Most, including the majority in boxing, were convinced Tyson would overwhelm Holyfield and possibly put him in hospital

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The Independent Online
A good question about Evander Holyfield's quite sensational defeat of Mike Tyson in Las Vegas last week to become a three-times world heavyweight champion is why was he almost completely written off in predictions.

On the basis that anything can happen when heavyweights are in the ring, caution was advised here and there; but most people, including the majority in boxing, were convinced that Tyson would overwhelm the challenger and possibly put him in hospital.

Of 48 reporters, myself included, polled by a Las Vegas newspaper, only Ron Borges of the Boston Globe made out a case for Holyfield, predicting that he would win in the ninth round. If not spot on, this brought Borges a great deal of attention.

Borges - he bet $200 (pounds 125) on Holyfield at 12-1 - unlike some seekers of notoriety I have known, did not take what is known in the trade as a flier. Importantly, his faith in Holyfield sprang entirely from the application of logic. First, Holyfield's immense will; then the fact that he had knocked over much larger men than Tyson, who had not been struck seriously since renewing his career in the ring. Borges also took into account the confidence he sensed when in conversation with the challenger. "The more I thought about it, the more I listened to Holyfield and his people, the more obvious his chances became," Borges said.

I am no less experienced than Borges in these matters but logic led me and many others up a different alley. For example, Mickey Duff, in last week's Boxing News, said, "It's an easy fight for Tyson and will last a maximum of four rounds, probably less. There's no contest. It's a complete and total mismatch." Naseem Hamed's trainer, Brendan Ingle, was no less adamant in announcement of a bad night for Holyfield. "Tyson will destroy him," Ingle said. "He'll bash Holyfield up in about two rounds. It won't go past three. There's no way Holyfield can win, not a cat in hell's chance. I just can't see it. Holyfield is made for Tyson."

You can go on and on like this. Some left a little room for doubt - "the fight will open our eyes to how Tyson takes a shot," the former featherweight champion, Barry McGuigan, said - but most, including the doyen of trainers, Eddie Futch, who has worked with more heavyweight champions than any man alive, were unequivocal in their belief that Holyfield would be battered senseless. "I really did feel that Evander was taking an awful chance," Futch admitted.

Why? Well, logic of course. There was Holyfield's age, 34, and the knowledge that he is an artificially enlarged heavyweight who underwent tests for a heart condition in May 1994 after losing the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation titles to Michael Moorer. Since then Holyfield, particularly when struggling to a technical knock-out over the limited Bobby Czyz, had done nothing that argued against the advisability of retirement. As Holyfield was required to visit the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota before being allowed to challenge Tyson, and at least one member of the Nevada Athletic Commission's medical panel spoke out against the contest, no hope could be held out for the challenger. Taking everything into account, three rounds was the most he could be given.

That the majority of us got it wrong recalls the amazing record that an American boxing writer, the late Bob Waters of Newsday, had when going against the odds put up for heavyweight championship bouts. Waters, a former amateur middleweight who once fought an exhibition bout against the great middleweight Tony Zale and drank the most vicious dry martinis imaginable, was one of the few to predict a victory for the young braggart Cassius Clay against Sonny Liston. He correctly forecast the outcome of three contests between Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson as well as George Foreman over Joe Frazier.

Before it became a strain - "if I'm wrong my editors complain and put it down to drinking" - Waters was one of only two writers (the Sun's boxing writer, Colin Hart, shares the distinction) to predict that Muhammad Ali would defeat Foreman in Zaire. Typically, instead of returning home in triumph, Waters, a terrific newspaperman, went off to report on a famine.

Waters' advice was to always think logically about boxing. Would he, I wonder, have picked Holyfield over Tyson?