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Tuesday, June 4
Holyfield's 'style' takes another fighter down

By Max Kellerman
Special to

Lennox Lewis complained about it. Mike Tyson turned to the referee and asked for his help with it. When none was forthcoming Tyson took matters into his own teeth. Now add Hassim Rahman to the growing list of former and reigning heavyweight who have taken the brunt of Evander Holyfield's brow.

In a fast-paced scrap between two former heavyweight kings, the great Holyfield once again turned back the clock by giving the kind of performance of which only a first-rate contender is capable. He outboxed, outworked and outfought an opponent who was about 10 years younger and 10 pounds larger. Evander landed clean, hard and often. He looked to be on his way to a decision, or even possibly a knockout win.

Not that the fight was one-sided -- it was not. Rahman fought hard and landed well and would have had at least a puncher's chance down the stretch. But there was no stretch. A clash of heads resulted in a grotesque swelling on the left side of Rahman's head.

It has been described as a baseball-sized lump, but it looked more like a melon-sized tumor. The frontal view was bad enough, but from behind the sight was nauseating. Rahman looked like Hammerhead from the first Star Wars film (I had the action figure). It was difficult to watch Hassim absorb punches directly on his injury over the round and a half that he fought with it.

Evander Holyfield is a dirty fighter. So is Bernard Hopkins. So is Felix Trinidad and Lennox Lewis and of course Mike Tyson. So was Larry Holmes and Julio Cesar Chavez and Pernell Whitaker and Roberto Duran and on and on. Many great fighters are dirty. There is a correlation between their competitiveness and their looking for and acting on any possible advantage.

However, there are fouls, and then there are flagrant fouls. Holyfield has often been accused by opponents of the latter. Does he lower his head and charge his adversaries like a billy goat? It is not that simple.

"The Real Deal" has been fighting on a professional world class level for more than 15 years, and I cannot recall even one instance where he was penalized a single point for any rules infraction in any fight. Holyfield does not so much jump in with his head as he does fight without the inclination to avoid his head making contact with his opponent's face.

The message seems to be "look, I'm coming in close, throwing shots, my head will be moving, if your face is there my head might hit it." It hit Rahman's face with a an unfortunate result.

So what does this all mean for Hassim, Holyfield and the heavyweight division? It means Rahman will demand a rematch and he deserves one. It means even if he does not get one, because of the inconclusive ending of this bout he remains a viable heavyweight force. It means Evander fights on, sure to test the character of any man who opposes him.

And this is one thing of which I am certain: Any man, no matter how young, big, fast, powerful or skilled, who awaits the opening bell, looks across the ring and sees Evander Holyfield standing in the opposite corner, will actually be awaiting a trial by fire. Win, lose or draw, Holyfield will put you through hell. There is no way around it.

But how long can this continue? Will there ever come a time where age catches up to Evander to the extent that he can no longer even hold his own? Is it possible to imagine him eventually just being blown away -- rolled over by someone on whom he is totally unable to leave an impression?

It is difficult to imagine that day ever coming, which is why it is all the more urgent that Holyfield stop fighting. It is his life and he is free to do with it as he chooses. And I have always maintained that when Evander Holyfield says that his goal is to win back the undisputed heavyweight title, we must take his chances very seriously.

But we should know what we are watching. We are witnessing the sacrifice of human flesh on the altar of greatness. The next generation will point to Holyfield as this one points to Muhammad Ali: as its greatest champion. But along with that distinction, Holyfield, like Ali will serve as an example. "Be careful," young fighters will be told. "You have to know when to walk away, or you'll end up like Holyfield."

Max Kellerman is a studio analyst for ESPN2's Friday Night Fights.

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