Holyfield-Holmes debacle of debacles makes Tyson fiasco a mere black eye


SAN JOSE, Calif. -- It's nice to know that boxing has snapped back from the Mike Tyson episode, isn't it? Eager to put that deplorable debacle in the rear-view mirror, the sport will give us exactly what you would expect:

That's right. Another deplorable debacle.

Granted, this particular debacle won't be as nasty or as criminal as Tyson's debacle, the rape trial which -- with the latest round of bribery charges by his victim -- just keeps getting more and more disgusting. But this debacle will be awful, too, in a different way.

Yesterday, world champion Evander Holyfield's people made an announcement. They have agreed in principle with Larry Holmes' people to stage a heavyweight championship fight in June, at a Las Vegas casino.

Excuse me while I scream in the loudest voice possible: You've got to be kidding!

Because no matter what Holyfield's people and Holmes' people are saying, I have to believe that the rest of the world's people -- around 3 billion or so -- are in no hurry to see this fight. Could I see a show of hands? Thought so.

Holyfield is 29 and in his fighting prime, ready to be tested by the best heavyweights of this decade. But now, instead, he will be fighting a heavyweight from two decades ago. Holmes is 42. That doesn't make him a bad person. It just makes him a bad heavyweight contender.

In fact, we wouldn't even be talking about this absurd Holmes-Holyfield matchup if it weren't for the two other boxers who made it possible:

* George Foreman. At 44, he improbably has become the most popular boxer on the planet. He made a comeback that wound up with his going the distance in a loss to Holyfield last year, and making millions of bucks in the process. This gave Holmes the idea he could do the same thing, with a comeback of his own.

* Ray Mercer. A young heavyweight tough guy and a former Olympic champion, he was supposed to be one of Holyfield's future foes. But earlier this month, Holmes upset Mercer in an ugly 12-round decision.

If it had been Olympic figure skating, the German judge would have given it a minus-93 in both technical and artistic , while vomiting on his scorecard. But it was a victory for Holmes, and he has used it to line up his hoped-for major payday with Holyfield.

Thanks a bunch, George and Ray.

You already can see how the promoters will try to sell the Holmes-Holyfield event to us. Hey, Foreman was able to hit Holyfield and almost knocked him out, right? And Holmes is two years younger than Foreman! And if Holmes can beat Mercer, why can't Holmes beat Holyfield?

I'll tell you why not. Here is the problem: Holmes cannot knock out a light bulb these days. Unlike Foreman, who plods across the ring but has the potential to land a sledgehammer punch and do real damage, Holmes' fists are more like goose-down pillows. In his day, Holmes was a very good champion. He was close to being a great one. He had a jab that could paralyze an elephant at two paces, and a chin that could hold up a house on Telegraph Hill.

But that was long, long ago. In the last couple of years of his pre-comeback career, Holmes had trouble knocking out anyone. The last fighter of any note that he KO'd was Gerry Cooney -- and to be frank, you'd get an argument about Cooney's legitimacy, too.

Anyway, that Holmes-Cooney fight took place in June 1982, which is 10 years to the month of the scheduled Holmes-Holyfield match. In the intervening years, Holmes lost the title to Michael Spinks (no great puncher himself) and looked wretched in a previous comeback loss to Tyson.

So how, many years later, did Holmes manage to beat Mercer? Savvy. Mercer is a horrible defensive fighter with a flailing way of punching that makes him wide open for an opponent's jabs. Holmes kept jabbing, and while he couldn't knock out Mercer, scored just enough points to win.

So you can sense what's ahead of us in June. Holyfield has not shown great knockout skills himself. But he is smart, and has shown he can take Foreman's best punch. What we'll see, then, is Holmes lumbering around the ring, throwing jabs that will either miss Holyfield or won't hurt him. Holyfield will land the bulk of his punches at Holmes, who, if he's in shape will not go down either.

That will be it. Holyfield will win a pathetic decision. And you'll wonder why you spent $30 on pay-per-view to watch it. Especially when, this autumn or winter, Holyfield will finally fight the young guy he should have fought all along: Riddick Bowe.

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