By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Otherwise known as the House of Pain, the Main Street Gym is a sheet-metal warehouse on the edge of downtown. In the parking lot there, Team Holyfield usually gathered before dawn. Eventually, someone would throw gravel against the walls, and a groggy old boxer would turn on the lights and open the doors. Inside, they waited for the boss, and when he walked in, his assistant trainer, Tommy Brooks, would stand up and roll out his voice like a heavy carpet:
"Aaand the new ... WBA ... heavyweight champion of the world -- Evaaander Hooolyfield!"
Three weeks before the fight, Holyfield arrived to this greeting, smiled, took off his shirt and sat down by the ring. His personal assistant put the music in the boom box (Everybody put your hands together, and let's praise the Lord ...), and Brooks began taping Holyfield's hands and padding his knuckles as a woman massaged each of Holyfield's muscles. Tended like an expensive animal, the boxer chattered about the Atlanta Braves. He used to sell Cokes in the stadium back when the Braves were giving their tickets away, he said; now he endorsed Coke, and the Braves had just blown out the Yankees in the first game of the World Series. Holyfield was especially excited about a 19-year-old rookie who hit a home run.
"Ain't nothing more dangerous," he said, "than a man with nothing to lose."
He looked to be in dangerous shape. He was 220 solid pounds, about ten pounds heavier than he usually fights, and Tim Hallmark, his conditioning coach, said Holyfield was stronger than he had been in years. They built this body over time, and began preparing for this fight last May. They did their running in Memorial Park, often stepping off the trail to dance in circles as Holyfield would have to do in the ring. They lifted weights at World Gym on Richmond, doing squats in the stance of a boxer and one-arm presses with the twisting motion of a punch. Between these exercises, Holyfield consumed concoctions whose names sounded like engine fuel, like Metabolol Maximum and EXTEND Nutritional Supplement Performance Spray.
Staring at the fighter's body, standing by the door, there was usually a small cluster of men with undamaged faces who said such things as:
"I like a man who don't back down."
"Think of the guts it takes to step into the ring with the world's toughest man. And you don't have any teammates to back you up! It's kind of like golf, I guess."
If you've never been punched in the temple or poked in the solar plexus, you don't understand boxing, the boxers say. What does a gambler know, except how to make money? Do you really believe 25-1? "Man's got to be crippled, blind and in a wheelchair for those odds," said Don Turner, the head trainer. And don't forget that the only man who ever beat the professional Mike Tyson was a 42-1 long shot. And Holyfield knocked that man out in three rounds.
"This fight I think will be one of the greatest of the century," said Brooks. And he said that Holyfield said, "I'm going to blaze this guy."
His trainers had brought in the best Mike Tyson imitation they could find, an ugly, evil-looking ex-con who called himself Gary "Bring the Pain" Bell because that is what he said he did -- bring the pain. For weeks, they had launched this guy against Holyfield in 15-second assaults, but now the two men were simply going to spar a few rounds. In boxing circles, the word is that Holyfield likes to exercise, but he's not too big on boxing for free and doesn't really like to spar.
So this was simply a polite dance. At one point, Holyfield threw a lazy right and then a lazy left, and Bring the Pain ducked them both and probably could have laid the boss out right there, if it meant making money instead of losing it. Bring the Pain never really brought the pain but he didn't take much of it either. There had been no heavy blows and no bodies falling, and even a man with the straightest nose could tell this would never do against Mike Tyson.
"Oh, he'll be all right," said Brooks to Turner, but no one seemed convinced, no one except Holyfield.
He usually lingered afterward, slurping his chocolate Metabolol Maximum in his white robe, and telling anyone who would listen about Jesus. The truth was, Holyfield was fighting for our souls. That was why his training sessions were open to the public and why he invited reporters into his home.
Holyfield lives in Atlanta most of the year, but he comes to Houston to train with Hallmark, and five years ago bought a house near Memorial Park. The home is little more than an expensive place to sleep after sweating. He keeps a Jaguar and a Ferrari in the garage, but inside, the place is sparsely furnished, and the most striking feature is a television that covers a wall. Other walls are decorated with pictures of knockout punches. The study is completely barren, except for a bust of no particular black man, the gift of a gambler who won $2 million betting on the underdog.