On the wall in my office is a poster of a fight that never was. Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson were supposed to meet outdoors at Caesars Palace on Nov. 8, 1991, for the heavyweight title, but it would be five more years before they actually fought.

I couldn’t help but look at the poster the other day as I listened on the phone to the ramblings of a fighter who once was.

On the wall is a young Holyfield glaring at an even younger Tyson. On the phone was an aging warrior who can’t seem to figure out what time it is.

Time to get out. Time to enjoy life without getting hit in the head.

Time to quit before the brain turns to mush.

The guy on the poster might have listened. The former champ on the phone doesn’t because he’s living in a land of make believe.

In that land, he’s the same fighter who stopped Tyson and was on his way to doing it again when he lost a chunk of his ear. In that land, it’s been injuries and not age that has caused his sad but inevitable decline.

“I’m a lot better than what people have seen of me in about four or five years,” Holyfield insists. “It’s a rebirth.”

His answers are all the same, mostly because Holyfield believes they are true. Those who have told him he’s foolish to risk his life and mental health by continuing to fight are no longer around, replaced by yes men hoping to cash in on a name.

He’s even got a goofy promoter whose idea of humor is to tell people that Holyfield is not just 44 but $44.95, the cost to buy his latest comeback on television.

But there’s nothing humorous about this at all.

Sorry, Evander, but here’s something those still trying to make a buck off of you won’t tell you: Fighters don’t get reborn.

Not at the age of 44. Not after taking the kind of punishment you’ve taken in the ring.

You’ve got no business fighting Friday night in Texas even if you really do believe the ultimate fantasy that someday you will become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.

That kind of talk is delusional, even given the sorry state of the heavyweight division today. Your reflexes are shot and your last real fight was so bad that the state of New York banned you from fighting within its borders ever again.

In Texas, apparently they’ll let anyone fight. Either that or the people who license boxers didn’t notice that you had won only once in your last six fights and that you don’t speak quite as clearly as you used to.

OK, so you beat up an insurance salesman a few months ago in your return to the ring. My insurance salesman isn’t so tough, either.

And, yes, George Foreman did win the heavyweight title at the age of 45. But Foreman spent 10 years preaching instead of fighting and, when he did return, he did so against a collection of stiffs who would pose no threat of injury to him.

You, on the other hand, have been getting hit in the head now pretty steadily for 36 years, ever since a coach at the youth center in Atlanta told you that you could someday become the heavyweight champion of the world.

You fulfilled that promise. Became the heavyweight champion four different times, beating everybody but Lennox Lewis along the way.

Made a heck of a lot of money along the way, too. The two fights with Tyson alone put $40 million into your bank account, plenty enough to pay the mortgage and light bill at your Atlanta mansion.

People stood in line to buy tickets for those fights. They invited the neighborhood over to watch on pay-per-view. And now you’re reduced to this, trying to get fans to reach into their pockets and spend $44.95 for to watch you fight someone named Fres Oquendo.

My guess is, not many will. You can fool yourself, but with every fight it gets a little harder to fool the public.

Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking, and you’re not listening.

On the phone the other day, you said you wouldn’t quit until achieving your goal of winning the undisputed heavyweight title once again. That’s four titles in all, a formidable task for a fighter half your age.

“If I have to stay here to (the age of )50, I will stay to 50,” you said. “I will become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.

Sorry, Evander, but you won’t. It’s long past time you faced up to that reality.

If you do, maybe you won’t end up like Muhammad Ali, who was destroyed by too many punches to the head. Maybe you won’t follow the path of Jerry Quarry and his brother, Mike, who both died from dementia caused by blows to the head.

Maybe you won’t become a ringside oddity, like Joe Louis was as he sat drooling in his wheelchair at fights in Las Vegas in his later years.

Because boxers aren’t reborn at the age of 44.

But they can die trying.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org

AP-ES-11-08-06 1827EST

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