Hard times: Evander Holyfield
As if pulling a blanket over his head to hide from a world of troubles, Evander Holyfield will finally retire from boxing on his 50th birthday this Friday.
One of the ring’s most heroic warriors has been defeated not by one of his catalogue of formidable opponents but by the wounds of self-inflicted poverty.
A fighting man who battled his way out of the ghetto to a $350million fortune will wake up this poignant morning in a grim apartment in down-town Atlanta.
From The Real Deal to Meals On Wheels.
This is the deepest cut of all those sustained by so many fighting men who have squandered fortunes. Even Mike Tyson only blew $250m.
Worse, Holyfield seems more afflicted than most by the punishment inflicted by so many sledge-hammer blows to the head.
Yet even though his speech became increasingly slurred as he fought on to an age when the majority of Americans are applying for their bus pass, he had still been hoping for one last world title shot, one last big payday to keep the wolf from the door a little longer.
Holyfield is not just calling it a day but waiting for a phone call which will not come. His potentially suicidal campaign for a farewell fling against Wladimir or Vitali Klitschko has fallen on ears that are more kind than unreceptive.
Holyfield says: ‘I believe I can beat either of them but I don’t have time now to fight my way back up the rankings and become the No 1 contender. There’s no point badgering them any longer. If I don’t get the call on Friday, I quit.’
The phone will not ring.
50 and out: Holyfield is walking away from the hardest game
The esteem in which Holyfield is held by the Klitschkos – in common with the entire fraternity of boxing - is hall-marked by the horde of memorabilia which he must surrender to auction next month.
As the only four-time winner of the world heavyweight title Holyfield surpasses The Greatest himself, Muhammad Ali.
That collection of WBC, WBA, IBF and Ring belts are to go under the hammer in Los Angeles, along with the wardrobe-full of gloves, shorts and robes worn in all the most significant fights in the career of one of the greatest boxers of all time.
Those treasures drip with the sweat of his epic trilogy with Riddick Bowe, the two controversial battles with Lennox Lewis and – along with his blood from that infamous biting of his ear – the sensational victories over Tyson.
Yet, although here is no telling how long his memory of the glory nights will remain sharp, the item from which he will part most reluctantly is the classic red Chevrolet manufactured in 1962, the year of his birth. It will feel as if his life has turned its full circle. Yet even if the fire sale raises its projected $5m, that will cover only half his $10m bankruptcy.
How could it have come to this? Some of the answers are as old as the hardest game itself.
As the money poured in so, Holyfield took to gambling much of it away in the casinos of Las Vegas and Atlantic City. As all the pretty women flocked around so, he fathered 11 children with five of them as well as marrying and expensively divorcing three times.
Gates are closed: Holyfield's former 235 acre Atlanta estate, which sold at an auction for $7.5million, and cost $1m a year to maintain. He is believed to have owed $14m on the house at the time of foreclosure
An aerial view of Evander Holyfield's house in Fayette County, Georgia
Locked out: Holyfield at his former residence at the height of his success but was forced to sell the property at an auction to cover some of his debts
As he took gratification from rising to fame through the old prejudices of America’s Deep South, so he flaunted his riches by buying Atlanta’s answer to Buckingham Palace.
The most frequently mentioned statistics of that estate are the 109 rooms and 17 bathrooms. When I visited him there he took most pride from having not one but two marble staircases sweeping through each end of the mansion. There were also houses in the grounds for his ex-wives and some of his children.
This was a monument to extravagance born of his pride at overcoming his humble beginnings but ultimately beyond his means to sustain.
In echoing contrast to that call which will never come the phone rang frequently there, to be answered by a servant saying ‘The Holyfield residence.’
Warrior: Holyfield will always be remembered as one of the all-time greats
His residence now is that small apartment in one of the less salubrious parts of his home city. The stately home was repossessed when he fell $14m behind on the mortgage repayments.
Now one of his daughters has won an order for immediate payment of $500,000 in maintenance arrears. Since he has no prospect of paying that or the $3,000 alimony due every month, he faces being held in contempt of court shortly.
What they cannot take from him is a phenomenal career. A Golden Gloves amateur title and Olympic bronze were followed by a reign as undisputed cruiserweight champion of the world.
After winning the heavyweight crown by defeating James Buster Douglas – who had shocked Tyson and the world in the greatest of all upsets - he went on to fight all the best of the big time. He alternated between dominating the division and coming back from set-backs – including suspension with a suspected heart defect – to keep reclaiming the title.
He would have been a five-time champion had he not been robbed of a decision by the giant Nikolai Valuev as recently as February 2010, at the age of 47. He has the satisfaction of bowing out as a winner, having defeated Danish veteran Brian Neilsen in what was to be his last fight.
Win or lose, the way Holyfield always went to war in the ring was thrilling and unforgettable.
Some may withhold sympathy, given the former scale of his wealth. Yet while his excesses wee a folly, the sadness is profound.
Tyson, who is finding ways to rebuild his life, is offering assistance and advice to the man whose lavish generosity has extended to forgiving Iron Mike for chewing off his ear.
Famously a born-again Christian, Holyfield says: ‘I still have hope.’
He also needs help. Hopefully, from all he people whose lives he has enriched with his courage, it will be forthcoming.