That Holyfield remains undeterred by the numbing regularity of boxing tragedies after exceeding $100m in career earnings is as mysterious as sport can get.
Three years ago, Holyfield took such punishment from Bowe when losing the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation championships that his then trainer, Lou Duva of Main Events, advised immediate retirement. "Evander was rich and had nothing left to prove," Duva said, "but the warrior instinct is so strong that he ignored our advice."
Within 12 months, Holyfield had regained the titles from Bowe in another hard bout that was sensationally interrupted when a paraglider crashed into the Caesars Palace ring.
Despite suspicions of a heart condition that arose after a sluggish loss to Michael Moorer in April last year, Holyfield came back again to defeat Ray Mercer. Astonishingly, he intends having three more contests before going into permanent retirement. "I want the titles back," he said.
None are at stake tonight (Bowe is not putting up his World Boxing Organisation crown), but both men argue the winner will be able to claim supremacy in the division. "Mike Tyson hasn't re-established himself, so I don't think there is any argument," Bowe said.
"The people who know boxing know who the best guys are. There aren't any secrets in this business. You can talk all you want, but when the bell rings there's only the two of us in the ring and everybody can see what happens. I feel we are the best, and the best should fight for the championship."
As it is usual today for fighters to ignore the curious dignities upheld in boxing history, Bowe and Holyfield are to be commended for their behaviour in preparation.
In fact, no animosity exists between them. Holyfield was recently a guest at Bowe's home in Maryland, and the interview they shared on television this week was notable for its good humour. "As both fights were close, I don't think I deserved to lose my titles in the first one and you were entitled to keep them in the second," Holyfield said.
This does not alter the widespread impression that Holyfield has fought more often than the dictates of common sense make advisable. Even if there is no direct evidence of mental impairment, people worry over him. "Unfortunately, very few fighters know when to give up," said Dick Sadler, who managed the first phase of George Foreman's career. "No matter how clear decline becomes, they always believe there is another one in there."
At Sadler's side stood the great former light-heavyweight champion Archie Moore, who was probably close to his 50th year when knocked out by a young Cassius Clay and remains bright in old age. "Different," Sadler said on Moore's behalf. "Archie was so cunning that opponents found him difficult to hit. Holyfield doesn't lack ability, but I've never seen him in a fight when punches weren't rattling into his head. In the long term, he may suffer for it."
Time throws up the disturbing images of bouts against two moderate heavyweights, Alex Stewart and Bert Cooper, who both scrambled Holyfield's senses temporarily before succumbing to his blows.
The remarkable strength of Holyfield's will persuades many to fear for his safety. "When you think of all his millions, all that land he owns, it is impossible to understand why Evander wants to continue boxing," Duva said.
Holyfield's many admirers felt further apprehension when Bowe stripped off for Thursday's weigh-in to reveal impressive results of the disciplines he has not always observed in training. In ominously good shape, Bowe, at 17st 2lb, will have a 27lb weight advantage.
Since Bowe, 28, is also five years younger, he has understandably been made an odds-on favourite. However, Holyfield is convinced that he can produce another great effort. "The fight definitely won't go 12 rounds and I'll be the victor," he said.
The statement, unusual in that Holyfield draws the line at boasting, surprised his opponent. "I can't believe Evander made that remark," he said. "It just isn't like him. But I guess he's just whistling past the graveyard. It ain't going to happen."
All things considered, especially the many gruelling assignments Holyfield has undertaken in a 32-fight professional career that shows just two defeats, Bowe can be expected to stop Holyfield in the later rounds.
Holyfield's eagerness to stand toe to toe with everyone could lead to an early end of violent proceedings. "If Evander stands in front of Bowe soaking up that big jab and the right hands that follow, the roof will come in on him," Duva said.
In speaking of the urge that keeps Holyfield in the ring, his trainer, Don Turner, said: "He's rich enough to air-condition hell." That is what makes it all so inexplicable.
n Frank Bruno can go ahead with his WBC title defence against Mike Tyson. A high court judge threw out an injunction which Lennox Lewis sought to serve to stop the fight on the grounds that he was the rightful challenger. The court ruled that Lewis could not choose to be bound only by those WBC rules that suited his case. If all WBC rules were applied, the judge rules, then Lewis' claim that he should fight Bruno first did not stand up.
TALE OF THE TAPE
BOWE V HOLYFIELD
28 Age 33
6ft 5ins Hgt 6ft 21/2in
17st 2lb Wt 15st 3lb
81ins Reach 771/2in
46in/50in Chest 43in/45in
8ins Wrist 71/2in
171/2ins Neck 19in
38 Fights 33
37/1 W/L 31/2
31 Stoppages 22Reuse content