Boxing: Hard labour as Holyfield beats Bean

World champion does no more than he has to and is already looking forward to meeting Lennox Lewis.
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The Independent Online
IT HAS long been established that boxing's ultimate warrior, Evander Holyfield, fights up or down to the level of his opposition, and so it was at the Centrum Arena in Atlanta, Georgia, on Saturday evening when Holyfield made a home-town defence of his International Boxing Federation heavyweight title (his World Boxing Association belt was not on the line) against the unfancied mandatory contender, Vaughn Bean.

Holyfield retained his title by unanimous decision again - 116-111, 117- 110 and 117-110 - but struggled at times in the 12-rounder despite scoring a somewhat untidy knock-down in the 10th, when he appeared to floor Bean with a right-hander as referee Brian Garry attempted to separate the fighters.

Bean had come into the contest in the middle rounds, when the experienced champion took his foot off the pedal, but there was never any real danger of an upset.

Some will wonder what might have happened had Holyfield been fighting his World Boxing Council counterpart, Lennox Lewis, and not Bean in front of close to 40,000 people. A fighter with the size and power advantages of Lewis would have been heavily favoured to knock out Holyfield in this form.

It might even have been different had Holyfield been facing his next opponent, the WBA mandatory contender, Henry Akinwande, whose challenge to Holyfield in June was cancelled at the 11th hour when Akinwande was found to be carrying the hepatitis B virus. The height and reach of the 6ft 7in Akinwande would surely have caused problems for this version of Holyfield. But Bean, while 14lb the heavier man at 16st 7lb, was three inches shorter than the 6ft 2in champion who, as he proved against Mike Tyson, is never more comfortable than when punching down to an opponent.

"I didn't come in overconfident," said Holyfield. "I was fighting with a guy who was inspired. I hit him with good shots. He also hit me with good shots. He's a good fighter, better than people gave him credit for."

But Holyfield, more than anyone, will know that more was expected of him against one such as Bean.

The 9-1 on odds for a Holyfield victory were the most prohibitive ever posted by the Las Vegas bookmakers in his heavyweight career. At the age of 35, with 36 victories from 39 fights, he has never been held in higher regard. The two wins over Tyson and the revenge victory over Michael Moorer last year have given Holyfield a cloak of invincibility, where previously he was viewed as a fighter on the sly. Holyfield's recognition level has soared, particularly following his re-match with Tyson in July 1997. Holyfield lost part of his right ear that night in Las Vegas; Tyson was relieved of his boxing licence and $3m in fines.

But the good guy lags behind Tyson in the popularity stakes; Tyson's application for his licence to be restored on Saturday in Las Vegas, and not Holyfield's title defence later that evening, was regarded as the heavyweight event of the weekend. And Oscar De La Hoya's welterweight title victory over Julio Cesar Chavez, on Friday night in Las Vegas, was viewed as a more significant fight than the showdown in Atlanta for the increasingly devalued "Richest Prize in Sport".

In his last appearance in his home state, seven years ago, Holyfield was knocked down for the first time in his career, by the erratic "Smokin" Bert Cooper, before ending the late substitute's spirited challenge in round seven. But this latest homecoming was not expected to produce such drama and it didn't, largely due to challenger Bean's conservative nature.

Bean, 24, had shown himself to be capable but unimaginative and unambitious in his previous 33 fights. His only previous defeat had come in his first world title challenge, again mandatory, to Moorer for the IBF championship in March 1997; Bean lost by a majority decision, which means that one judge, at least, felt he had fought well enough to earn a draw (the two remaining officials scored for the southpaw Moorer).

"It's the same story," said Bean "I hit him with good shots. I put pressure on him. I was backing him up."

Bean also claimed that the referee should have stopped or penalised Holyfield for the knockdown punch. Garry was moving to Bean when Holyfield struck.

"The ref didn't do his job," Bean said. "I was a little off balance. He hit me right on my temple. He or the ref could have been a gentleman about it."

Much was made of Bean's level of opposition prior to this challenge, but winning heavyweights do not build their careers against winning heavyweights and Bean, as against Moorer, did not disgrace himself in any way. He gave it his best shot but was out of his depth against one of Holyfield's experience.

Afterwards, Holyfield repeated that it was his ambition to reunify the heavyweight championships and that a showdown with Lewis is more important to him than a third, more lucrative fight with Tyson, whose re-licensing has been put on hold until 3 October. "Why would I want to fight Tyson again?" Holyfield said. "He has nothing I want. If he had a belt for me to take from him, it would be different."

But Holyfield has turned down an offer of pounds 17.5m from Lewis's manager, Frank Maloney, for a unification fight and one wonders exactly what it will take to bring the man who has earned in excess of $200m (pounds 125m) from boxing to the table. A poor performance from Lewis against his own mandatory contender, the Croatian Zeljko Mavrovic, in Connecticut next weekend might do the trick.