Evander Holyfield: A Look Back
By Sam Gregory, DoghouseBoxing (Feb 5, 2010)  
On April 24th, Evander Holyfield will be fighting in the United States for the first time in three years; it will be his first fight anywhere in two years. Holyfield will be fighting the 23-2 with 13 KO’s 29 year old Derric Rossy of Medford, New York.

On December 20th, 2008 Evander Holyfield fought “The Russian Giant” Nikolay Valuev in Hallenstadion, Zurich, Switzerland. The seven foot Russian Giant weighed in for the fight at 310 ¾ pounds to Holyfield’s 214 ¼ pounds. Evander lost a majority decision in a fight that ringside observers said Holyfield was robbed.

Going into this fight nobody gave Holyfield the proverbial snowballs chance in hell to win. Evander Holyfield once again proved to the naysayers, “The little engine that could” did the impossible. According to people that saw this fight, and I haven’t had the opportunity as of the time of this writing, the 46 year old Holyfield looked like he did when he “blasted out” Jeremy Bates in two rounds in August of 2006. Before the Bates bout, Holyfield dropped three straight fights to Chris Byrd, James Toney, and Larry Donald. Holyfield’s lose to Donald prompted the New York State Athletic Commission to pull his license.

Former undisputed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield has always brought dignity to a sport and weight class that is sometimes preoccupied with false bravado. There is nothing false about the Real Deal and nothing proved it better than one of his greatest ring performances in which he was again underestimated, his first fight with Mike Tyson on November 9th, 1996. When Holyfield signed to fight Tyson in September of 96’ he was a 25-1 underdog. At 34 years old and coming off two consecutive less than impressive performances, ring experts barely gave Holyfield a chance to leave the ring under his own power.

Both Tyson and the experts were surprised to see Holyfield dictate the action of the fight from the opening bell. Holyfield was successful in confounding Tyson and neutralizing his notorious body shots. By the middle rounds it was clear that Tyson was going to need a knockout to win the fight. In the sixth round, following an accidental clash of heads which opened a cut above Tyson’s left eye, Holyfield continued with a flurry of punches and dropped Iron Mike with a left hook. It was only the second time in Tyson’s career he was decked, the first time was against James “Buster” Douglas. The sold out crowd of 16, 325 went wild!

In the seventh round Holyfield began to rack up points throwing solid combinations and staying out of harm’s way. In the tenth round Holyfield sensed Tyson was tiring and stepped up the tempo. Most experts thought it would be Holyfield that tired during the fight but the supremely conditioned Holyfield showed no signs of fatigue. By the time the tenth round was in its final minute Holyfield threw several punches that sent Tyson into the ropes. According to Compubox Holyfield landed 15 solid power punches to Tyson’s head. When the bell sounded to end the tenth round Tyson’s legs were wobbly and many thought referee Mitch Halpern might put a stop to the action. Halpern gave Tyson the benefit of the doubt and the fight continued. When the 11th round started it looked like Tyson didn’t know where he was and was having trouble keeping his legs under himself. Another barrage of punches from Holyfield and Halpern had no choice but to push away Holyfield and wave the fight off 37 seconds into the 11th round.

Holyfield succeeded in doing what many experts gave him no chance to do. The challenger Evander Holyfield knocked out Mike Tyson and regained the heavyweight title for the third time in one of the biggest upsets in recent boxing history.

Even after beating Tyson decisively by way of an 11th round knockout some skeptics still said Tyson beat himself by taking Holyfield too lightly. Few gave Holyfield the respect he clearly earned in the ring.

So in one of the most anticipated rematches in recent boxing history, Holyfield and Tyson fought again on June 28th, 1997. Not unlike the first fight Holyfield went into this fight a huge underdog. Holyfield never seemed rattled by the pre fight rants of the “Baddest Man on the Planet.”

After the first two rounds of the fight Holyfield was leading on all the judges’ score cards. In the third round Tyson bit Holyfield’s left ear, spitting a piece of it on the canvas. Referee Mills Lane deducted one point from Tyson for biting and one point for shoving Holyfield in the back.

As the fight continued, Tyson bit Holyfield’s right ear and during the break between rounds, Lane disqualified Tyson. Holyfield retained the heavyweight title in what was one of the most controversial fights in modern boxing history.

Following the ordeal Holyfield had plastic surgery to repair his left ear, but did not have it reconstructed to look normal again.

When asked about his ear by local media Holyfield said, “I have the most famous ear in the world, why would I want to change it?”

An extremely skilled, tenacious boxer who can punch along with possessing tremendous courage and heart, hard work and dedication have always been the keys to Holyfield’s success. Evander has always used his enormous work ethic and intense dedication to the challenge at hand to reach just about every goal he had set for himself, as well as overcoming the biggest obstacles that stood in his way.

