Holyfield fights Botha, doubters in ring tonight

Evander Holyfield refuses to go away.

The former four-time heavyweight champion insists he still has the skills to regain the world title, though he's 47, last held a belt nearly 10 years ago and has lost two fights in a row.

"I've been hearing for a while that I can't do it," he said. "All it does is light a fire under me to prove people wrong.

"I can still fight. I don't want to leave until I've become the undisputed heavyweight champion one more time. That's been my goal the entire time."

If Holyfield can't beat 41-year-old Frans Botha tonight at the Thomas & Mack Center, he might as well leave the ring for good. But Holyfield (42-10-2, 27 knockouts) said this fight is a step toward meeting the Klitschko brothers, Wladimir and Vitali, who own three of the four titles.

"After I whup up on Botha, I want the Klitschkos," said Holyfield, who last won a heavyweight title Aug. 12, 2000, when he beat John Ruiz at Paris Las Vegas for the vacant WBA belt.

If Holyfield wins -- he's a 3½-1 favorite -- he'll do so largely in anonymity. By Friday afternoon, only 2,000 tickets had been sold, leaving promoter Crown Boxing, which is paying Holyfield $150,000 plus a pay-per-view percentage, to hope for a large walk-up crowd. Even $25 lower-bowl seats are going unsold.

Holyfield-Botha is also going head to head against a Top Rank card at the Hard Rock Hotel that has tickets priced as low as $20. There's also the Andre Berto-Carlos Quintana welterweight fight on HBO. And if that wasn't enough competition, there's UFC 112, a mixed martial arts card in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, available on pay per view.

Holyfield hasn't fought in Las Vegas since 2003, when he was stopped by James Toney in the ninth round at Mandalay Bay. He has fought eight times since, his latest outing a respectable effort against WBA heavyweight champion Nikolai Valuev on Dec. 20, 2008, in Switzerland. Holyfield lost by majority decision.

Holyfield's left shoulder, which troubled him much of the decade, wasn't an issue in the fight.

"I thought I did enough to beat Valuev," Holyfield said. "But they didn't see it that way. But that's OK. It just adds to my motivation.

"I feel like I still have a lot left. The shoulder's great. My conditioning's good. I'm ready."

Botha acknowledged that Holyfield fought well against Valuev, saying, "He should have beaten him. He dominated that fight."

Regardless of Holyfield's worthiness in that bout, his licensing by the Nevada Athletic Commission for tonight's fight was the subject of much discussion. There was a lengthy debate among the five commission members about whether he -- or Botha, for that matter -- should have been licensed.

But with Holyfield's most recent medical information raising no red flags and the fact his opponent wasn't someone named Klitschko, the commission granted Holyfield a one-fight license.

Now he carries the burden of proof to show he can still compete and not be a risk to his own wellbeing at 47.

"When I lost to Lennox Lewis in 1999, I thought it was over," Holyfield said, referring to his 12-round unanimous decision defeat at the Thomas & Mack. "But I got back in line, and here I am."

■ NOTES -- At Friday's weigh-in, Holyfield came in at 220 pounds, Botha 250. ... The undercard, which begins at 4:15 p.m., will be highlighted by cruiserweight Henry Namauu, a former UNLV boxer, who faces Rayford Johnson in a scheduled 10-round bout. ... Botha will receive $100,000 for the fight.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.