants to rumble. I think we're going to see a fight."

From the doyen of boxing trainers, the 85-year-old Eddie Futch who prepared Riddick Bowe for three contests against Holyfield, you get a more detailed analysis. "To get through the early rounds, Evander has to do what works best for him and that's punch from the centre of the ring. I've noticed that after five or six rounds, Tyson brings his hands down to the lower part of his jaw and feints with his head advancing to the target. He tries to get you on the ropes without exposing himself too much. Mathis made him miss wildly, but so far there hasn't been anybody to give Tyson an argument about his reflexes, so I'm curious to know how he would handle the situation if Holyfield can take him to the later rounds.

"But I'm afraid Evander isn't the same fighter. He looked bad in his last contest against Bobby Cznz and you have to think that Tyson's reflexes are still good enough to catch him with a knock-out punch. What concerns me is that if Holyfield goes out there in kamikaze fashion, he's going to be dealing with the quickest heavyweight around today and he will be right where Tyson can find him."

Tyson was so relaxed at a press conference on Thursday that it looked as though he slept through Don King's latest attempt at a time record in oration. In contrast to the tasteless demeaning of Holyfield by one of his co-managers, Rory Holloway, he referred to the challenger as a beautiful fighter. "But I'm better," Tyson added. He said it with a smile that made you fear for the man from Atlanta.

Tale of the tape

TYSON HOLYFIELD

30 age 34

tba weight tba

5ft 11ins height 6ft 2ins

71ins reach 77ins

43/45ins chest 43/45ins

(normal/expanded)

16ins biceps 16ins

14ins forearm 12ins

34ins waist 32ins

27ins thigh 22ins

19ins calf 13ins

20ins neck 19ins

8ins wrist 7ins

13ins fist 12ins

49/1 wins/losses 32/3

39 stoppages 23

13 title bouts 13

12/1 wins/losses 11/2

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