Evander Holyfield shouldn’t expect much company Saturday when he fights in Las Vegas for the first time in 6½ years.
Through Wednesday, fewer than 1,000 tickets had been sold for the fight between the 47-year-old former heavyweight champion and Frans Botha, 41, at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The last time Holyfield fought there, a crowd of more than 17,000 saw him lose a unanimous decision to Lennox Lewis. That was Nov. 13, 1999, with the undisputed world heavyweight title at stake. This time, despite $25 lower-bowl seats, there have been few takers to watch two past-their-prime heavyweights.
Thus continues a long, strange history for Holyfield in Las Vegas. The four-time champion is 42-10-2 with 27 knockouts but only 10-6 in Las Vegas, dating to May 15, 1987, when he stopped Ricky Parker at Caesars Palace. Holyfield hasn’t fought here since Oct. 4, 2003, when James Toney scored a ninth-round technical knockout at Mandalay Bay.
“Whoever shows up is going to see I still have it,” Holyfield said Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack.
He was standing in front of a large photo from his fight against Lewis, on permanent display as one of the arena’s memorable moments. “I’ve always loved Vegas. There were so many ups and downs. But I’ve had so many good things happen to me here. More good than bad.”
But plenty of bizarre, too.
Holyfield’s highs include winning the Olympic Trials box-offs at Caesars in 1984 and winning all four of his heavyweight titles here, including his first when he knocked out Buster Douglas at The Mirage in 1990.
Among the lows are losing the title to Michael Moorer in 1994 and Lewis in 1999, both at the Thomas & Mack.
For the downright bizarre, there are the “Fan Man” fight in his 1993 rematch with Riddick Bowe at Caesars and the 1997 ear-biting incident by Mike Tyson at the MGM Grand Garden.
On Nov. 6, 1993, his fight against Bowe was interrupted in the seventh round when James Miller crashed his powered paraglider in the ring.
“I had a strategy and I was following the game plan,” Holyfield said. “I’m ready to finish (Bowe) off and then this Fan Man guy comes flying into the ring. I was really angry. But I said to myself, ‘You won the first six rounds, now just win the other half and stop worrying about all that other stuff.’ “
The fight resumed after a 20-minute delay, and Holyfield won a 12-round majority decision, becoming world champion for the second time.
Holyfield won the WBA title from Tyson in 1996 with an 11th-round TKO, and their rematch on June 28, 1997, produced once of the strangest incidents in boxing history.
After Holyfield won the first two rounds, an increasingly frustrated and erratic Tyson bit Holyfield’s right ear with 40 seconds left in the third. Holyfield jumped, howling in pain. With seconds left in the round, Tyson took another bite. This time he was disqualified, and Holyfield, bloody ear and all, was declared the winner.
“I think getting bit on the ear got blown out of proportion,” Holyfield said. “(Tyson) wanted to get out of there, and he did. He didn’t want to take any more of a whipping. When I was a kid and I was losing a fight, I would bite. When you want to give up, you bite.”
Holyfield said seven years is a long time to be away from Las Vegas. He doesn’t know what will happen Saturday. It could be good. It could be bad. It could be bizarre.
“You never know,” he said with a smile. “But I’m going to show Vegas I can still fight.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913.