Evander Holyfield has had his share of doubters over the years, from those who saw him as little more than a beefed-up cruiserweight or said he lacked the power to be heavyweight champion.
Now aiming to win the heavyweight title for a record fifth time, the 46-year-old fighter says he has no patience for those who think he’s too old or fear he’s putting his health at risk.
“They’ve been calling me old since I was 30 years old,” Holyfield said. “When you come up poor, everyone is always doubting you. Someone always tells you that you can’t do something. I never listened then, so why in the world would I get into that thinking now?”
In an interview on Monday, the fighter from Atlanta acknowledged that he had little time left in his three-decade career.
But he wants to finish on top by reuniting the division’s top belts as its undisputed champion. The improbable comeback quest begins on Saturday night in Zurich with a tall challenge — literally — in Nikolai Valuev, the 2.14m, 136kg Russian who holds the WBA belt.
“This is not to prove anything to anyone,” said Holyfield, who denies that his latest comeback is linked in any way to recent financial troubles. “I box because I’m skillful and I’m good, and I love what I do. It’s not because I’m angry, or because I’m mad.”
Holyfield hasn’t fought since losing a one-sided decision to then-WBO champion Sultan Ibragimov more than a year ago in Moscow.
He is winless in his last four title fights since beating John Ruiz for the vacant WBA belt in October 2000.
Holyfield, who had his license to box in New York state revoked three years ago, underwent five hours of medical tests in Germany last month to show he was fit to fight. He is expected to earn between US$750,000 and US$1 million for fighting Valuev.
The fight bears an eerie resemblance to a Hollywood plot, with an aging American legend meeting a Russian giant largely unknown to US boxing fans
“When I was young, they said, ‘Mike Tyson is going to kill that boy,’” said Holyfield, who beat Tyson once by technical knockout and when Tyson was infamously disqualified for biting his ears.
“They said I couldn’t handle Michael Moorer’s left hook,” he added, referring to his 1998 victory, avenging a loss four years earlier. “I knocked him down five times.”
Holyfield said he would try to keep moving to prevent Valuev from planting his front foot and controlling the fight with his long arms. Standing in his hotel room and shadowboxing, he said constant lateral movement would force the big Russian to either shift weight onto the back foot or move in with his head while punching — leaving him vulnerable in either case.
“If he has to take one step, then I can come at him,” he said, mimicking Valuev’s jab. “You can’t do this when your front foot is up. When you adjust your feet, that’s when I come in.”
Holyfield insisted that he was well set up financially for life after boxing. He agreed in October to give his 10-year-old son a US$100,000 college fund while facing the threat of possible jail time and an auction on his home. Last summer, he failed to make three straight US$3,000 monthly child-support payments.
Holyfield blamed his problems on people who took advantage of him while he was concentrating solely on boxing. He speaks now of vague plans to build a “brand Holyfield” that his children will carry on, but does not mention any specifics of the business he will enter after retirement.