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Preach as he might, Evander Holyfield has yet to convert
everybody. Lennox Lewis, for one, failed to see the light after
Holyfield's methodical destruction of IBF heavyweight champion
Michael Moorer last Saturday in Las Vegas. To Lewis, Holyfield
was the instrument of no higher power than promoter Don King,
the bout just one more act of mortal man, infused with no more
spirit than the average title fight. "Mediocre," he sniffed when
asked what he thought of Holyfield's performance.

Lewis, the WBC champion, was in a decided minority in this
little congregation. Moorer certainly got religion. He suffered
crunching body blows and vicious uppercuts and was smashed to
the canvas five times before the fight was finally stopped
following the eighth round. He is now a believer.

So too are most of the people who saw the fight. They must
consider Holyfield as more than a boxing footnote (the guy whose
ear Mike Tyson bit off to get banished from boxing). Holyfield,
even at 35, is much more than the man who exposed Tyson in their
two fights. Only a couple of years removed from washed-up status
after losing a 1994 decision to Moorer, Holyfield, now the WBA
and IBF champ, has to be reckoned a fierce and durable fighter,
smart enough to solve the few men to have beaten him, formidable
enough to make the idea of a unified heavyweight title

He also has to be recast as boxing's savior, somebody who can
restore order and reliability to a sport that in recent times
has had little of either. His overreaching competence has been a
breath of fresh air for boxing. If Holyfield is not the most
gifted and skilled, or even hardest-hitting, fighter to wear a
championship belt, he is nonetheless the most professional and
the biggest-hearted.

Whether he can be matched with Lewis to become the first
heavyweight since Riddick Bowe in '92 to unify the title remains
to be seen. Even if the institutional policies of boxing's
competing and confounding governing bodies can be satisfied,
there is still the matter of money. Holyfield received $20
million for this bout (to Moorer's $8 million). He will not
likely take less to climb into the ring with Lewis. Nor will
Lewis, who is a pay-per-view bust no matter his qualifications
as a puncher, want to do a promoter any favors. It will probably
take $35 million, total, to make the men agree to meet, perhaps
as early as March, and that kind of money may not be available.

Still, as Saturday's promotion was ending, there was optimism
that public opinion and Holyfield's own desires would make such
a fight happen. "If Evander tells Don King to make that fight,"
said Dino Duva, who promotes Lewis, "Don King will have to do
it. And Evander wants that fight."

That's a good thought, the best fighters getting into the ring
together. Lewis, who immobilized tough-guy Andrew Golota in one
round last month, deserves to be there. Now Holyfield, who
survived a rocky first round against a game Moorer, has earned a
place. Moorer, whose only loss was to George Foreman in a fight
immediately after the upset win over Holyfield, provided a nice
test. Not many men knock Moorer down, not five times. Who knows
how many more times he would have landed on the canvas if the
ringside physician had not been sympathetic to his long-term
health. "I never thought Evander could solve Michael's southpaw
style," said Moorer's trainer, Freddie Roach. "But he did."

Having Holyfield as champion means acknowledging a fighter who
is only partially interested in boxing and mostly interested in
preaching. He is a man whose family is in more or less direct
contact with God and who is not afraid to act upon each message
he receives. His religious fervor goes beyond the scripture on
his trunks and the upbeat gospel music that plays as he enters
the ring. It extends to revival meetings, at the very least.

Two nights before the fight Holyfield conducted a full-blown
revival in Las Vegas, where some 10,000 people convened at a
minor league baseball stadium to hear him sing in front of a
giant choir and seek donations for a children's charity. The
religiosity factor at any Holyfield fight is quite high and
often quite maddening--opponents crab that God can't favor the
guy who protests his faith the most, or else Jimmy Swaggart
would have retired the crown--but this past promotion set new
standards for preachiness. Thanks to God's piping a directive to
Holyfield's wife, Janice, to hold a rally in Las Vegas (less
than a year after God "dropped" it on Evander to marry Janice),
the fighter was, in effect, doing his roadwork under a tent.

He also spent last week peddling his Warrior Wear sports attire,
visiting on-line with high school journalism students, making
himself available to all manner of media and, as ever,
conducting open workouts right to the end. He even had something
left for the 29-year-old Moorer. It was perverse and stubborn of
Lewis, the dreadlocked Brit, not to be impressed with Holyfield,
if not for his performance in the ring, then for his ambitions.
Hardly any athlete is this agreeable or purposeful. But forget
that. Even if Holyfield were a surly recluse--let's see, who
would be an example of that type?--last Saturday's fight ought
to have swayed Lewis just a bit.

There was Holyfield getting wobbled by a Moorer right hook in
the first round and then, refiguring his strategy on the fly,
turning the whole plan around by the third. Holyfield realized
that Moorer could out-box him from outside, so he drooped his
right arm low, inviting Moorer closer. "I felt if he got close,"
Holyfield said, "I could hit him. I just couldn't hit from

So he lured Moorer in, drove left hooks to the body, blows that
Moorer said he didn't feel at the time, "but which I am feeling
now." The way was also open for uppercuts. A straight right hand
floored Moorer--he retreated three steps and then pitched
forward--for the first knockdown, in the fifth, but uppercuts
dropped him twice in the seventh and twice in the eighth. The
final knockdown sent Moorer sprawling on his back and, though he
got up quickly and gamely, convinced Dr. Flip Homansky, the
attending physician, that enough was enough.

From his safe vantage point at ringside, Lewis convinced himself
that he would never be vulnerable to such activity. "He is not
ready for me," Lewis said afterward. Maybe Holyfield isn't ready
for him. Who knows when or how a bout between the two would end.
But Holyfield has dealt with nonbelievers before, and not always
as gently as he does at midweek revival meetings. He won't stop
until he converts them all.

COLOR PHOTO: NEIL LEIFER It took five knockdowns, but the oh-so-holy Holyfield finally made a believer out of Moorer. [Referee restraining Evander Holyfield from a floored Michael Moorer]