Boxing: Holyfield on thin ice as he seeks fairy tale world title

It has been a career of extremes and glory, but, tonight, at an ice skating arena in Moscow, the 44-year-old Evander Holyfield could fight for the last time when he challenges Sultan Ibragimov for the World Boxing Organisation heavyweight championship.

Holyfield has won a version of the world heavyweight title five times so far in a career that started 22 years ago and has seen him generate in excess of $300m [£147m] in fight purses, but, more than that, he has left a legacy from the ring that is unlikely to be equalled in heavyweight boxing.

So far, Holyfield has fought 52 times and first won the world heavyweight title in 1990 when he knocked out the massive favourite, James Buster Douglas. But it is his series of fights against the finest of his generation that make Holyfield so special.

He shared the ring three times with Riddick Bowe, twice with Mike Tyson and twice with Lennox Lewis and a campaign like that is unlikely to ever take place again.

In one fight, he was told by the doctor when it was over that he had suffered a mild heart attack and, when he won his first world title, at cruiserweight, 21 years ago in just his 12th fight, he spent the night in hospital because of his bruises and exhaustion. Tonight, he is unlikely to have to push himself to such extremes, but it would still be an almighty and unexpected result if he beat Ibragimov, who, at 32, is 12 years younger than Holyfield.

"Realistically, the way he is, he's going to do everything right," Holyfield said. "But I'm still going to look better. That's what I have to prove. It's been a long career, a hard career, but I have this dream that I will retire as the unified world heavyweight champion – and when I believe in something, it generally happens."

And, to be honest, there is every chance that the old man could somehow win what would be about as close to a fairy tale as boxing ever gets.

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