Four days after losing the heavyweight boxing title for a second time, Evander Holyfield announced his retirement Tuesday, failed by the one part of his body no one had ever questioned--his heart.
Saying it was a miracle that Holyfield, 31, could continue fighting through his 12-round loss to Michael Moorer last Friday, Holyfield’s personal physician, Ronald Stephens, said post-fight examinations in Las Vegas and Atlanta showed Holyfield is suffering from a congenital heart problem.
Described as a non-compliant left ventricle, what doctors call a “stiff heart,” Holyfield’s heart is unable to expand properly during extreme exertion, causing severe exhaustion.
“Mr. Holyfield fought this fight in heart failure,” said Stephens, who added that he did not believe Holyfield’s life had been in jeopardy during the bout and said his condition is under control. “I don’t know anybody else in the world who could have possibly done this.”
Holyfield entered a Las Vegas hospital immediately after losing to Moorer to be treated for a shoulder injury and dehydration. As the doctors treated the dehydration, they realized his heart was having trouble handling fluids.
Holyfield later was flown to Atlanta’s Crawford Long Hospital, where Stephens consulted with cardiologists, who diagnosed the problem late Monday night. Stephens advised Holyfield to retire immediately and Holyfield complied.
Holyfield, who said that before learning the diagnosis, he had been hoping for a rematch with Moorer, said the condition explains the fatigue he had experienced for approximately a year.
Although last week he had publicly declared a desire to fight until 1996--when, he figured, Mike Tyson would be out of prison and back in the ring and they could have the fight they missed when Tyson was convicted of rape--Holyfield (30-2) said Tuesday he never wavered about retiring once his condition was explained to him.
“I kind of had a feeling that I would get a rematch with (Moorer) and beat him,” Holyfield said at a news conference at the Atlanta Hospital.
“But once I was told it wouldn’t be good health-wise, I realized that I had to let that go. I was always praying about when should I step down, anyway. . . . I often asked myself what I was fighting for, and it was the thrills. It was something I loved doing.
“I love life a little bit more than just going out into the ring just swinging.”
Doctors said Holyfield had shown only one previous indication of a problem. In 1991, in routine examinations before he beat George Foreman, Holyfield had an abnormal result on an electrocardiogram. But follow-up tests, including a heart catheterization, revealed no heart problems.
“I had noticed since the Foreman fight that (Holyfield) was a little slower and doing a little less punching,” said his manager, Shelly Finkel. “Each fight after that seemed even slower (with) even less punches. Now there’s a reasonable explanation for it.”
Stephens emphasized the heart problem was not caused by Friday night’s fight and Holyfield should lead a normal life away from boxing.
“It’s almost a blessing in disguise,” said Dan Duva, Holyfield’s promoter.
Duva says Holyfield retires having earned $102 million in purses and with the knowledge that he brought dignity and pride to the sport.
“He showed you don’t have to be a bad guy, you don’t have to be a loudmouth, you don’t have to be a braggart,” Duva said. “You could be a decent, hard-working human being and still succeed.”
Duva said he hopes Holyfield, one of the fiercest competitors in sports, doesn’t leave boxing feeling unfulfilled because he did not fight Tyson.
“He’s accomplished everything he ever set out to accomplish and more,” Duva said. “Everybody said he couldn’t beat the big men, then he beat George Foreman and Larry Holmes. Then they said, well, he can’t beat a young, big, strong fighter, and he beat Riddick Bowe.
“He fought everybody in his era. The only one he didn’t fight was Mike Tyson and that wasn’t his fault. He’s accomplished more than anybody ever dreamed of.”
Moorer, who took the World Boxing Assn. and International Boxing Federation titles that Holyfield had won from Bowe last November, expressed concern for Holyfield.
“I feel for him,” Moorer said. “I’m glad nothing serious happened to him.”
Holyfield--the former light-heavyweight champion who first won the heavyweight title when he knocked out Buster Douglas in 1990, lost it to Bowe in 1992, then regained it in a rematch with Bowe in 1993--said he can leave boxing comfortably and without rancor.
“I have proven to everybody that I was a champion, so I don’t feel that I really owe anything else in boxing any more,” he said. “I hope I’ve touched a lot of people’s hearts and souls. Now I just see myself leaving boxing. I hope that I left boxing in the right spirit, that everybody will have something to be happy about.”