There is no sport odder than boxing. From its very top to very bottom and everywhere in-between, you will always find pockets of strangeness in boxing. It’s the one sport I know where every week I can say “There’s something I’ve never seen before.” Though the renegade Bob Arum, fresh from his exodus from HBO and his Top Rank outfit had a gaggle of young talent getting down on Fox Sports in Las Vegas, the place to be for true rubberneckers was The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, in West Virginia. Not to be confused with Vegas, where young talent was plentiful, this card was headlined by Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield vs. Sherman “The Tank” Williams. The records barely matter because you and I both know it’s not the 1990’s and Evander is not pushing 40, he’s pushing 50.
The black-tie-only card, called by Al Bernstein and Benny Ricardo, featured a spirited split decision win for Michigan middleweight Willie Fortune, 10-0 (5) and Donatas Bondoravas, 11-2-1 (3), a majority draw between Monte Barrett and Carl Davis, and seven-fight losing streaker Julius Long getting hammered on by Kevin Johnson to lose a unanimous decision. The flavor of the night was a Ray Charles imitator complete with a backup band, featuring Clarence “Big Man” Clemons from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Various versions of this band would bust out songs like “Georgia” “I Got a Woman” and a version of “Born to Run” sang by what appeared to be the WASP Billy Joel that nearly brought my house down. I got the feeling that this actually might be what a 50-year-old thinks is awesome. In a way, it really kind of was.
Throughout the evening, just to give that extra farewell tour feel, Larry Holmes, Lennox Lewis, and Jameel McCline came by to express how much they admired Evander for fighting on, which, in and of itself, is sad. The truth of the matter would be evident soon enough.
Holyfield and Williams put on a spirited first round. Holyfield looked good on his feet, bouncing back and forth, looking to get his rhythm on. Williams found his bearings quick and seemed very comfortable in there; he clearly had a plan to work the jab, find a place for the looping right hand and get to the body. Holyfield tried getting his left hook going but winged it a few times past Williams’ head or smothered it by unleashing it too late as Williams crowded him for a clinch. It was a tight first round that I’d arguably give to Williams.
Round two saw more action. This time, Williams seemed to get the right hand home and was more effective in his attack, moving forward and jab-right handing with not a terrible amount of accuracy but certainly more than Holyfield was doing. An accidental clash of heads opened a cut on Holyfield’s left eye, which would become key. Toward the end of the round, Williams let go a barrage and seemed to do better after the headbutt.
In the third, Williams pressed the attack and got in the best shots of the night, going hard to the body and reaping benefits with the right hand upstairs. Holyfield backed off to the ropes and weathered it but the cut, maybe the butt, or perhaps Williams simply had Holyfield less than confident as they left the third round- which was clearly Williams’.
“I can’t see,” said Holyfield in the corner after the third. He was insistent on this point and from there, the fight was waved off. It was very clear that Holyfield and his corner knew that since it was an accidental butt and the fight had only gone three rounds, that stopping there would not result in a loss. They were right as the fight, one in which the underdog Williams was winning on my card and who had full momentum, was instead ruled a no-contest.
“I’m very disappointed,” said Holyfield afterward. “[Williams] fought the way he should have. He understood he would have his head low when he threw the overhand right. If I didn’t move back, we’d clash heads. It was to his advantage to get lower because he’s short. Being that short, he had to fight that fight. He didn’t have to; he chose to.”
Holyfield gave no indication he would retire. He has a fight scheduled March 5 against Brian Nielsen in Denmark. The cut may push that back but for now, it appears the plan is for Holyfield to fight on.
“Stuff like this happens and I’ll shake it off,” said Holyfield. “Hopefully, I’ll get this stitched up and it won’t be a problem. Life goes on; it’s part of boxing.”
Williams was equal parts respectful of Holyfield but also felt that the ruling was unjustified.
“I’ve had my own personal setbacks,” said Williams, who was returning following a year away from the sport due to a back injury. “To get over what I did was a miracle. I trained hard for this fight. I was fighting a legend and I can’t take anything away from him. I feel like I should have won by TKO. I cut him with an overhand right but I respect him.”
Williams expressed a desire for Holyfield to be safe and stop fighting…that is unless he wants a rematch.
“I root for him,” said Williams. “He’s almost 50 and still training and performing. I admire what he’s done but it’s time to let younger guys fight and older guys do television commentary. He’s not as good looking as I am. You’ve made sacrifices, won four world championships and fought in the Olympics but this is a new time, a new era. Mr. Holyfield shouldn’t be taking punches from younger guys. That’s how I feel. It’s time for him to move on but, if he wants, we can do it again.”