Boxing: Holyfield homes in on Bean

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The Independent Online
CHUBBY'S COMING home. Or as near as damn it. Tonight in Atlanta, Georgia, Evander Holyfield will show a different side of himself, a transformation as remarkable as that which saw an overweight kid from nearby Atmore, Alabama, turn into one of the finest physical specimens on the planet. The show's promoter, Don King, claims he will unveil "the new Evander Holyfield".

The World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation heavyweight champion defends against the IBF mandatory contender Vaughn Bean, a fighter about whom the pundits have grown tired of asking "who?" and "why?". Nobody knew Bean when he challenged Michael Moorer for the IBF title in March 1997 and nobody knows him now.

Yet his presence has not harmed this promotion, for which Holyfield has taken a pay cut in order to fight on home ground for the first time since November 1991. It is expected that tonight's crowd at the 42,000-seat Georgia Dome will be the second largest ever for a heavyweight title fight, although it will fall some way short of the 63,350 who attended the 1978 Muhammad Ali-Leon Spinks rematch in New Orleans. Atlanta's mayor, Bill Campbell, announced earlier this week that 24,000 tickets had been sold, and that the "walk-up" could take the gate close to 40,000.

Drawing the crowds is a real concern for Holyfield, whose last scheduled fight, in June, was cancelled ostensibly because the WBA mandatory challenger, Henry Akinwande, was reported to be suffering from Hepatitis B, although only 6,000 tickets had been "distributed" (note: not sold) for Madison Square Garden, New York. His previous outing, against Moorer in November 1997, is reputed to have lost $10 million (pounds 600,000).

It is extremely unlikely that Bean will resort to biting Holyfield, the offence for which Tyson will beg forgiveness from the Nevada authorities who banned him this morning in Las Vegas. Bean's challenge to Moorer - which he lost on points - was a masterpiece of non-aggression instigated, says Bean, by Moorer promising "if you don't hit me, I won't hit you" whenever the fighters fell into clinches. Bean's eccentric promoter, the ever-shirtless Butch Lewis, spoke for many when he asked: "And you didn't smack him?" Bean claims to have destroyed four videotapes of that fight - his one defeat against 32 wins - in his frustration.

At 35, 10 years older than his challenger from Chicago, Holyfield claims to be looking for a grand finale to a remarkable career that has seen this former cruiserweight champion join Ali as the only heavyweight to win a world title three times. He also wants to retire as the only fighter twice to have held the unified heavyweight championship. But before he can meet his World Boxing Council counterpart, Lennox Lewis, Holyfield must record his 36th win in 39 fights, against Bean. He is 9-1 favourite. Justifiably.

Mike Tyson goes looking for work again with a lot more to explain to the men deciding his fate than why he bit Holyfield's ears. At the top of the list is why he allegedly attacked two men following a traffic accident last month.

The commission has only three options: approve Tyson, reject him or ask that he return later. If Tyson is rejected, he cannot apply again until 19 September, 1999.