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BOXING / CHRIS DUFRESNE : Holyfield Cleared to Fight Again, but Why Take the Risk?

For Evander Holyfield, it was a one-two medical knockout. On Nov. 23, the Mayo Clinic cleared his return to the ring.

Then, last week, a five-member panel of doctors from the Nevada State Athletic Commission recommended unanimously that Holyfield’s medical suspension be lifted.

The rest is paperwork. The full Nevada commission will soon formally lift the suspension, and Holyfield, 32, will again be allowed to slip through the ropes.

So why this queasy feeling?

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Last April, Holyfield lost his heavyweight title to Michael Moorer in Las Vegas. Afterward, Holyfield was found to have a minor heart ailment and announced his retirement.

That should have been the end of it. Of course, it wasn’t.

Holyfield had a change of heart, so to speak, and has spent the latter part of the year trying to win back medical clearance.

That obstacle apparently cleared, the boxing world is left to wonder:

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Why would a two-time heavyweight champion with seemingly nothing to gain step back into this dangerous arena?

Wasn’t it a team of doctors that once cleared Hank Gathers, the late Loyola Marymount basketball star?

Why would Holyfield, presumably possessing all his faculties--a fighter who would have left the ring an exalted warrior--take such a chance?

Money?

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Hardly. Holyfield earned more than $100 million in purses during his reign and is said to have saved much of it.

So what is it?

“He’s very obsessed with being only be second man in history to win the (heavyweight) title three times,” says Shelly Finkel, Holyfield’s former manager.

Finkel is a former manager because, despite Mayo assurances, he does not believe Holyfield should fight again.

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This conflict was easily resolved. Holyfield fired Finkel. Actually sent him a “Dear Shelly” letter.

“I do not want him to fight. I’ve been pretty vocal about that,” Finkel said recently. “As a result of that, when he got clearance at Mayo, he interpreted that as I didn’t want to be with him.”

Finkel thinks Holyfield is playing chicken with the odds.

“In boxing, you get hurt,” Finkel said. “There is not a fighter that does not get hurt. When you get hurt, your brain gets rattled. I love the sport, but there is damage done. In football you get hurt, but in boxing it’s worse. When you’ve made the kind of money Evander has made, well. . . . He’s not a big, big puncher, and most of his fights go the distance. I’ve been to the hospital with him the last couple of fights. He’s very wealthy, intelligent. He has not squandered his money. What does he need it for, except for ego?”

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Often, ego is everything.

It was not up to the Nevada commission’s medical board to decide why Holyfield wants to fight again, only whether he was physically able.

Tuesday, a five-man panel of doctors grilled Holyfield for more than two hours.

Marc Ratner, the commission’s executive director, said no stone was left unturned.

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“They did ask him about anabolic steroids, had he used them.” Ratner said. “He categorically denied everything. There have been some allegations.”

It was the commission, Ratner said, that recommended Holyfield undergo that battery of tests at Mayo.

What about Holyfield’s heart problem in the ring against Moorer?

“We really don’t have a full explanation of what happened that night,” Ratner said. “Something happened that night, but right now nothing shows.”

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Ratner said there is speculation that Holyfield might have ingested too much fluid, or perhaps had an adverse reaction to medication.

“If we give him his license, it’s up to him whether he wants to fight again,” Ratner said. “But it’s clear he wants to fight again. There is something about the glory, I guess.”

Finkel is more concerned about the gory.

“In other sports, your skills diminish and you look bad,” he said. “Here, your skills diminish and you get hurt.”

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In an amazing feat, even by his standards, Julio Cesar Chavez picked up victories in consecutive days in December. There was, of course, his 10th-round knockout of Tony Lopez on Dec. 10 in Monterrey, Mexico.

Almost as impressive, though, was a pre-fight declaration from the Chavez camp that the World Boxing Council junior-welterweight champion had not been credited for a victory earlier in his illustrious career and that his record actually was 92-1-1 before the Lopez fight.

Pay-per-view television announcers ran with the news, as did the wire services.

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So much for background checks.

As one boxing observer noted: “If (Philadelphia Phillie star) John Kruk walked into the clubhouse and said he hit 61 homers last season, someone might check it out. But not in boxing.”

In fact, Fight Fax, a boxing record-keeping company based in New Jersey, is not recognizing Chavez’s claim to an additional victory and lists his official record as 92-1-1, not 93-1-1.

“Until I see some proof of it, I can’t add it to the record,” said Phil Marder, president of Fight Fax. “If I see some proof, I’ll be glad to add it to the record.”

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In other words, just because Chavez says it, doesn’t make it true.

Added Dick Mastro, longtime local boxing statistician and editor of Official Boxing Record Incorporated:

“I’ve got to have confirmation of it. All they have to do is send me a newspaper article. I will not put anything into a record that I can’t confirm. I’d rather not list a fight that took place than to list a fight that didn’t take place.”

Chavez claims he twice fought and defeated Jose Benjamin Medina, both by sixth-round knockouts. Records indicate Chavez defeated Medina once, on March 29, 1982, in Tijuana.

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Marder says Chavez may have been confused about the Medina fight because at least one ring record book lists the fight taking place in 1981.

Or, maybe Chavez did beat Medina twice, knocking him out both times in the sixth round.

Boxing’s record keepers only say: Prove it.

The record is important in that Chavez has carefully orchestrated his farewell tour, which is supposed to conclude at the end of 1995 with a rematch against Frankie Randall in Chavez’s 100th bout.

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That historic bout is either five fights away or six, depending on whom you believe.

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Boxing Notes

Evander Holyfield’s first fight? Forget about that proposed March 25 bout against Mike Weaver in Beijing. A December press release from a West Coast public relations company announcing the fight was quickly refuted by Main Events’ Dan Duva, Holyfield’s promoter. A Main Events spokesman said this week the China fight was “very much dead.” Duva dreams of a March 31 card that would feature his three dethroned former heavyweight champions--Holyfield, Michael Moorer and Lennox Lewis. . . . At last, it appears the Oliver McCall-Larry Holmes fight, for McCall’s World Boxing Council heavyweight title, is set for April 8 at Caesars Palace.

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The Grand Olympic’s first show of 1995 is Friday, a card that will feature heavyweight Jeremy Williams of Long Beach against Everton Davis. . . . A fourth fight has been added to the Jan. 28 card at the MGM Grand Garden that features brothers Gabriel and Rafael Ruelas. Top Rank Inc. announced flyweight Alexander Sanchez will defend his World Boxing Organization title against Rafael Orozco. . . . International Boxing Federation super-middleweight champion Roy Jones Jr. reportedly is close to signing a multi-fight contract with HBO. Once the deal is done, Jones will decide on his next opponent.


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