May 28, 1995

Anybody who studied this fight in advance, really scrutinized it,
should now be able to perform vascular surgery. In the 13 months
since doctors said Evander Holyfield had a faulty left ventricle
following his sluggish loss to Michael Moorer in a title bout,
there had been enough anatomical info in the press that any
serious boxing fan should be qualified for a residency at a major
teaching hospital.

Well, we all know now that Holyfield got an incomplete reading
last year when doctors retired him with a heart irregularity.
Batteries of tests performed at the Emory Clinic in his hometown
of Atlanta and the brand-name Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.,
have since shown what most of us had already known: The heart of
this peculiarly driven man is in excellent working order. Whatever
happened in Las Vegas that strange night, when the normally
reluctant Moorer peppered Holyfield at will, was a short-term
debilitation caused by dehydration during the fight and the
subsequent intravenous delivery of seven liters of liquids.
Holyfield's pump, those clinics say, is perfect.

And, lest there were still any doubters in the medical community,
Holyfield passed a kind of complicated EKG test last Saturday in
Atlantic City, beating a game and determined Ray Mercer in 10
rounds of sometimes brutal heavyweight fighting. When Mercer cut
Holyfield's right eye in the sixth round, all Holyfield did was
win every ensuing round, even decking the never-before- floored
Mercer to win a unanimous decision. Is Holyfield's heart O.K.? Did
you see Holyfield, blood running down his cheek, as he stalked and
battered Mercer?

Nobody can pretend any longer that boxing's good for you, but this
fight did serve the purpose of giving Holyfield a clean bill of
health. This is good news for Holyfield, a two-time heavyweight
champion who means to win the crown again. Throughout his career,
as an undersized fighter going up against the game's Goliaths,
about all he had to offer was his heart. He would outwork his
opponents, and when he couldn't outbox them, he would outbrawl
them. His success in the ring was the product of sheer will. It
was an example of effort taken to extremes. Denied use of a proper
heart, Holyfield would be ordinary, a memory. But with a fully
functional pumper, he is the new factor in a fractured division.

Now any discussion of the heavyweight titles should include
Holyfield. But this is problematic since two of the titleholders
(the WBC's Oliver McCall and the WBA's Bruce Seldon) are
controlled by promoter Don King, who is presumed to be nursing
them for the return of Mike Tyson. A third, Riddick Bowe, the WBO
titleholder, appears to have a full calendar (he is scheduled to
fight Jorge Luis Gonzalez on June 17), and a fourth, the IBF's
George Foreman, seems doomed to a rematch with Axel Schulz.

But things happen. As Holyfield says, ``I just have the feeling
somebody will step out of line. Somebody's going to say, `What
good is a belt without the money?' '' This is a not-so-sly
reference to his own awesome earning power. Holyfield is history's
pay-per-view champ: He has starred in six of the top 11 draws, and
those title fights grossed $202 million. Is he bigger than
Foreman? He's bigger than Streisand. You better believe somebody
will break ranks with his alphabet organization and bolt for a
bonanza that puts Holyfield's name on the marquee.

Money, though, has not been a factor in Holyfield's comeback. He
has earned more than $100 million in his career, and, as he says,
``What can I do with more money?'' Even the opportunity for a
third title has limited appeal. ``How,'' he asks, reasonably,
``can I be more famous?''

The most dedicated man in boxing admits that he reveled in his
medical exile. ``Everywhere I'd go, people would tell me I was
still the champ,'' he says of his retirement. ``I didn't have to
get hit, I didn't have to sweat, all I had to do was show up. I'd
go to a Lennox Lewis fight, and people would say, `Oh, you can
beat him.' '' Actually retirement was kind of wonderful.

But Holyfield, who doesn't wear his religion on his sleeve so much
as on his trunks -- which bear the citation Philippians 4:13 --
got his beliefs all tangled up with his sport and found himself on
a crusade. What boxing fan doesn't know the story by now? It seems
that Holyfield attended a meeting held by televangelist Benny Hinn
in Philadelphia and was, as they say in the vernacular, ``slain in
spirit.'' Hinn placed his hand on Holyfield's forehead and, by the
power of his touch, drove him several times to the floor.
Following that, Holyfield proclaimed himself healed.

Whether he was actually healed or was never sick in the first
place depends, as far as Holyfield is concerned, on his audience.
When he speaks to boxing commissions and writers, he chooses a
medical explanation. Otherwise, he believes himself on a mission
and invokes God's healing power to explain his comeback. In fact,
he said last week, the reason that he chose Mercer, a difficult
opponent, was to further that mission. ``If I don't fight someone
people will get excited about,'' he says, ``no one will believe in
me being healed or blessed.''

But whatever the reason for his recovery, it was religion that
forced Holyfield back into the ring. He remembers that he was in a
restaurant in Houston and a young boy asked him why, if he was
healed, he couldn't fight again. After all, the boy said, when the
lame are healed, they walk, don't they? ``Here I go again,''
Holyfield remembers saying to himself. ``I done talked myself into
boxing again.''

Holyfield was obviously not conflicted in his preparation for
Mercer. At 32 years of age and 209 pounds, he was severely
conditioned. But he remained human. He was surprised and chagrined
that Mercer, 34, came in trim and hungry. ``Ray Mercer gave me
all I could handle,'' Holyfield said. It was serious enough that
Holyfield wondered in the second round, Lord, is this what you
want me to do? If I'm healed, just let me blast him!

But then Holyfield realized -- apparently using religious
rationale -- that, if he blasted Mercer in the second round,
nobody would believe that he'd been healed; Mercer's infirmity
would be proved instead. So Holyfield boxed and jabbed and then,
as he always does when he gets bored, stopped to exchange bombs.
Blood flowed, welts were raised, doubts arose. But points were
made, whether for religion or medical science, or just to further
confirm the size of Holyfield's heart.

Whatever, it was work. ``I can't say it was fun,'' Holyfield said,
shaking his head. ``It was a job.''

COLOR PHOTO:JOHN IACONOHolyfield belted Mercer with fire and brimstone, erasing any doubts about the health of his heart. [Evander Holyfield fighting Ray Mercer]

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)