Evander Holyfield began his latest comeback looking a lot more like "The Real Deal" than he has in years.
Holyfield rocked Jeremy Bates into the ropes late in the first round, withstood a few hard shots early in the second, then cornered and pummeled his insurance-salesman foe to earn a technical knockout with 4 seconds left in the round, capturing his first victory since June 2002.
"I was able to do the things I haven't been doing in about five years," said Holyfield, crediting his 21-month layoff for renewed health.
The 43-year-old heavyweight ended a career-worst skid of three straight losses since his last victory, over Hasim Rahman.
A crowd of about 8,000 chanted saw the four-time heavyweight champion trap Bates on the far side of the ring at the end of the first round, bouncing him against the ropes with a flurry of punches. The bell saved him from further damage.
Bates had his best success with several hard rights that pushed Holyfield back in the second round. A body blow followed the pop in the chops, but several clinches sapped whatever momentum Bates was building.
Holyfield soon pinned Bates again and began pounding his face and body. There was so little resistance that the referee stopped the contest rather than let Bates be saved by the bell again.
This fight began what's being hyped as "Holyfield V, The Final Chapter," a comeback he fully expects to end with him becoming the heavyweight champion for the fifth time. He's already the only person to do it four times.
He figures his age isn't a factor because George Foreman got the title at 45. And he dismisses his lack of success over the past five years to a shoulder injury and cramps, all of which healed during a long layoff partially forced by New York officials revoking his license because of "diminished skills and poor performance" in his previous fight, a November 2004 loss to Larry Donald.
Bates, 32, came in making no secret of his admiration for Holyfield, calling him "my hero" and repeatedly saying he was "just happy to be here."
He got into boxing after watching Holyfield at the 1984 Olympics, then became a three-time Golden Gloves champion in West Virginia.