Evander Holyfield is finally in with an opponent he'll never beat. Last
night in Paris or Las Vegas or Nevada (take your pick) Evander fought what was
a twilight fight. Like an old peddler with nothing left to put forth but his
name, Evander Holyfield trudged into Vegas last night at sundown. His kettle
of chips in hand, his good name his only strength, and he showed everyone that
the traveling road show is almost at its last stop. Holy is now a gambler and
he canít seem to push himself away from the table. A compulsive crapshooter
in a sport more dangerous than Russian roulette.
Like Louis, Robinson, Ali and the other greats that came before him that
hung on too long, it's becoming painfully difficult to watch. What was once a
tiger inside the ring with blazing fists, great counterpunching skills and a
chin that could stand up to the bombs of both George Foreman and Mike Tyson
without blinking, is now a shell game of his former self. Holyís game is
obvious and telegraphed now. The trick is gone. The ball is easy to find. When
Ray Robinson was near his end, broke, losing more than he was winning, he took
his show on the road. The Robinson name still sold tickets and the people
remembered him. Oh, how they remembered. One of the places "Sucre"
as the French called him, went was Paris, not Las Vegas Ė but France. The
Frenchmen always loved Robinson as he had been there before as a younger man
and he had made a wonderful impression. Robinson knew this, and what better
way to make a quick buck, than to go home again. But, like Robinson before
him, Evander also learned that one can never go home again, really.
So, I found it fitting that last night, Evander, too, tried to come home
again. Only he went to Paris, Las Vegas Ė not France . Evander is now old
for a fighter, but relatively young for a man. As he creaked up the steps into
the ring against Johnny Ruiz at the Paris Casino in a bout for the vacant WBA
Heavyweight Title he did so knowing that he was older than Joe Louis was when
Rocky Marciano separated him from his senses in 1951. Older than Muhammad Ali
was when he was embarrassed by Larry Holmes just down the street at Cesars
Palace nearly 20-years earlier. And, if Holy won, he would become the second
oldest man in history behind only George Foreman to lay claim to a version of
what was once the greatest prize in all of sports.
Watching Evander last night brought back the haunting ghosts of Joe Louis
and Ray Robinson. Like those two great fighters before him, Evander seems to
be on a hopeless and futile journey down a one-way street to once again
fulfill a dream and to make it to the top of the mountain one more time.
Problem being, time stops for no man, particularly a prizefighter, and
Evanderís time is nearly up. The sycophants and the hangers-on, will tell
him that he, "looked like the Evander Holyfield of old" from days
gone by. Those who speak the truth will tell him he that had been an old
It has been said that the fighter is often the last one to know when itís
over. Like a jilted lover whose friends know his gal is stepping out on him
but nobody dares to say anything, Evander Holyfield has reached that point in
his career where somebody should save him from himself. Someone should step
forward and stop the madness. Someone should stand up and intercede. Let it
go. But thatís not the way it is with fighters. Itís never been that way
and probably never will be. They are a rare breed, at least the good ones are.
The same individuality, discipline and will that makes them unbeatable in
their youth, leads to stubbornness and a refusal to acknowledge the truth as
they age. They tell themselves that theyíll look better next time, or it was
an off night, or the opponent was awkward. What they wonít tell themselves
is that this opponent wouldnít have lasted one round with them in the good
At the end it always seems like itís ugly. This game, the most dangerous
of them all, chews people up and spits them out. Sour. Like an old newspaper
that was useful on itís day, it often winds up in the street. Crumpled.
Tramped upon. The pages missing. History tells us that those who donít learn
from their mistakes are deemed to repeat them. The handwriting of history is
on the wall for Evander Holyfield now. Time is short. He needs not do more
than pick up the tragic life stories of a Joe Louis or a Ray Robinson to see
how it all could end. Oh, I suppose itís different for Evander. Maybe money
wonít be a problem for him. But a divorce, child support, the IRS and other
vices have a way of changing things. Ask Joe Louis. Ask Ray Robinson.
Sometimes I wish they were still here, theyíd tell him I think to myself.
But would Evander listen?
In the end with Ruiz, Evander got the nod. The judges spoke and somehow it
was unanimous. Evander stepped up to the table one more time, he threw the
dice, and he left with what he came for. But did he win? He looked slow, like
Louis with Marciano. He looked old, like Robinson with Archer. He looked
tired, like Ali with Holmes. Afterwards, the words were the same as it seems
they always are, but the message was different. They werenít words coming
from a man with a future of promise. The victory speech sounded more like an
explanation of why he had won. It was though he was trying to convince himself
and those around him that had once again done it. Evander was selling the
decision like the good peddler he has become. The words were hollow. The
people knew. But the name sells.
On his way out of Vegas, the belt slung over his shoulder, talk of other
fights in other towns permeates. Who? When? Where? For how much? Rest assured,
Evander isnít done fighting yet, but he is done.
Getting old for a fighter is a gradual process. The reflexes dim. The
punches which were one sharp are dull. The combinations that once were
unloaded in rapid succession now come in spurts or not at all. The give and
take becomes more take, and less give. Mostly itís just sad. The youth which
has been lost cannot ever again be found.
When Sugar Ray Robinson finally decided to let it go they held a party for
him in a house where he had reached his highest highs Ė Madison Square
Garden. In the middle of the darkened and fabled garden was a ring and a
spotlight. In that ring, was the great Robinson. He was wearing a white robe
with "Sugar Ray" emblazoned on the back. They were here to pay
tribute and they gave him a trophy inscribed with the words, "The
Worldís Greatest Fighter". I got to thinking about that event a lot
lately. For in the end, after all the fights, the Championships and the
opponents Sugar Ray still tried to come home again. The fights of Paris,
France, were dancing through his head. His last words to Garden fateful on
that night were in French, "A tout a líheure." In English it
means, "Iíll see you later".
I guess we will Evander.
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