Holyfield loses to fight another day

By Tom Donelson
Updated: December 21, 2008

IOWA CITY — Evander Holyfield was the last great American Heavyweight and in an era of great Heavyweights, he was one of the best. Those days have long since past; for it has been a decade since he was truly great.

After his two bouts with Lennox Lewis, Holyfield began his long decline but while his skills declined, his quest for one more chance at a unified championship continued.

There were moments like his first victory over John Ruiz, his final draw with Ruiz in a close bout or his stoppage of Hasim Rahman that gave Holyfield false hopes but the reality was obvious to all who could see — his skills were disappearing with each fight.

When James Toney stopped Holyfield after humiliating for eight rounds, this should have sent him into retirement. Yet, Holyfield continued his lonely quest and against Nikolai Valuev, he was fighting a man who was not only outweighed him by one hundred pounds but was nearly a foot taller.

A decade ago, this disparity would not have mattered since Holyfield’s skills would have proved decisive but at 46, those skills no longer existed. So this fight was set up as a massacre. What did happened turned out to be a surprise.

Boxing pundit Ruth Lister observed that Holyfield and Valuev participated in “worst heavyweight title fight in history with a result that was just plain ugly.” In a fight that will quickly be forgotten, Holyfield came within a bad decision of winning back a portion of a title.

There were moments that Holyfield looked like the Holyfield of old, fluid movement followed by quick combination. Ever so often, he connected on those combinations and in most round, scored the most effective punches but this fight was in Zurich and as Holyfield dryly quipped, “If I knock him out, I be lucky to get a draw.”

Valuev often looked afraid of the smaller Holyfield and spent most of the bout pawing at the smaller fighter. Throughout the bout, Valuev’s left jab merely looked like appendage that stood out and hopefully hit something.

As the fourth-ranked heavyweight in the world according to Ring Magazine, Valuev hardly look like a fighter who was fighting for a championship but a fighter who was just hoping not lose; not that there would be any chance of that happening if he was standing.

If nothing else, this shows the weakness of the heavyweight division today when compared just a decade ago. There is only one fighter who could actually be a champion or at least a contender in past eraw and that is Wladimir Klitschko.

For the rest of the contenders, we see fighters with weakness but with little strength. A few weeks ago, Vitali Klitschko sent Samuel Peter packing from the championship ranks and demonstrated that the only fighter that could beat Wladimir is his brother.

And this is fight that will never happen as both brothers have stated they are perfectly willing to split the heavyweight division whether fight each other.

The 1990’s were one of the deepest heavyweight division in history; only the 70’s was deeper, an era that featured Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and two young fighters, Larry Holmes and George Foreman.

In a bout where one or two significant punch per round would have decided the fight, Holyfield appear to have those punches but as far as the judges were concern, they were phantom punches.

Holyfield used all his 46 years of experience and two plus decade of professional experience to control the pace against the giant Valuev but in a bout in which one can actually count each punch. This was fight that would be left in the hands of the judges and this only benefited the champion; who won by merely standing.

This fight actually did much to clear up the heavyweight division as this merely reinforced what has been obvious for the past few years; the Klitschko brothers are the two best heavyweight and based on the body of his work.

Wladimir Klitschko is the better heavyweight. Each heavyweight fight seem to clear the way for Wladimir to fight an different challenger — David Haye.

Haye is the most intriguing fighter and to reinforce a point I made earlier, he does have the tools to challenge the Klitschko’s brothers. The former cruiserweight champion is attempting to do what has not been done since the early 90’s, move from the Cruiserweight division to the Heavyweight division to win a championship.

The irony is that the man who attempted to wrestle the title from Valuev was the last man to move from the Cruiserweight division to Heavyweight division.

Holyfield has been one of boxing’s best pound for pound and many boxing fans as well as pundits forget that he was a great cruiserweight and gave this division credibility.

As for Valuev, he will most likely fight Ruslan Chagaev, the only fighter who has actually defeated Valuev but as far as the boxing public is concern; this is a mere elimination bout for the winner to eventually fight one of the Klitschko’s brothers. It is not a championship bout except in name only.

Holyfield in defeat simply proved that he still has something left in the tank but a decade ago, this would be a mismatch victory for Holyfield. At 46, he still had the skills to fight the fourth ranked heavyweight in the world to a standstill and this will only encourage him to continue fighting..