Boxing: Holyfield the giant for all Bean's talk

Bob Mee reports on a world title fight with the look of a mismatch
CHILDISH it may be to make fun of a man's name, but are we really supposed to take seriously the championship pretensions of Vaughn "Vicious" Bean?

The experience of watching two world-class heavyweights slamming away can make the squeamish turn away, and the hairs on the backs of the necks of the insensitive stand on end. But what on earth's going on, here? Evander Holyfield, the evangelist who fights to spread the Gospel and pad his bank balance, is defending his International Boxing Federation world championship belt against Mr Bean.

It conjures up the all-too obvious image of a terrified Rowan Atkinson cowering on the ropes as a humourless Holyfield bears down on him, bald head gleaming in the lights, humming "Onward Christian Soldiers". As well, let's hope Mr Bean doesn't do a runner.

Question: What's "Vicious" done to get this exalted position in the heavyweight pecking order?

Answer: Nothing. His only previous expedition into world class brought a points defeat by Michael Moorer, who was then trounced in eight rounds by Holyfield. The form line is strong. Mr Bean doesn't have a prayer.

Holyfield's confidence in his crowd-pulling ability has led him to underwrite the event at the Atlanta Dome himself because initial attempts to lure the local business community drew a blank. He hasn't boxed before his own people since 1991, when he beat Smokin' Bert Cooper. (Smokin' Bert was infamously relabelled Non-Smokin' Bert when he booked into rehab, but that's another story.)

Unless Holyfield loses to Bean, which would be a miraculous upset, the only heavyweight fight which matters is Holyfield against Lennox Lewis. Lewis's manager, Frank Maloney, opportunistically argues that it isn't happening because Holyfield doesn't want any part of the big man from London. "Every time we give him what he wants, he asks for more," says Maloney.

This is only partly true. There are others who have to be paid and rival American television stations, NBO and Showtime, who have to be satisfied. The former have a deal with Lewis, the latter back Holyfield.

Lewis, meanwhile, fights on 26 September in Connecticut against Zeljko Mavrovic of Croatia. Mavrovic, who is a good fighter but unknown in America, is causing as much hilarity as Bean among the cynics of the international press. When the serious, Tolstoy-reading Croatian appeared on the telephone link to promote this fight, one New York writer asked him: "How do we know it's you?"

In between these two fights, Mike Tyson will plead for the return of his boxing licence before the Nevada Commission, who took it away following his ear-chomping disgrace against Holyfield 15 months ago. The late American writer Jim Murray said Tyson needs a rabies injection rather than a licence to fight. Wit aside, it seems Tyson's tragedy is deepening. This week the Internal Revenue Service issue a lien against his Connecticut mansion, which means if he doesn't shell out the $6.3m he owes them, they take the house. This makes next weekend's relicensing hearing in Las Vegas - the morning after the Oscar De La Hoya-Julio Cesar Chavez rematch - even more crucial to his ability to run his life.

Showtime, the TV station which works with Tyson's estranged promoter Don King, have already persuaded Tyson to sign a $33m deal.

His immediate financial crisis would presumably be alleviated were he to return to the ring before Christmas. However, there's also the nasty business of the minor traffic incident in Maryland a few weeks ago, when some unfortunate chose, of all the cars on the roads of America, to dent the one belonging to Tyson's wife.

It seems that Tyson, who was in the passenger seat, was none too pleased. As a result he faces assault charges in a Maryland court on 2 October.

And no doubt the Indiana authorities, to whom he is still answerable because of the 10-year sentence he received in 1992 for the rape of Desiree Washington, will be keeping an eye on those proceedings.

A punching evangelist, Mr Bean, an erudite Croatian with a Mohican haircut, laid-back Lewis, and Tyson, the walking timebomb... heavyweight boxing is still the most serious fun to be had. As long as you're not taking the punches.