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Holyfield Gives Tillman a Tyson-Like Beating

Times Staff Writer

About 30 minutes after Evander Holyfield had dismantled one of his old roommates from the 1984 Olympic team, the inevitable question was shouted out at the post-fight news conference.

After all, Holyfield’s destruction-derby performance against Henry Tillman Saturday at Reno’s Bally Grand Hotel was the most impressive display of punching power anyone has seen lately--with the exception of every one of Mike Tyson’s fights, of course.

“Evander,” someone shouted, “what about Tyson, down the road?”

The response by Holyfield, trainer Lou Duva and physical conditioning consultant Tim Hallmark indicated Holyfield is at least a year away from moving up to the heavyweight division.

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He weighed 188 1/2 when he knocked down the 189-pound Tillman four times to easily retain his World Boxing Assn. junior heavyweight championship.

The fight was stopped at 1:43 of the seventh round, after Tillman went down for the third time in the round. Nevada’s three-knockdown rule was in effect.

The question now is, can Holyfield get any more fights in the division? As a junior heavyweight (or cruiserweight, as the World Boxing Council calls the 190-to-195-pound class), there does not appear to be any prime-time opponent.

Carlos DeLeon, the WBC champ? Yawn. Rickey Parkey, the International Boxing Federation champ? Yawn. A rematch with Dwight Qawi, from whom Holyfield won his title last year? Yawn.

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Nevertheless, bring ‘em on, Duva said, in the aftermath of Holyfield’s most impressive showing yet, and possibly the most impressive showing by any member of the Olympic class of ’84.

“Right now, we’re thinking in terms of Evander cleaning up the junior heavyweight (and cruiserweight) class before thinking about the heavyweights,” said Dan Duva, Lou’s son and the promoter of Saturday’s show. “If he does that, then maybe we can look at seven-figure fights with some heavyweights, like Michael Spinks. But that’s a while, maybe a year, down the road.”

On Saturday, Holyfield entered the ring with a “Jesus Loves You,” script emblazoned on the back of his robe, then proceeded to administer a savage beating to his old friend and teammate.

Short hooks, uppercuts and rights to the body--one by one they broke first Tillman’s heart, then his will.

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Tillman had dropped down in weight to earn $50,000 Saturday. Holyfield made $200,000 and should earn more than $1 million from ABC this year.

Tillman entered the interview room afterward with his head up, shook hands with the victor of the first meeting of ex-U.S. Olympic team teammates for a pro title since at least 1948, and then warmly embraced him. Still friends, it seemed.

Tillman would not use weight-loss as an excuse.

“I knew when I signed for the fight it was at 190,” he said. “I’m a pro. If I felt I couldn’t be effective at this weight, I never should have taken the fight. I’ve got no excuse. Today, I fought a better fighter. But I won’t fight at cruiserweight again--getting down to 190 for me is like getting blood out of a turnip. I’m going up to 215 or 220.”

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For any 190-pound boxer to contemplate picking a fight with the 218-pound Tyson seems ludicrous. And Holyfield says he won’t, if he doesn’t grow into a natural heavyweight. He weighed 188 1/2 Saturday, and he weighed 183 Wednesday.

“It all depends on how my natural growth goes over the next year,” he said. “If I can get up to 200 or 210 and feel effective at the weight, maybe. I’d never take a fight against any heavyweight just for the money. I’d have to feel I had a chance to win.”

Tillman, the ’84 Olympic heavyweight champion, suffered his second loss as a pro. He is 14-2. Holyfield is 14-0.

Many, including everyone in the Holyfield camp, expected Tillman to employ his effective left jab and to force Holyfield to chase him. But in Tillman’s only effective round, the first, he wasn’t running. In fact, he landed the more effective punches inside.

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But in the second, Holyfield applied some heat on his old pal and turned the fight around. He decked Tillman with a leaping left hook, followed by a right.

Tillman took a count on one knee and got up, but he never fully recovered.

He came out for the third on rubbery legs, and Holyfield, now moving into short range, began unloading with crackling, short shots to Tillman’s ribs and head.

Holyfield, the ’84 Olympic light-heavyweight bronze medalist, was now settling into a murderous rhythm. After the second round, he was a man fighting to a drumbeat only he could hear.

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Tillman landed an occasional looping right, or a jab, but the fight now belonged to the fighter many boxing students liken in style and appearance to a former heavyweight champion who weighed roughly the same, Ezzard Charles.

Midway through the fourth round, Holyfield threw 17 consecutive unanswered punches and about a dozen of them landed. Only Tillman’s staying power was in question now.

In the fifth, homework by Holyfield’s trainers came into play. They had seen in videotapes that Tillman had a tendency to put his hands on his opponent’s shoulders during clinches.

“Uppercut! Uppercut!” Lou Duva screamed from the Holyfield corner. Holyfield then began snapping Tillman’s head back with one short uppercut after another. Those punches turned a bad beating into a brutal one.

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Tillman came out of his daze briefly in the sixth to land his first left jabs since the first round; but the legs were unsteady, the head unclear.

Holyfield hit Tillman with a huge right uppercut early in the seventh, followed with a left hook and Tillman went down. He got up, stumbled to the other side of the ring, where Holyfield dropped him again. When he went down again in his own corner, referee Carlos Padilla waved Holyfield off.

It was a savage athletic event, and if you were looking closely for some sign of the friendship that bonds the two, there was only one. On the final knockdown, just before Tillman’s knee hit the canvas, Holyfield was loading up with one more straight right, but backed off, as Padilla stepped in to stop it.

“We’re still friends,” Holyfield said, “but I had something to prove today.”

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