Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Boxing [Print without images]

Thursday, October 11, 2007
Holyfield hopes to answer critics who say he's too old

Associated Press

MOSCOW -- Much of the story of Evander Holyfield's career can be told by its numbers.

Nicknamed "The Real Deal," Holyfield is the only four-time heavyweight world champion and has fought 22 title bouts in 20 years since moving up as undisputed cruiserweight champ. He's beaten Mike Tyson twice and counts George Foreman and Larry Holmes among other wins.

But when Holyfield bids for a fifth world title by challenging unbeaten WBO champion Sultan Ibragimov on Saturday, it will be only six days before his 45th birthday -- a number that has many wondering if he should even be allowed in the Khodynka Arena ring.

After losing an unanimous decision to journeyman Larry Donald at Madison Square Garden in 2004 for his third straight defeat, Holyfield was banned from fighting again in New York on the grounds of "diminished skills." But following a two-year break, he went to Texas and got four straight wins, albeit over modest opposition, to earn another title shot when WBA champion Ruslan Chagaev withdrew because of injury.

Holyfield could become the second-oldest man to win a heavyweight title behind Foreman, who beat Michael Moorer for the WBA belt in 1994 at 45. Holyfield is adamant he deserves a chance not only to beat the 32-year-old Ibragimov but also to unify the various titles.

"It shouldn't be based on age," Holyfield said Wednesday. "If you pass a physical and can protect yourself, why not?

"I don't believe in superstition and numbers and all that. I believe that I can win on any given day, at any given time. I don't believe in losing. I think the only way you can lose is if you quit. I'm not a quitter and I won't lose. My goal is to be the undisputed heavyweight champ of the world," he said.

Holyfield (42-8-2) had won just two of his previous nine fights before he stopped Jeremy Bates and Vincent Maddalone and won decisions over Fres Oquendo and Lou Savarese in Texas after having surgery on both shoulders. Four names that only boxing die-hards will recognize.

"I was told all my life I wouldn't be anything, so I've always been able to prove people wrong," Holyfield said. "I'm mostly happy that I'm finally able to get out of the United States and show other people around the world that I'm a winner."

Ibragimov (21-0-1 with 17 knockouts) beat Shannon Briggs in June to win the WBO title 11 months after drawing with Ray Austin for the only two opponents of any repute on his record. He said Holyfield is a worthy adversary and isn't concerned about seriously hurting him.

"No, I don't think so," Ibragimov said. "I saw his last fight against Lou Savarese and he went 10 rounds like it was the first. I think he's been working hard in the gym. He has a good chin and a really good defense. I think it will go 12 rounds, and I'm ready to go 12 rounds."

Ibragimov's trainer, Jeff Mayweather, was less diplomatic about Holyfield's chances.

"He knows that this is his last shot so he's going to bring everything he has, but he doesn't have enough. Sultan is younger, stronger, faster," Mayweather said. "Sultan needs [Holyfield] because of his marquee value, because of his name. But, realistically, Holyfield is not the same fighter."

Mayweather supports Holyfield -- who was diagnosed with a heart condition after losing to Moorer in 1994 that he later claimed was cured by a faith healer -- in his decision to continue fighting. But he's already worked out a strategy that might just mean the end of Holyfield's career.

"If a guy can pass the necessary tests that's needed, that makes him a candidate to be able to fight," he said. "But even in his prime, Holyfield always got hit with the jab. Now he's not in his prime. We're going to use the jab and once we start backing him up, we're going to finish him."