New York For much of what history will acknowledge as a stellar career, Evander Holyfield was boxing's St. George equivalent, a knight in shining armor who dashed around the countryside slaying dragons and righting wrongs.
Smaller and possessed of less firepower than many of his opponents, Holyfield conquered the intimidating likes of Buster Douglas, George Foreman, Riddick Bowe and Mike Tyson in part because his heart was pure and his vision clear.
Oh, Commander Vander might lose a fight here and there, but he never, ever quit on himself or lost sight of the prize. His many fans admired and loved him for that single-mindedness, that indominability of spirit.
Now, in the winter of his discontented quest, a 42-year-old Holyfield is regarded as a tattered Don Quixote tilting at windmills. And he can't understand why those who cheered him when his sword was sharper now shake their heads in pity and urge him to abandon the warrior's mentality that had always served him so well in the ring.
Holyfield (38-7-2, 25 KOs) tonight takes on faded former contender Larry Donald (41-3-2, 24 KOs), who is more iguana than dragon. He insists his motivation to keep on keeping on is to recapture the undisputed heavyweight championship. And don't try to dissuade him by pointing out that he is 2-4-2 in his last eight bouts, including a ninth-round loss at the hands of fattened-up former middleweight champion James Toney on Oct. 4, 2003.
Negativity has no place in the uncluttered mind of Evander Holyfield, who believes the force of his will is enough to keep the natural laws of diminishing returns in abeyance.
Asked if he might incur serious injury -- if not now, then in the future, from the accumulated effect of all those blows to the head -- by fighting on so far past his prime, Holyfield demurred.
"I know I'm good enough not to get hurt," he said. "Some people think fighters don't have enough common sense to protect themselves, but I do.
"Later on in life has a lot to do with how you prepped your life for it. All my life I've been prepping myself to endure whatever."
With that comment, Holyfield unwittingly supplied the punch line to an old joke: In his narrow view of the world, denial really is just a river in Egypt.
Perhaps because of the relentlessness with which he pursues his obsession, and perhaps because of the overachieving greatness he once embodied, Holyfield's 10-rounder with Donald is the most interesting act in a four-bout heavyweight pay-per-view card at Madison Square Garden that features all manner of flawed fighters.
The co-main events are bouts featuring champions: IBF champ Chris Byrd (37-2-1, 20 KOs) defending against Jameel McCline (31-3-3, 19 KOs), and WBA titlist John Ruiz (40-5-1, 28 KOs) defending against Andrew Golota (38-4-1, 31 KOs). A fourth PPV bout pits former WBC/IBF champion Hasim Rahman (39-5-1, 32 KOs), who is a jiggly 260 pounds or so, against Australian anonymity Kali Meehan.