Thursday, October 11, 2007

Old Evander Holyfield Vs. Someone Or The Other

There's something in me that is reluctant even to spend more than a paragraph on Saturday's pay-per-view fight between Evander Holyfield and Sultan Ibragimov. It's not an event that's terribly flattering to the state of boxing, which is otherwise on a serious hot streak. But the historic import -- which I'll get to in a second -- compels me. In the meantime, if you're just visiting Seven Punch Combo for the first time, please check out this post, this post and this post before you write off a sport that will allow a fossil to fight an anonymous foreigner for a title that both have mysteriously "earned" a shot at.

In one corner Saturday we have Ibragimov, another Russian heavyweight champ no one's ever heard of and who barely deserves his title belt. He got it in June by picking apart an asthmatic, Shannon Briggs, who won his belt the year before in one of the worst heavyweight fights you'll ever see, at least until Briggs knocked the previous champ through the ropes with only seconds remaining in the final round. And Ibragimov got his title chance by fighting to a draw with Ray Austin, who went on in his next bout to get KO'd in the second round against one of the few legitimately good heavyweight belt-holders around these days, Vladimir Klitschko. Why a draw gets anyone a title shot -- let alone both draw-ers getting title shots -- is beyond me. What little I've seen of Ibragimov, I've seen on the Internet. He's got decent hand speed and decent footwork and decent power. He's got a decent chin, but he was down against Austin. From what I've seen, he's a decent big man, I guess, but in another era of heavyweights, I'd forecast him as a not too troublesome, but moderately credible, stay busy opponent for another champion.

In the other corner we have the 44-year-old Evander Holyfield. Make no mistake: Holyfield is one of the greatest heavyweights ever. Even when he was winning in what was perceived as the lackluster 90s, he was winning against real serious heavyweights. When he began losing to them, he still earned my respect, because he clearly gave his all even as he was in the twilight of his career. When he began losing to people who weren't very good, I wanted him to quit. When he began losing to people who weren't very good and looking bad while doing it, I was grateful to see his boxing license stripped by the state of New York because I didn't want to see him die in the ring. Since then, he's looked revitalized beating people who aren't very good. Optical illusion, maybe. But a decent enough one for me to say to myself, "Hell, why not give him one more chance?" From the looks of his recent fights, his hand speed is back, a little, his power -- always on the light side for a heavyweight, given that's he's undersized -- has come back in spurts, he appears to have recovered the ability to defend himself somewhat and he's throwing good combinations again. No one seems to much doubt that Holyfield has performed better of late than he did prior to his license-stripping run. But is he good enough at his advanced age to defeat a decent heavyweight? And why does beating the people he beat get him another title chance?

If he does win, this will be a big story. Sure, most everyone is pissing all over this fight, given the shoddy state of heavyweight boxing. It remains to be seen if the big story of Holyfield's win would be a mostly good one -- a la George Foreman winning a title at age 45 -- or another black eye for the sport. Holyfield is under investigation for buying steroids (Really? They were for "Evan Fields?" And this Fields chap has the same birthday as Holyfield? And they were delivered to what looked like Holyfield's address?), so that could be a knock on the virtuosity that helped making him popular, thereby morphing the story from positive to negative. On the other hand, Holyfield would become a five-time world heavyweight champion. That's remarkable. For that reason, it can't be totally ignored. But if I was king of the universe, people would be talking more about the Juan Diaz-Julio Diaz shootout happening Saturday, not this.

MY PREDICTION: I don't know if it's sentiment primarily driving this, but I'm picking Holyfield by decision. At the conscious level, I've got some good reasons. He's way more experienced than Ibragimov, who's had just about 20 pro fights. Ibragimov seems eminently hittable, and, once hit, slightly hurtable. Austin's no world-beater, and he had Ibragimov on the deck. But Holyfield isn't a big puncher, either, so I see Ibragimov ending the fight on his feet, but narrowly out-pointed. I'm not totally crazy to make this prediction, even though Holyfield is a severe betting underdog -- veteran scribe Kevin Iole made the same call.
CONFIDENCE: 55%. Ibragimov is younger, fresher and the fight's in his home country. Biased judging is a real risk. Maybe, though, the crowd turns on Ibragimov the way they did Ivan Drago, and the judges are swayed. Either way. Can you tell I'm phoning this one in?
MY ALLEGIANCE: Not unlike Arturo Gatti's last fight, I'm torn. I've always liked Holyfield. I spent a lot of time saying so when this fight was announced. But unlike Gatti, I'm not convinced Holyfield will retire if he's beaten, so I don't even have a rooting interest in seeing Holyfield lose without suffering, a kind of mercy loss. He wants to unify the titles, nearly impossible in the fragmented heavyweight division. Some of them, such as Vladimir Klitschko, would probably pose serious threats to Holyfield's life. This ends badly, folks, whether it's this weekend or down the line. Until then, I guess I'll go with the Holyfield I know over the Ibragimov I don't.

At least the commercials for Holyfield-Ibragimov are cute.


Dammrod said...

The hula-hooping was a nice touch.

Watch for the robot.

Tim -- said...

Love the robot. Love the hula-hooping. But I wish I understood why Evander wasn't training and Sultan was. By that I mean: I don't get the joke.

BOB said...

I am hoping for a recreation of Rocky IV. Apollo vs. Drago.

Yes I went there...I hate Holyfield!!!!

Tim -- said...

Bob, you are a bad person. Officially.

Why such hate?

Dammrod said...

tim: I think it's funny how they depict the somewhat pudgy Ibragimov as a training freak while the chiseled and always fit Holyfield is depicted as lackadaisacal and childish. I don't know. Maybe they're setting Holyfield up for defeat?

bob: When Evander wins, he will capture your heart and inspire your dreams. Then you shall admire him.

Holyfield came in at 211 lbs. for this fight. That's the lightest he has been since 1996. Ibragimov came in at 219, which is slightly lighter then his last fight.