An important truth about boxing is that styles figure prominently in the equation. A fighter can be superior in technique and application, but find difficulty with problems set by his opponent's method.
This applied famously to three contests between Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton. In fact no heavyweight caused Ali more embarrassment. Norton won their first fight, breaking Ali's jaw, and ran him close in the others.
Ali preferred to box on the retreat and deliver rapid counters, but Norton fought out of a defensive crouch and would not come to him. This so upset Ali's rhythm that he never had Norton's measure.
Style enters assessments of tonight's rematch between Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson at the MGM Grand here. Because Holyfield's best work is done in retaliation it suits him to be up against an aggressor. When they first met last November for the World Boxing Association heavyweight championship Holyfield opened at 25-1 in the betting and although the odds had shortened considerably by fight time only one boxing writer gave him a chance. In one of boxing's biggest upsets, Holyfield broke Tyson's spirit to gain an 11th-round stoppage.
Going back almost 11 years, Holyfield outpointed Dwight Muhammad Qawi over the old distance of 15 rounds for the WBA junior heavyweight title. Qawi came forward all the time and a very hard fight was settled by the quality of Holyfield's counter-punching. This week Lou Duva, who trained Holyfield at that time, said: "Evander was in only his 12th professional fight, but from then on he knew the best way to go about things. He outpunched Tyson in the first fight and I think he will end it quicker this time. Tyson is nothing like the force he was and Evander is full of confidence."
When sitting a few places from Tyson at a press conference earlier this week Holyfield had a smirk on his face. "What's making you so smug?" his trainer, Don Turner, asked. Holyfield's whispered reply was that he had been trying unsuccessfully to make eye contact with Tyson. "He won't look at me," Holyfield said. "I think he's running scared."
Tyson still has an edge on the casino betting boards, but more and more people are coming around to the notion that Holyfield has his measure. On Wednesday I was present when Ed Schuyler, of the Associated Press, spoke by telephone with Angelo Dundee who was calling from Italy. "He [Holyfield] will do the same number on Tyson - maybe a little earlier," Dundee said. "I think Tyson is made to order for him and has lost that cloak of invincibility. Tyson simply isn't the same fighter without it and I doubt whether Richie Giachetti has been able to bring about a big improvement.
"Tyson was away from boxing for three years and some of the things you lose you never get back. Richie will have told him to move his head more and make better use of the jab but when the heat is on fighters tend to fall back on what they think works best for them."
In the first contest Tyson grew demoralised after failing to take out Holyfield with single punches. He had a big fifth round, but when nothing came of it he was there to be taken. "It will be different this time,' Tyson insists. "I'll be harder to hit and more in control of myself. I'm looking forward to the fight and winning the title."
Holyfield, meanwhile, puts his trust in God and a warrior's instinct. Nothing seems to trouble him. Turner says that he has never worked with a smarter fighter than the former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes, but Holyfield is high in his estimation. "He's so relaxed, so cool that I just can't see him losing," Turner said. "And if Evander senses quickly that Tyson is nervous it won't surprise me if he jumps on him."
However, as so many of Holyfield's contests have been "wars" caution is advisable. After all it is now nearly five years since he went into retirement after a loss to Riddick Bowe for the undisputed championship. "He's had enough," Duva said then. "He's got nothing to prove and more money than he'll ever need. I've told him that it would be foolish to carry on and he agrees."
When Holyfield returned to scrape past Alex Stewart people shook their heads sadly. Six months later Holyfield had taken the WBA and International Boxing Federation titles from Bowe. Just a couple of nights before that contest I came across Holyfield in a lift at Caesars Palace. It was close to midnight and he was with Janice Itson, the physician he recently married. It made me wonder, but Holyfield went on to show that he has his own way of doing things.
After losing his titles to Michael Moorer, a southpaw (styles again), Holyfield was thought to have a heart condition. It turned out to be a misdiagnosis, but leaves a doubt about him.
The end of a fighter's career often comes without warning. One fight too many and the stuff drains suddenly from them. So another question, and there are many, is whether Holyfield still has a big performance left in him.
Duva is convinced that it is there. "Tyson's got Giachetti, and that's got to help him because the guys he had in his corner before were clowns. The one thing about Giachetti is, he's a real boxing guy.
"But I don't think it's going to matter. I don't think Tyson can do anything any differently than he did the first time. He may come in behind the jab and he may try to come forward, but if he does, Evander will knock him out in three rounds. As many times as they'd fight, Evander would knock him out again and again and again. Mentally, he's too strong for Tyson."
The doyen of trainers, 86-year-old Eddie Futch, who was in Bowe's corner for three fights against Holyfield, thought Tyson would win the first contest. "I respected Holyfield, but felt that his only chance was to take him before the sixth round.
As it turned out Tyson didn't win a round after the sixth. He now promises to be the best-ever Tyson, but promises don't win fights. He simply cannot afford to make the same mistakes. I'm leaning towards Holyfield, but don't ask me which round."
No matter how engrossed Holyfield becomes in his religion, he never forgets that he is first of all a fighter. "I've been doing this for 26 years," he said, "I know what I'm doing."
At Thursday's weigh-in both men were at 15st 8lb, making Tyson 4lb lighter than he was for the first contest and Holyfield 3lb heavier. This matters little in calculation.
More significant was an attempt by Tyson's co-managers, John Horne and Rory Holloway, to get Mitch Halpern, who was in charge of the first contest, replaced by a more experienced official on the grounds that Holyfield was allowed to get away with persistent fouling. The Nevada Comission voted 4-1 to keep Halpern, but he later withdrew of his own accord, not wanting to be the focal point of any controversy, and he was replaced by Mills Lane.
It indicates nervousness linked to the possibility that Holyfield's style will leave Tyson with no other option but to try to blast through Holyfield's defences, a hazardous tactic against a counter-puncher. Though not without a tremor of apprehension, I am taking Holyfield to win inside the distance, possibly around the seventh round.
Tale of the tape
Record 33-3 45-2
Knock-outs 24 39
Age 34 30
Weight 218lb 218
Height 6ft 21/2 5-111/2
Reach 77.5in 71
Chest (normal) 43 43
Chest (expanded) 45 45
Biceps 16 16
Forearm 12.5 14
Waist 32 34
Thigh 22 27
Calf 13 19
Neck 19.5 20.5
Wrist 7.5 8
Fist 12.5 13
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