Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Holyfield Takes In MMA, Talks Lennox Lewis

By Joe Favorito

Atlanta, GA – Evander Holyfield had heard enough about the rise of mixed martial arts. He’d seen it on TV, and he’d heard people say that it would bury boxing.

So when the International Fight League came to Atlanta, a city Holyfield had called home since childhood, the four-time heavyweight boxing champion decided to go and see for himself what MMA was all about.

"It’s great," Holyfield said from his ringside seat. "I’ve seen it on TV before, but this is my first live show. It’s very exciting. They’re definitely giving the fans what they want."

Holyfield came to prominence during what could be called the last golden age for boxing’s heavyweight division, which at the time featured stars like Mike Tyson and Riddick Bowe.

Many have tied the decline in boxing’s popularity with the decline of talent in the heavyweight division and the surge of interest in MMA, with organizations such as Pride and the UFC attracting the younger fans.

The IFL is one of the newer MMA promotions, using a team concept to pit five-fighter squads – coached by big-name former fighters like Ken Shamrock and Renzo Gracie – against one another. They’ve also made several rule changes, such as removing elbow strikes to the face, in hopes of producing a more palatable version of the sport.

So far MMA has proved to be big business, but it remains to be seen whether that will result in a serious trouble for boxing. Holyfield said he sees too many differences between boxing and MMA to effectively compare them.

"Boxing’s more of a skill sport," Holyfield said. "These guys have to know three or four different things just to be in there. That’s too much stuff for me to think about, but I think this is going to be here for a long time."

Holyfield even commented on failed attempts in the past to organize a cross-sport match between he and former Pancrase champion and current IFL coach Bas Rutten.

"I said I’d do it. I told him, just don’t kick me," Holyfield joked. "I feel like there’s not a man in the world I can’t take as long as they don’t put their feet on me."

One man who Holyfield said he wouldn’t mind taking on for a third time is Lennox Lewis, who is said to be coming out of retirement soon.

"It’s possible," he said. "I’d love to."

Holyfield has been active as a boxer recently, with a match coming up in March. He said if all goes according to his plans, he will be heavyweight champion again before the end of the year.

Whether or not he’ll have to go through Lewis to become champ again remains to be seen. There was a time when Lewis was adamant that he would not come out of retirement, but maybe seeing how Holyfield has trudged on has changed his mind.

Asked if he would ever consider competing or coaching in mixed martial arts, Holyfield was content to remain as ambiguous as possible.

"I never say never," said the champ.

In fact, Holyfield might be a natural fit for an organization like the IFL, which is known for employing fighters in the twilight of their careers and giving them a new life either as fighters or coaches – sometimes both.

One benefit of MMA rules, Holyfield conceded, was the use of four-ounce gloves, which leave little room for an error against a big puncher.

"It’d be a lot easier to knock someone out, that’s for sure," he said.

So would he agree to take on a fellow boxer like Lewis wearing MMA’s four-ounce gloves?

To this Holyfield could only smile and shrug before saying simply, "I’d love to."

Say what you will, but that’s one way to fill the seats.


No comments: