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Over the course of the fight, he had lost 15 pounds. His lungs burned, his hands looked like balloons and he felt as though he had been in a dozen auto accidents. He wondered if it was worth it, if he ever wanted to fight again, but then people began telling him, "You're the man, Holyfield!" and all his questions were erased.
It only made sense to him at that point to beef up and become a heavyweight and try to be the true king of the hill. He was 4-0 as a heavyweight when he got his chance against Buster Douglas, the man who busted up Mike Tyson.
"Cakewalks! Cakewalks!" Douglas said of Holyfield's record at the prefight press conference. "He didn't fight anybody!"
"It'll be a cakewalk when I beat you," said Holyfield, and he knocked him out in the third round.
Holyfield suddenly found himself embraced in public by unknown women. He would pose for photos with them, and they would nudge his wife out of the picture. In 1991, she divorced him. Holyfield doesn't consider it a heroic part of his life, and he won't talk about it.
He held the heavyweight title for two years, then lost it in a collision with a giant named Riddick Bowe. A year later, in 1993, before stepping into the ring with Bowe again, Holyfield said to the Lord, "Thy will be done." And each of the many times that he struck Bowe, the boxer called out "It is done! It is done!"
And it was done. Bloody and bruised, he was champion again. And five months later, it was undone, and bloody and bruised, he was just a man.
After that bout with Michael Moorer, Holyfield was diagnosed with a heart defect. His doctors recommended he retire from the ring, and so finally he announced it. Then he got a second opinion and then a third and a fourth. He was "slain in spirit" by a faith healer, and then again he was back.
"It wasn't the money .... It wasn't the fame," his book tells us. "This time, it would be about demonstrating the power of faith and showing people how God could help them overcome their own trials."
Whatever. It would also allow him his shot at Mike Tyson. They had met before, at the 1983 national Golden Gloves tournament. According to Humble Warrior, after Holyfield was declared the light heavyweight champion, and Tyson, the heavyweight winner, Holyfield turned to him and said:
"You want to fight?"
"I like you," said Iron Mike. "I'll box you with just one hand."
"You better use both, boy," said Holyfield, "or I'll whip you."
They got into the ring and began trying to knock each other out. Holyfield likes to believe he won, but the fight only lasted a single round. One of the coaches stepped in and told them to stop, that someone was going to get hurt.
Since returning from prison a year and a half ago, Tyson has fought four times, for a total of eight rounds in the ring and more than $80 million in his pocket.
"Everyone comes in with a plan, but it all goes out the window as soon as they get hit," he said in August. "That's when the intimidation takes over."
"There is no intimidation," said Bruce Seldon, his opponent at the time. "There is no intimidation. There is no intimidation."
Seldon lasted all of 109 seconds. No one saw the impact that knocked him down, not even in the replay. There was speculation that he was hit with "a Wild Kingdom animal dart," but the consensus is that Seldon took a dive.
Evander Holyfield will not do that, never has and never will. This is his challenge to Mike Tyson and the reason people worry for his health. Tyson's people promise, "It's going to be a little messy."
Holyfield said, "What people have to realize is this: I don't take no risks at all 'cause I believe in Jesus. I'm protected by the blood of the lamb."
The plan was to box with Iron Mike, not to brawl, to hit him with jabs while circling away from his power, that terrible left hook. When Tyson comes charging, Holyfield must hold his ground, since a man is virtually defenseless when he's backing up. At all other times, Holyfield must dance. He must do the dance of his life.
Holyfield is a proud man, and he has a tendency to meet each fighter on that fighter's terms. The plan for Tyson was the plan he abandoned against Qawi and Bowe, and the plan that Ali gave up some 20 years ago against George Foreman.
Foreman had never needed more than three rounds to do his work. If Tyson carries a hammer, Foreman, the old-timers say, packed a sledge. Ali intended to run until Foreman got tired, but then he saw that Foreman was maneuvering the angles, taking one step for every six of his. At that point, he did what seemed like suicide to everyone else. He leaned against the ropes and let George wear himself out whaling away. By the eighth round, Big George was exhausted, and Muhammad Ali rose to knock him out.