Sunday, March 4, 2007


By Charles Farrell

I’m going to come right out and say it; I think Evander Holyfield is a liar. I think he’s been using steroids for fifteen years or longer. Ordinarily it wouldn’t much matter to me. Boxing is about business, and I frankly couldn’t care less whether or not a boxer uses steroids to help his marketability (since I’m a firm believer in the theory that they actually hinder a fighter’s performance).

It’s not like Holyfield wouldn’t be the only professional boxer using steroids. Off the top of my head, I can think of thirty or more who’ve used them during the past decade. They’re mostly heavyweights or guys looking to become heavyweights and many of them have been champions at one time or another. If you follow boxing and give the matter some thought, the guys who juice will spring readily to mind. Think bodybuilder, not boxer, and you’ll be on the right track. Think sudden change in body type, in muscle mass. Think precipitous jumps in weight divisions. Think volatile mood swings, rages, erratic behavior. Think sudden and surprising lack of resistance to punches. Think inexplicable episodes of early exhaustion. Evander would have lots of company in his chosen profession.

But that’s none of my business. Nor is it yours. Nor is it any regulatory commission’s.

Here’s the real deal: Holyfield was a big light heavyweight/average sized cruiserweight who couldn’t make money without moving into boxing’s glamour division. So he took the required steps to build himself into a heavyweight.

And now he’s been indicted. Caught in a particularly embarrassing way, coming up with a pseudonym (“Evan Fields”—get it) of such jaw-dropping stupidity when buying drugs that it defies belief. As if that’s not dumb enough, Holyfield chose to give his alter-ego Fields the same birthday as his own. And if you felt like calling Fields up to discuss weight training, the ex-heavyweight champion of the world would pick up the phone.

Evander’s always been a hypocrite about a lot of things, but the outraged piety of his current response grates against my Wiseguy sensibilities. Christ, I’d think more of him if he claimed he was being set up, suggesting that no one would be foolish enough to use a fake name made up of a shortened version of his real one.

I respect Mike Tyson’s recent response to the cops when asked how often he uses cocaine--“Anytime I can get my hands on it”—more than Holyfield’s denials about steroid use.

It’s not like Evander didn’t have the money to do this right. Certainly, with a little care, nobody would have ever “officially” found out that somebody was buying up pharmacies of HGH, testosterone, Glucor, Saizen, and the injection apparatuses necessary for their use.

One of the things that’s always bothered me most about Holyfield (and this isn’t entirely of his making) is the nonsense about his being “the best conditioned boxer in the world.”

He’s one of the worst conditioned top tier fighters I’ve ever seen, floundering around the ring in a state of near exhaustion after three or four rounds in most of his fights.

It was maddening to hear those who should have known better pushing a ripped, overly muscled torso over a functional boxing physique. It purveyed style over substance. The guy was always a living action figure. He was built more like Sylvester Stallone than like Joe Louis.

A perfect boxing physique? I suppose there isn’t just one. But for a heavyweight, Muhammad Ali maybe. Or Jack Johnson. If you want an image of how a boxer should be built, look at pictures of Ray Robinson, Benny Leonard, Harry Greb, Ezzard Charles or the lightweight version of Roberto Duran. Employable muscle, not cosmetic overload. You want to see a good boxing body on a contemporary fighter? Look at Bernard Hopkins. Or watch Joe Calzaghe effortlessly bully the uselessly armored Jeff Lacy all around the ring and you’ll understand what I’m saying. These are bodies meant not to tire and not to break down.

That’s not to suggest that Evander Holyfield wasn’t a brave, determined, tough, rugged, dirty-fighting overachiever. He routinely would battle back from whatever depletion his training regimen forced him to endure to beat guys he shouldn’t have been able to beat.

But this isn’t about Evander Holyfield’s undisputed courage.

It’s about a form of privilege, condescension, and hypocrisy that insults peoples’ intelligence.

He’s almost never gotten called on anything he’s done. Again, I’m not suggesting that any legal action or commission response would be appropriate. He can shoot heroin directly into his brain for all I care, but let’s at least call things what they are.

As early as 1994, after suffering heart problems during a losing effort against Michael Moorer in which Evander lost his WBA and IBF heavyweight titles, he was put on medical suspension and questioned about using HGH by representatives of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Dr. Margaret Goodman, chairman of the commission’s medical advisory board at the time, said, "There were questions [because] the abnormalities Evander had with his heart were findings that could have been consistent with growth hormone use. The problem was there was no test and Evander denied any use of growth hormone."

Holyfield is held to be one of boxing’s “good guys.” Nobody in a position of power was going to take gratuitous shots at him. He was questioned because something was weird.

Heart problems and ventricular abnormalities are common side effects of heavy steroid use. Clearly this problem didn’t occur spontaneously in 1994.

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article called “Open Your Eyes: Steroid Use In Boxing” for an online (and now defunct) boxing site called Here’s an excerpt from that piece.

‘Finally, there is a legendary boxing figure, known as one of the great overachievers in boxing history, whose misperceived horrible conditioning is a product of steroid enhancement. The cosmetic sleight of hand that has buffaloed boxing writers and commentators for the last twenty years—he is perceived to be a well-conditioned fighter—is one of the prime examples of why people in the business need to learn their trades. This fighter looks spectacular, but has always had serious stamina problems.’

I wonder who I might have been talking about. What am I, the only genius in the business? Everybody knows this shit.

Yet fat little James Toney, who foolishly becomes enamored of his biceps and plays around with juice for a little while, is the guy stripped of his title. Do you really believe that James Toney, with his lifetime of arcane boxing wisdom, needs steroids to beat the beginners in the current heavyweight division?

Okay, that’s it, I’m done. You’ve got my two cents on the subject. If Evander Holyfield wants to proclaim his innocence, let him. Don’t punish him, ban him, fine him, or arrest him. He’s made a choice and, as an adult, he’s entitled to do that. I still think he’s a hypocrite.

And so are those within the profession who, if they’re professing to be among the “good guys” who want to clean up boxing (and that gives you a clue into their intelligence), have kept their mouths shut about him all these years.

The next guy Evander Holyfield fights will be Vinnie Maddalone. That’s pretty funny. Or maybe not. Holyfield can’t fight these days and Maddalone never could. But all is not lost. Maybe, instead of boxing, they could have a pose-down in the center of the ring. There’s something unnaturally similar about their physiques.

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