LAS VEGAS -- Evander Holyfield attracted some 8,000 witnesses Thursday night to his "Holy Warrior" religious crusade at a minor-league ballpark that rocked with gospel singing and prayers.
Saturday night, Holyfield rocked the Thomas & Mack Center, dropping Michael Moorer five times on the way to an eighth-round knockout that unified the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation heavyweight titles.
"I've won two belts now, one for Jesus and one for the Holy Spirit," said Holyfield, who hopes to complete the unification of the heavyweight crown when he fights World Boxing Council champion Lennox Lewis of England next spring.
Before Saturday night's electrifying rematch, some wondered whether Holyfield had devoted too much energy to spreading the Lord's word instead of intensifying his training to avenge the loss of his title to Moorer in April 1994.
But his attorney-manager, Jim Thomas, said Holyfield's crusade outside the ring only intensifies his fighting spirit within the ropes.
"That all goes hand in hand with Evander," Thomas said. "He could spend the final days before a fight sitting around watching TV, or he can use his energy by drawing strength from the things he likes to do."
Holyfield was certainly an inspiring ring presence on Saturday, in stark contrast to the lethargic-looking fighter in whom doctors detected a failing heart after his first encounter with Moorer.
"I felt real comfortable this time," Holyfield said. "My left shoulder wasn't hurting me like the last time we fought."
After trying to solve Moorer's left-handed style in the first two rounds, Holyfield took command, flooring his rival in the fifth, twice in the seventh and twice more in the eighth before ring physician Flip Homansky advised referee Mitch Halpern to stop the bout.
"I had trouble early trying to match his jab. It felt like being hit by a pogo stick," Holyfield said. "But when that strategy didn't work, I had to find other things to do, and got a chance to do a little bit of everything."
Holyfield proved his adaptability, using bristling combinations, right hooks and jarring uppercuts to send Moorer flying to the canvas, only to see him keep getting up.
Moorer probably gained more respect from fight fans in defeat than in any of his 39 victories.
"I didn't want the doctor to stop it," Moorer said. "If I wanted to stay down, I would have stayed down. But I had my senses all the time."
Holyfield, who suffered a cut to his left eye in the third round, said he was too intent on trying for an early knockout, but was advised by co-trainers Donald Turner and Ronnie Shields to show patience.
"They were telling me not to try so hard," he said. "You can't be in a desperate position to knock someone out. When he kept getting up, I decided to take it round by round.
"Each round counts for itself. I figured he'd punch himself out and I'd get him in the end."
Before Homansky intervened, Holyfield was comfortably ahead on the judges' scorecards. Jerry Roth and Stanley Christodoulou both had him leading 78-69, and Glen Hamada voted 78-70. All three officials gave Holyfield a 10-7 margin in the last two rounds, in which he recorded four knockdowns.
Perhaps the only one in the boisterous crowd of 13,200 who was not impressed was Lewis, who watched from a seat in the press section.
"It was a mediocre fight," Lewis said. "I don't think he's ready to fight me. I'll knock him out in three rounds."
Later, Lewis softened his words.
"Evander is a good boxer and puncher," he said. "He's always in great shape, and his belief in God has only made him stronger. He is definitely someone worth competing against."
A clash with Lewis is the only fight Holyfield apparently wants, and rival promoters Don King (Holyfield) and Dan Duva (Lewis), plus Lewis' financial backer, Panos Eliades, have already begun negotiations.
"That [unification] is the only thing driving me now in boxing," Holyfield said. "People thought I should retire after twice beating [Mike] Tyson, who was considered the best heavyweight at the time. I've fought all the top fighters in my division. Only Lewis is left. I don't have a reason to fight anyone else."
There was some concern that the WBA would intervene by making Holyfield next fight the winner of a Dec. 13 elimination bout between Orlin Norris and Henry Akinwande, who was disqualified for failing to make an effort against Lewis earlier this year.
But Duva and King seemed confident that a Lewis-Holyfield match could be arranged in 1998 before a mandatory fight was demanded.
"Mandatories are not an issue," Duva said. "We have enough time for a final unification bout. If the economics are right, a deal can be done. King may have an agenda. But unlike Tyson, Evander is his own man, and he'll tell King what he wants to do."
Eliades said Lewis would settle for the short end of a 60-40 purse split, if necessary.
"If we can sort it out with Mr. King, it will have to be done in the next three weeks. Otherwise, we'll head in a different direction," Eliades said, suggesting a possible match against former champion Buster Douglas.
But the money to be made from a Holyfield match will be too tempting to avoid. And if it happens, Holyfield said, he can't lose as long as the spirit moves him.
"I'm the man I am because I've overcome," he said. "I'm a winner. I work hard and pray hard."
And, as Moorer might attest, punches hard, too.
Pub Date: 11/10/97