Kevin Garside: Boxer Evander Holyfield has always been a sucker but, despite his fall to reality TV depths, is worth remembering for when he was the ‘real deal’

At least his appearance on car-crash TV is preferable to stepping back in the ring

There is scraping the barrel and then there is the Big Brother House. Few are the indignities as dispiriting as the sight of a great fighter wandering around the shallow drivel-scape that is celebrity TV chained to a Barbie doll.

Luisa Zissman’s idea of depth appears to extend no further than a one-night stand, unless a treatise on heated rollers counts as evidence of a developed intellect. It could have been worse. Evander Holyfield might have been locked together with that other paragon of authenticity, Casey Batchelor, who flaunts breast implants for a living while chirping the brilliantly crafted catchphrase, “Should I get ’em out?” Please no, Casey.

Holyfield is a sucker for the busty punch, having fathered 11 children by half a dozen different mothers. There is nothing in Ms Zissman’s locker that Holyfield has not previously encountered in a career bedding all-comers. That is partly why he wound up keeping company with Channel 5’s bevy of needy underwhelmers in the first place.

The $230m fortune amassed breaking noses is long gone. Holyfield, a victim of his appetites and poor judgment, could keep neither penis nor pennies in his pants. What he did not give away to family, friends and charitable causes he blew on bacchanalian excess. An upbringing of grinding poverty in America’s South left Holyfield hungry for anything and everything, never imagining that the tsunami of cash washing over him at his peak would one day subside.

To his eternal credit, Holyfield confessed he had never heard of the show. To be fair to the producers, they probably knew little of him save for the fact he had lost part of an ear to the omnivorous teeth of Mike Tyson. One of the great careers in the history of boxing boiled down in this context to one infamous episode perpetrated 16 years ago.

Of the epic stuff – the trilogy with Riddick Bowe, the four world heavyweight titles, the undisputed reign at cruiserweight – not a mention as he walked down those stairs to meet his fate and Ms Zissman’s silicone-enhanced persona.

Holyfield did not have to say much to impress. Waiting inside were sundry testosterone-busters of questionable calibre such as rapper Dappy, ex-comedian Jim Davidson and Ollie Locke, the “star” of something called Made in Chelsea. Of the women Ms Zissman was typical, with the honourable exception of a Nolan sister, who does not measure self-esteem in cleavage.

Unfortunately for Holyfield, the winner does not get to keep the cash prize, which is given to a charity of the victor’s choice. Perhaps the aim is to fail nobly, as he did in the ring, in order to attract a charitable donation himself. Holyfield is presently selling everything he owns to clear a debt mountain of unpaid tax, alimony and child support. His 109-room house was bought for $7.5m by the bank JP Morgan Chase. Next up is what is left of his personal possessions and career baubles.

So the journey from nothing comes full circle, returning Holyfield to relative poverty, save for the reputation built in the ring, and on which he trades now. The son of illiterate parents, brought up by a disabled mother after the father had split, Holyfield found a route out of the ghetto via the fight game, giving legs to the First World myth that hard work and dedication will always have their reward. Like a lot of disadvantaged kids made good, Holyfield is paying the price of poor choices.

“I think it was my lack of education,” he said during a speaking tour to the UK in October. “You make a lot of money but you don’t know how money works, you don’t know how to calculate. I gave more than I should have. People talk you into doing things that you’re not accustomed to doing. Nobody told me I had to ask questions.”

As bad as it is, at least his appearance on car-crash TV is preferable to stepping back in the ring. Holyfield turned 51 last October. He last fought in 2011, a decade or more past his sell-by date. He called himself the “Real Deal”. The waistline of his shorts was inscribed “Warrior”. It is hard to argue with either description.

Those tempted to tune in to the reality rubbish would be far better served logging on to YouTube instead and typing in “Holyfield-Bowe I”. It was Holyfield’s first professional loss but in defeat against a physically younger and bigger man he demonstrated to his bootstraps the courage, commitment and talent that made him the star he was. That bout in 1992 was voted Ring Magazine fight of the year and the 10th round the best of the year.

That’s how I shall remember Holyfield, engaged in towering endeavour not parading around a purpose-built Bedlam clamped to an empty vessel.

Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Sport
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick