Holyfield keeps punching
Story by Matt Richardson
Photos by Chris Cozzone
The photos and posters on the walls of the Church Street boxing gym in downtown Manhattan are starting to fade away. Some of them are even peeling off.
Posters of fights long passed and fighters long retired, the canvassed walls are a reminder of everything and everyone that has come before.
Forty-eight-year-old Evander Holyfield surveys the four walls as he trains for his upcoming 56th professional fight.
“A lot of history,” someone says as Holyfield scans the walls. The former cruiserweight and heavyweight champion gently shakes his head in acknowledgement. A lot of that history involved Holyfield himself as the posters show him raising his hands in triumph while others show his head slumped down in defeat.
But then the bell rings, ending the brief period of reflection while signifying the resumption of another round of shadowboxing for the ex-champ.
Holyfield (43-10-2, 28 KO’s) is in New York this week to train for his fight on Saturday night against Sherman Williams (34-11-2, 18 KO’s). A win there and another win against Brian Nielsen in March, Holyfield hopes, will move him back into title contention.
It’s a goal that seems far-fetched and very nearly impossible to most observers. But not, unsurprisingly, to the legendary fighter.
“I feel good,” he says to a small group of media on hand at the gym. “I’m still looking forward to being the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.”
“I took care of myself,” he explains. “The purpose of taking care of yourself is to be able to extend your career as long as you want to. Work hard and it’s just like when you go get an education. You can extend your life. When you get a good education you choose to live where you choose to live.”
Now, with two fights scheduled in the first three months of the year, Holyfield hopes a renewed rate of activity will help in his attempt to win back his old belts. “It’s very important because the fact is that you don’t get no better when you’re not performing,” he says. “You can take time to wait. You get the opportunity but you can’t make the best of your opportunity because you didn’t do anything in the process - you just waited. So I understand if I take on some fights and keep my skills sharp I’ll do better.”
“He’s been looking great,” says veteran trainer Tommy Brooks. Brooks, who trained Holyfield for a portion of his earlier career, has now returned to the corner for the final act. But he says there’s not a whole lot for him to do.
“It’s not like he don’t know how to fight,” Brooks says. “It’s just timing. Like I said, he already knows how to fight. It’s just a matter of getting a strategy together and both of us getting on the same page. I’ve just got to lock in on certain things… different opponents. What’s available to hit, what the other guys capabilities are and we formulate a plan from there.”
Holyfield has only trained for this fight for three weeks, a much shorter time frame than usual for training camp but one that doesn’t seem to overly concern trainer or fighter. After the Williams fight, Holyfield will then return home for two weeks before heading right back into training for his March 11th assignment against Nielsen.
It’s an unusually quick pace for most contemporary boxers, let alone one nearing 50-years-old. But it’s a pace both trainer and pupil are content with.
“That’s up to him,” Brooks says when asked how much longer Holyfield can fight. “That’s my man. He’s like a little brother to me. He loves himself more than anybody. He knows when to say when. Until the doctor says he can’t do it or until he says ‘that’s it for me,’ I’m with him.”
“He’s in better shape than most 28-year olds. Just look at him.”
Holyfield physically does look fine. His muscles are tone, his body thin and in shape. The only noticeable scar is the missing piece of ear Mike Tyson chewed off 14 years ago.
In fact, Holyfield looks much like the same guy whose face is on all the posters covering all the walls. But many of those photos are getting older, the taped up articles yellowing at the fringes.
The photos on the walls surrounding the ring seemingly tell the whole story. But Holyfield continues to fight on, adamant that the ending hasn’t been written yet.