Atlantic City, N.J. Evander Holyfield fights tonight through closed eyes, unwilling or unable to accept the fact his skills are deteriorating and that at 39 he has already taken a lifetime of punishment in the ring.
Others might fear for his safety, but Holyfield sees only one thing in a scheduled 12-round fight against Hasim Rahman his goal to win the title he once owned.
"I never give up because I was taught not to quit. The only last thing I want to do in this game is to retire as undisputed heavyweight champion of the world," Holyfield said.
That's an unlikely scenario, especially for a fighter whose reflexes appeared worn in his last three fights with John Ruiz. Even if Holyfield beats Rahman, he has to hope Mike Tyson beats Lennox Lewis so he might get a third fight with Tyson.
What is more ominous for Holyfield is that he finds himself in a non-title fight for the first time since he pulled one of the greatest upsets in boxing by beating Tyson more than five years ago.
Instead of inching closer to the title, Holyfield is getting closer to becoming what no one in boxing wants to be an opponent someone else can make his name off of.
"He's still probably one of the most popular fighters in the game," Rahman said. "Every time everybody counts him out he's his most dangerous. I've seen some fights of his where he looks like he should just pack it in, then he comes back and impresses me and wins."
That's precisely what Holyfield hopes to do Saturday night at the renovated Boardwalk Hall.
Rahman is a feared puncher and a decade younger, but Holyfield brings far more ring savvy and a whole lot of desire into his 45th professional fight in a career that dates to 1984.
"I will win," Holyfield said. "I don't put myself in the position of 'must anything.' I just go out and do my best and hope to win. If not, I get back in line."
Coming off three fights with WBA champion Ruiz in which he looked nothing like the fighter who beat Tyson, Holyfield (37-5-2) would seem to be better off retiring.
He's had 18 years of ring wars, winning most of his fights but absorbing a lot of punishment along the way.
He says he doesn't worry about his health or possible brain damage from the accumulation of punches. Deeply faithful, he puts his fate in the hands of God and believes there is a higher calling that keeps him fighting.