Tue, Oct 07, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Holyfield refuses to accept inevitable and quit fight game

AP , LAS VEGAS

Evander Holyfield had just taken a beating from James Toney, and now he was fighting another losing battle.

Sitting in a post-fight news conference, he was trying to explain why he should keep fighting at his advanced age with clearly declining skills.

The problem was that every time Holyfield opened his mouth he gave another argument for retirement.

"If he [Toney] was a big puncher I'd have been torn apart," Holyfield admitted at one point.

To Holyfield's credit, he offered no excuses -- and no protests -- after his corner threw in the towel in the ninth round Saturday night when Toney was hitting him with every punch he threw. That wasn't the case in many of his recent fights when he blamed various injuries and opponents who weren't willing to mix it up with him for his poor showings.

But once again he blindly refused to acknowledge that, two weeks shy of his 41st birthday, he has neither the reflexes or the skills to continue as a heavyweight contender.

"No, I'm not going to retire," Holyfield said. "I'm going back to the drawing board."

Holyfield will have to find a fountain of youth on that board if he expects to ever be competitive again in the heavyweight division.

Just having his warrior will isn't good enough anymore, as Holyfield found out when he fought bravely but futilely against Toney.

Longtime trainer Don Turner told Holyfield before the ninth round began that he would stop the fight if the beating continued. When Holyfield was knocked down with a left to the body at 1:42 of the ninth round, Turner climbed on the ring apron to save the former four-time heavyweight champion from more punishment.

"I had to stop the fight," Turner said. "I didn't want to see my guy get hurt. I love him too much. I've seen four guys get killed in the ring."

Holyfield, who had won only two of his last seven fights before meeting Toney, said he spent too much time thinking in the ring about what he was going to do and not enough time actually doing it.

That's the mark of an aging fighter, and even Holyfield seemed to recognize as much.

"I kept watching him, trying to figure out how I was going to hit him," he said. "By the time I figured it out, he had hit me."

"I've never been hit that many times since 1986 with Dwight Muhammad Qawi," Holyfield said. "At least with Qawi I was hitting him back."

Fighters are always the last ones to know when it's over. Holyfield may have been the only one in a crowd of 7,897 at Mandalay Bay hotel-casino who remained in denial.

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