Saturday, October 4, 2003

Holyfield not finished - yet

Tonight's fight vs. Toney an indication the end may be near

The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS - In the two decades he has toiled in the ring, Evander Holyfield has fought brilliant fights, known great moments, and captured the hearts of millions of boxing fans.

He's won pieces of the heavyweight title four times, stopped Mike Tyson when no one gave him a chance and earned the label of warrior he wears so proudly on his boxing trunks.

When he fights Saturday night against James Toney, though, Holyfield will be reduced to fighting a plump former middleweight champion in something billed as a "special heavyweight attraction." He's doing it just two weeks shy of his 41st birthday, a time when most fighters have long since stopped taking punches for a living.

But don't try to tell him he can't be heavyweight champion again.

"I have a lot left in the tank," Holyfield said. "If I knew how much I have left, I think it would be scary."

What scares some people is the way Holyfield has been fighting in recent years. He's won only two of his last seven fights, hasn't knocked anyone out in six years and looked slow and confused when Chris Byrd outboxed him for 12 rounds in December.

Ask him why he's still fighting when he has more money than even Mike Tyson can spend, and Holyfield dances around the subject with moves he doesn't have anymore in the ring.

He wants to win the undisputed heavyweight title once again, Holyfield will say. He fights because he thinks he's still better than most of the current undistinguished crop of heavyweights.

And he wants to show the world that he still has what it takes.

"My whole life, people have wanted to retire me. They have said that I was no good. They have said that I was too small, but all it is, is talk," Holyfield said. "The most important thing for me is not my age. It is that I have taken good care of myself. I am going to continue to fight as long as I feel that I can at the highest level."

Despite his age and recent record, Holyfield is an 8-5 favorite in the scheduled 12-round fight at the Mandalay Bay hotel-casino, which will be televised on pay-per-view. The fight, expected to start about 10 p.m. EDT, will be preceded by a 130-pound bout between former champions Diego Corrales and Joel Casamayor.

It will be the first fight as a heavyweight for Toney, who weighed in at 217 pounds on Thursday, 27 more than for his last fight in April, when he won the cruiserweight championship from Vassiliy Jirov. Holyfield weighed 219.

"As soon as I hit him flush on the chin he will be gone," Toney said. "I am going to knock out Holyfield within seven rounds."

If Toney does, it will be an upset, and not just because many view him as a blown-up cruiserweight. Holyfield (38-6-2, 25 knockouts) has been stopped only once, by Riddick Bowe in the third of their series of heavyweight duels.

Toney, at 35 no youngster himself, vowed to send Holyfield into retirement with a convincing win.

"I do not care if he is not the fighter that he used to be," Toney said. "When he tries to take my head off, I will have to do what I have to do."

Toney, who ate his way out of several divisions, retired for a few years and then came back as a 190-pounder, has won all 11 of his fights since his return. But it was his win over Jirov in a slugfest that showed the comeback was for real.

Now, Toney (66-4-1, 42 knockouts) wants to show he can fight as a heavyweight, with his focus squarely on Roy Jones Jr., who handed him a devastating defeat in 1994 when both were unbeaten middleweight champions. Toney says his normal weight is 240 pounds, so he is comfortable as a heavyweight.

"Holyfield has changed for the worse because he is fighting me. I am going to give him his wish. I am going to retire him," Toney said. "He has never fought anyone with the skills I have."

Holyfield towered over Toney at the weigh-in, and his body was sculpted as usual. He blames a torn rotator cuff for his poor showing against Byrd and says he is eager to finally fight someone who will stand and trade punches with him.

That's fine with Toney, who says Holyfield won't have to look far to find him.

"Evander and I are great warriors. We put blood and guts in the ring," Toney said. "We do not run around and hug and kiss. Well, Evander might do that, but I do not."

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Holyfield not finished - yet

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