Holyfield returning from 21-month layoff

Originally Published: June 28, 2006
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

The "Real Deal" is returning.

Former four-time heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, 43, is coming back from a 21-month layoff to face journeyman Jeremy Bates in a 10-round bout Aug. 19 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

Evander Holyfield
Holyfield

"I'm very excited about it," Holyfield told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "Being able to finish what I've started means a lot. I was sidetracked lately, but I am getting back on the path."

A news conference to announce the fight is scheduled for Thursday afternoon at the American Airlines Center, event organizer Lester Bedford said.

Holyfield (38-8-2, 25 KOs) has lost three in a row and is 2-5-1 in his last eight fights. He hasn't fought since dropping a lopsided unanimous decision to Larry Donald on Nov. 13, 2004, in New York.

After the Donald fight, Holyfield was indefinitely suspended by the New York commission for "poor performance," meaning he couldn't fight anywhere in the United States until the suspension was lifted.

However, Holyfield protested and, after passing a series of medical tests more than a year ago, New York boxing officials changed his suspension from a medical one to an administrative one, which allowed him to seek licenses elsewhere.

Last week, Holyfield was granted one in Texas.

"I still want to be the undisputed heavyweight champ of the world," Holyfield said, repeating the mantra he has preached for the past several years. "There is no reason to fight if that was not my goal. Everything I have ever done was with that goal in mind. If my goal wasn't to be the undisputed heavyweight champ of the world then there would be no reason to get back in it."

Holyfield will promote his own event under the banner of his newly created company, Real Deal Events, with Bedford serving as his point man.

Holyfield said he worked out his problems with promoter Don King and that they parted on amicable terms.

"We came to an agreement of what would be best," Holyfield said. "We worked it out and I am free from Don. There are no bad feelings."

Bates (21-11-1, 18 KOs), 32, of Ashland, Ky., is a scrappy fighter who has faced several notable opponents, all of whom he has lost to. Among them: Kirk Johnson (KO2), Brian Minto (TKO8) and Ray Austin (TKO2), who beat him in his last bout on April 1.

"He'll come in there and fight. The guy is not going to lay down," Bedford said of Bates. "Evander has to find out where he is at. We'll take it one fight at a time. If everything goes well in this one, we will take the next step."

Holyfield has been working out on and off for about a year at trainer Ronnie Shield's Houston gym waiting for the opportunity to fight. Holyfield said the time off allowed his chronically injured shoulders to heal. He attributed his poor performance in recent fights to the shoulder problems.

"It was a hindrance and now it is healed," Holyfield said. "The time off did me good. My whole thing was that when I was going through the problems I didn't think it was that bad. But I realized I was trying to make adjustments so I could be comfortable with my shoulders, and it was changing the way I did things. I was compromising myself because of my shoulder."

Shields, who used to work as one of Holyfield's assistant trainers for several years and reunited with him as head trainer for the Donald fight, said Holyfield is as ready as he can be to fight.

"He's ready to go. In the gym, every day, he's like, 'Man, we got to get a fight,'" Shields said. "And the good thing about this is that he is [promoting] it himself. He is not depending on anyone else to do it for him."

Bedford has wanted to bring a major fight to Dallas for years. He said with tickets priced modestly from $35 to $200 and the arena set for 11,000, he thinks Holyfield can be a big draw.

Holyfield agreed: "I have fans everywhere and the people of Dallas have a chance to see the only four-time heavyweight champ of the world."

Bedford said he was working on TV coverage but that "it is not an important element to us right now."

Bedford, who has worked on boxing events throughout Texas for years, admitted he was skeptical about working with Holyfield at first.

"I have known Evander for many years and I am close to Ronnie, and they called me to come down to Houston to meet with them," Bedford said. "I wanted to see Evander for myself because you always have concerns. I wanted to talk to him and make sure everything is OK. The main thing was I wanted to find out if he really wanted to fight. I wanted to make sure he wasn't going to just go through the motions.

"There is no way he will be as good as he used to be or that he expects to be as good, but he will tell you, and Ronnie swears up and down, that Evander shouldn't have taken the four or five fights because had a bad shoulder. He wasn't healthy, so the long layoff was the best thing for him. The shoulder is well now," he said.

Shields said he will be looking for Holyfield to do certain things in the fight, otherwise he might not be able to support Holyfield continuing his career.

"I need to see him throw combinations and I need to see him knock this guy out," Shields said. "This guy, Bates, isn't a world beater, but he's a good puncher and he will push Evander. He doesn't need a guy he can hit with one punch and knock out because that is a waste of everyone's time. We need someone with a credible record who will not get hit with one shot and go down."

Shields admitted that Bates is the sort of opponent who probably wouldn't last more than a couple rounds with a prime Holyfield.

"Without a doubt that is true," Shields said. "We're not talking about the old days. We have to live in reality. This is not the old days and he knows that. This is not the Evander of the early '90s. We are looking at the Evander of 2006, but he is not afraid of his age. He takes care of himself.

"We have one goal, and that is to win the heavyweight championship of the world. We have to start somewhere. This is the start," he said.

Holyfield said if he is satisfied with his performance, he wants to fight again in September.

"I want to fight every month so I can get to where people are saying, 'Hey, you need to fight tougher guys.' Then I will say, 'OK,' and move up to another level," he said. "I've been training and preparing. I am ready. It's been a long journey."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com