Boxing: Holyfield stands firm to outgun game Moorer as Lewis lets fly

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The Independent Online
Evander Holyfield overcame a courageous, but ultimately well-beaten Michael Moorer on Saturday to take charge of two world heavyweight titles.

Now the talk is of a match with Britain's Lennox Lewis, but Ken Jones, in Las Vegas, fears that it could be one contest too many for the 35-year- old Holyfield.

When it was over, and having given all credit to Michael Moorer for a valiant performance, Evander Holyfield spoke enthusiastically about matching up with Lennox Lewis for the undisputed heavyweight championship. "If things can be worked out I'll be there," he said.

A stoppage forced on Moorer at the end of the eighth round after a hard contest here late on Saturday meant that Holyfield had won both the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation championships and could think seriously about going after Lewis.

This pleased the World Boxing Council title holder no end. From a television commentary position two rows back from the ring, Lewis had seen enough to conclude that he will knock out the 35-year-old Holyfield inside three rounds. "I'm too big and powerful for him," he said.

Lewis and his associates sounded like the happiest men in the place but, of course, this is only the beginning. Don King, who retains a promotional option on Lewis, made this clear when jumping up to remind the assembled company of his importance. "It's a fight that should happen," King said, "but we are only just setting off down the road. There's a lot of talking to be done."

Much negotiation but a limited time scale because, after April, mandatory defences will cut in on both men. According to Dino Duva, of the American organisation Main Events that has a big interest, this still leaves plenty of time for an agreement to be reached.

Lewis recently hinted that he would be prepared to take less purse money than Holyfield but will their combined demands, perhaps in the region of $30m (pounds 18m), prove too much of an obstacle for the American cable television network Home Box Office that would put out the fight? As a result of overpaying Holyfield ($20m) and Moorer ($8m) for their efforts on Saturday a loss of $8m is projected for HBO's rivals, Showtime. "Things were bad enough before but Tyson threw everything up in the air," a Showtime executive said. "Now it's getting ridiculous."

What has to be said is that subscribers to Saturday's contest at the Thomas and Mack Center got value for money. With Moorer down five times it was too one-sided for description as one of the great heavyweight contests, but it kept the audience attentive.

Warned by his experience in the first bout, Holyfield sparred many rounds with southpaws with the object of making life easier for himself. He started by circling clockwise, away from the 29-year-old Moorer's right, but was punished for walking into it. A hard punch that unquestionably hurt Holyfield, it raised immediately the thought of an upset.

Although Holyfield still managed to edge the round his problems increased in the second when Moorer, a much disparaged fighter, grew in confidence despite making the mistake of using his right jab sparingly.

It developed quickly into a fight without mysteries that turned on an incident in third round after both had gone hard at it. Concentrating on Moorer's fleshy midriff, Holyfield forced him back on the ropes only to suffer a cut over the corner of his right eye.

Holyfield did not allow Moorer to assume that he had gained an advantage, going for the body before landing a crackerjack short right that sent the man from Detroit reeling backwards. Moorer's response was immediate, not befuddled desperation but a measured counter-attack to prove remarkable powers of recovery.

Moorer needed them in fifth when dropped by a left hook that clattered into his chin 10 seconds before the bell. Moorer was not about to quit and his gameness captured widespread admiration.

The punishment Moorer took in the seventh brought a sense of inevitability to the contest. Holyfield is a popular fighter and the crowd was right behind him as the IBF champion came under heavy fire, going over for the second time when caught by a wicked left- right combination. Moorer was badly stunned, but his spirit had not been affected and after careful scrutiny by the referee, Mitch Halpern, he was allowed to continue.

Amazingly, Moorer's resolution was as strong as ever and his ability to renew his efforts was reminiscent of the former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes. However, the end was in sight when Holyfield scored another knockdown with a six-punch combination.

People who had viewed the contest with apathy were now fully awake to the extent of Moorer's will and many warmed to him. Their admiration increased in the eighth round when Moorer took such a battering that he was twice more on the canvas.

Having being accused of undue deliberation in many contests, Moorer had become a heroic if forlorn figure who banged a right hand down and cursed himself in frustration.

Moorer was lucky to get back to his corner and once there came under careful scrutiny from the Nevada Commission doctor who advised Halpern to stop the contest. "I wanted to continue," Moorer said, "but I have no argument with the decision."

When Holyfield came to speak about the contest, the left side of his face was badly swollen and medical tape covered the cut that had worried his corner men. "I want to commend Michael," he said. "It isn't whether you win or lose, but the fight you put up. You can see from my face that I've been in a struggle, but bruises and cuts heal."

Towards the end of last week, Riddick Bowe, the former heavyweight champion who defeated Holyfield in two of three gruelling contests, was interviewed on television. Bowe's speech was so slurred that it sounded as though he had a mouthful of feathers. On Saturday, and not for the first time in many years at ringside, some of the punches made me shudder.

It is not Lewis's responsibility; but Holyfield could find himself in one fight too many.