SPORT / Forget the rest, who were the best in '93?: Boxing: When the hustler became a hero - Evander Holyfield

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The Independent Online
SHORTLY before Evander Holyfield challenged Riddick Bowe for two versions of the heavyweight championship last month in Las Vegas I came across him in an elevator at Caesars Palace. He had an arm around his girlfriend and it was close to midnight, writes Ken Jones.

Sensing my suprise at this violation of normally spartan procedures less than 48 hours before he was due in the ring, Holyfield smiled and said that he had never felt as relaxed so close to a contest.

One of two conclusions could be reached from that encounter. Either Holyfield was resigned to the superiority Bowe established over him when gaining the titles last year, or had in his mind a way of overcoming the champions's physical advantages.

Gluttony entered the equation. The chief change in Bowe since becoming champion was not one that his connections were keen to advertise. The temptations he had been unable to resist are those that excite devoted trencherman.

It was accurately predicted that he would weigh in at around 171 2 st but this only after a great deal of strenuous effort and serious dieting.

However some reporters, especially two acerbic representatives of the New York press were asweat with the notion that Bowe versus Holyfield constituted a mismatch that could have serious repercussions for the challenger.

The preliminaries offered an important clue, not taken up by this reporter, in that Holyfield looked entirely at ease with his new trainer, Emanuel Steward, who insisted that defeat did not figure on the agenda. 'In the first fight Evander did everything he could to knock out Bowe,' Steward said. 'Now the plan is to go in there and win the best way he can.' Holyfield concurred readily, adding 'But if I'm in a situation where I have to fight to keep him off, then I will go back to what I know.'

At last came the moment of confrontation. Whatever strategy Steward had prepared was literally knocked sideways in the opening round when Bowe, looking to end the contest quickly, drove in a solid right to Holyfield's head.

Bowe took the session clearly, and the next two, but then the pattern changed significantly. The snap went out of the champion's jab and Holyfield got to him with good combinations.

By the end of the fifth Bowe looked to be in serious trouble. By the end of the sixth the majority with a close up view of the action had them level. Before the seventh was completed some were raining blows on a para-glidist who almost flew into the ring, causing a 20-minute interruption.

In the remaining rounds, Holyfield, full of confidence and energy, continued to hustle and hurt Bowe, frequently getting inside where he could best employ superior hand speed.

Until he lost to Bowe in a memorably hard contest, one of the best between heavyweights since the third between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in 1975, Holyfield had not been a popular figure. Now the crowd were urging him on.

Before the bell sounded for the 12th and final round Bowe was advised that in order to remain champion he would have to knock out Holyfield. When the round ended the challenger was still on his feet. It was close, but he was the champion again.

(Photograph omitted)