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No more get-well cards in Holyfield’s mail

June 27, 1997 GMT

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ In the days leading up to his first fight with Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield wasn’t exactly buoyed by the mail.

Fight fans were divided into three groups: People were either praying with him, praying for him, or just trying to beat the rush by sending him get-well cards in advance.

``At least I’m not getting any cards now,″ the heavyweight champion of the world said with a laugh Thursday. ``Maybe people finally figured out I can take care of myself.″

At the front of that line, presumably, is Mike Tyson, though there is no way to be sure. The man changes his mind only slightly less often than he changes addresses and luxury cars. Tyson went from praising Holyfield to the heavens right after November’s stunning upset to dogging him about a rematch through the rest of the winter, to suggesting the other day the outcome was an aberration he simply needed to ``correct.″

``He,″ Tyson said at their final news conference together without so much as a glance in Holyfield’s direction, ``is not going to have the championship come Saturday night.″

In much the same way he has revised his opinion of Holyfield, Tyson is having second, and even third thoughts about what happened the last time they met. For the longest time, he said he couldn’t remember anything about the fight after the two butted heads in the third round. That seemed only natural then. Who, after all, wants to remember the beating of his life?

Now, however, Tyson and his handlers have revised their opinion of the entire fight as well. They have written the result off to his lack of head movement and his failure to throw enough jabs, as though Holyfield just happened to be the name on the dance card when Tyson happened to slip.

``Don’t worry,″ said Richie Giachetti, a former Team Tyson member brought back from exile to replace Jay Bright as trainer. ``Whatever Evander Holyfield brings to the ring, we’ve already prepared for it.″

No doubt. And so, for all the talk of the new Mike who emerged from prison in 1995, we are once again back to the old Mike, the Mike who believes (and who is reassured by his cronies almost daily) that the only person who can beat him is himself.

The amazing thing about Holyfield-Tyson II, though, is that almost everybody else believes it, too. Talk about short memories: The bookmakers who made Tyson a 25-to-1 favorite at the outset of the first fight must have made a pile on the Triple Crown or something because they brought Tyson back for this one as a 2 1/2-to-1 favorite.

``Being the underdog doesn’t bother me at all,″ Holyfield said, ``because it doesn’t take away my opportunity. And that’s what this thing is all about _ opportunity.″

People may underestimate the champ because he talks like that all the time. Holyfield is courteous to a fault, religious to a drone and he refuses to get drawn into those hissy fits promoters stage to sell fights. That, in part, explained why Don King was devouring one microphone after another in every corner of the press tent Thursday.

``You’ve heard of the League of Nations ... and the United Nations. Now, you’ve got the Don King Nation, coming to you from the entertainment capital of the world,″ he said.

King was not kidding about that last part. If predictions are correct, he will clear enough to finance his own country. The fight is practically guaranteed to sell more than the record 1.6 million households that bought it the last time, even if Tyson can’t be counted on to feed the publicity machine the way he used to. In fact, he hardly appears at all.

Holyfield, meanwhile, worked out in a ring in the middle of that same tent for two hours, then turned down the gospel music playing on the speakers and politely fielded questions.

It was an informative session, but hardly the kind of thing that instills wild-eyed confidence or makes the blood boil. Holyfield ended it by assuring people they didn’t have to worry about his safety this time

``I don’t think I’m the baddest man on the planet,″ he said. ``But I’m the best in the ring.″