Evander Holyfield stubbornly boxed until he was almost 50 years old, which meant his fans were forced to watch him strain against the limitations of his increasing physical diminishment too many times. It was hard for many to watch, especially those who remembered “Real Deal” at his peak of his powers in the Nineties, when he was a thing of beauty, and most applauded the announcement of his retirement in 2014, three years after his final fight. But for those who have pined for Holyfield’s return to the boxing ring since then will pine no more. Last week, the News Agency of Nigeria announced that the 54-year-old Holyfield—the only four-time heavyweight champion ever but a man doomed to live in history as the guy Mike Tyson once took a bite out of—will take on former Lagos State politician Bola Ahmed Tinubu in a charity match on May 25 in Eko Atlantic, a new “skyscraper city” under construction off Bar Beach in Nigeria.
The fight, being billed as the “Rhumbles in Lagos,” is aimed at garnering attention for numerous medical and health-related issues in Africa, including childhood autism, breast cancer, river blindness, and HIV/AIDS. The event will donate $2 million worth of medical and relief supplies to the Lagos state government and neighboring states.
Holyfield’s diminutive opponent, Tinubu (fighting nickname “The National Political Big Wig”: seriously), a 65-year-old Lagos native, began his political career when he was elected to the Nigerian Senate in June of 1993. Not long after his election, however, the democratic government was annulled by the military head of state, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, and Tinubu was forced into exile in 1994, Upon his return to Nigeria in 1998, he ran for Governor of Lagos State and won. So, if nothing else, the man knows how to fight.
And speaking of fighters, the match will be refereed by Wole Soyinka, a Nigerian playwright and poet who, in 1986, became the first African Nobel Laureate in literature. Soyinka has been a lifelong critic of dictatorships in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. In 1965, during the Nigerian Civil War, he was arrested by the Gowon regime and place in solitary confinement for two years. In 1986, Soyinka used his Nobel Prize speech to advocate for the release of Nelson Mandela and demand an end to apartheid in South Africa. Ten years later he had to escape from his country on a motorcycle to avoid the wrath of General Sani Abacha, who quickly sentenced the poet to death in absentia.
The only actual fighter in the bunch, meanwhile, hasn’t been in the ring since May 2015, when he took on another aged politician as part of a charity exhibition. That time Holyfield’s opponent was a surprisingly game and in-shape Mitt Romney, who was 68 at the time and still stinging from his 2012 loss to Barack Obama. Maybe that match was the beginning of the next chapter in Holyfield’s fighting life: as the man who chases political leaders around the ring for charity. If that’s the case, maybe he can take on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte next or nationalist Dutch Prime Minister hopeful Geert Wilders, and after that Marie Le Pen over in France. And the great thing is that their beatings at the hands of a former heavyweight champion would be good cause enough. No other charities would be needed. Surely we can think of a few leaders a little closer to home while we’re at it.
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