Born in Atmore, Alabama, on October 19th, 1962, Evander Holyfield moved to Atlanta when he was three years old. He began his boxing career at the age of eight when he entered a Pee Wee tournament. Holyfield went on to compile a 160-14 amateur record with 75 knockouts.

In 1984 Evander Holyfield earned his position on the U.S. Olympic boxing squad by beating world amateur champion Ricky Womack twice in two days at the Olympic box-offs in Los Angeles; he went on to knockout his first three opponents.

In the semi-final bout, Evander Holyfield fought Kevin Barry of New Zealand. Holyfield’s barrage of punches quickly wore his opponent down. Midway through the fight the referee gave the command to break. At the same time the instruction was given Holyfield let loose with a vicious left hook to the head knocking Barry out cold.

Following a short debate with the Olympic Committee Holyfield was disqualified denying him the chance to fight for a gold medal. However, after further review, the International Olympic Committee admitted the unfairness of the disqualification when they suspended their own rules to award Holyfield the bronze medal amid the controversy.

Evander Holyfield was considered the “hard-luck story” of the 1984 Olympics, as he was forced to accept a bronze medal while the referee awarded the decision to his opponent in a controversial call in the semi-final round. It was in the light heavyweight division that Evander won Olympic bronze. Altogether as an amateur, Evander Holyfield won the National Golden Gloves light heavyweight championship along with winning Olympic bronze in the light heavyweight division.

Evander Holyfield made his pro debut at light heavyweight on November 15th, 1984 at Madison Square Garden where he and his opponent Lionel Byarm both weighed in for the fight at 177 pounds. It didn’t take Holyfield long to work his way through the ranks when just over a year and a half after his first pro fight he was challenging hall-of-fame cruiserweight great Dwight Muhammad Qawi for the WBA cruiserweight title. Holyfield won a 15 round decision in a fight that was at the top of many “fight of the year” lists for 1986.

Evander Holyfield was the first of the 1984 Olympic class to win a professional world title.

The following year of 1987 Holyfield defended the cruiserweight title four times including a rematch with Qawi which Holyfield won by way of a fourth round KO.

In May of 1987, Holyfield stopped Ricky Parkey in the third round to capture the IBF cruiserweight title.

In April of 1988 Holyfield reached his goal of becoming boxing’s first undisputed cruiserweight champion by stopping WBC champion Carlos DeLeon in 1:08 of the eighth round. When referee Mills Lane called a halt to the fight, Evander was decisively ahead on all three of the judge’s cards, Dalby Shirley had it 70-61, Bob Watson 69-64 and Larry O’Connell 70-63 all for Holyfield.

“A good little man can beat a good big man.”

Evander Holyfield was a three-time world champion in the 190 pound division and is clearly recognized as the cruiserweight of the 1980’s. With his stunning third round knockout of James “Buster” Douglas on October 25th, 1990 to win the undisputed heavyweight title, along with his thrilling win over George Foreman, Holyfield left no doubt he would be known as the “Heavyweight of the 1990’s.”

On September 30th, 1957 Carmen Basilio defeated Sugar Ray Robinson in a 15 round fight. Because of Robinson’s four and a half inch height advantage over Basilio, sports writers at the time coined a phrase, “A good little man can beat a good big man.” No adage was ever truer when Evander Holyfield came on the heavyweight scene in the 1990’s.

Evander Holyfield’s first significant fight as a heavyweight came on March 11th, 1989 when he fought Michael Dokes for the WBC heavyweight title. When Holyfield stopped Dokes 1:41 of the 10th round Holyfield made a name for himself as a heavyweight. Holyfield fought an almost text book perfect fight against Dokes; he truly showed his colors as a heavyweight champion against Dokes.

In a fight billed as a “David and Goliath” match-up, Holyfield fought his first defense of the undisputed heavyweight against George Foreman at the Convention Center in Atlantic City on April 19th, 1991. Holyfield went toe to toe with Foreman for 12 rounds of some of the most incredible hard punching exchanges imaginable. In the 7th round commentators said Holyfield hit Foreman with punches that would have knocked out anyone Holyfield faced so far; and Foreman keep coming. Holyfield won this incredible slugfest with unanimous decision.

Coming off a 12th round win over Larry Holmes in June, Evander Holyfield faced his toughest opponent to date, and on November 13th, 1992 he put his title on the line against Riddick Bowe. In one of the great heavyweight fights of all time Evander Holyfield suffered his first professional defeat dropping a 12 round decision to Bowe. It did however earn Holyfield the distinction of being one of the true warriors of the heavyweight division.

In the Bowe-Holyfield fight Evander was hurt badly in the 10th round. He was dropped to one knee in the 11th but showed tremendous heart in an attempted rally, but it was too little too late, as he lost by the scores of 112-115 and 110-117 twice.

The rematch was November 6th, 1993. In this fight both Holyfield and Bowe again showed they had the true heart of a warrior; this time Holyfield got the node as the judge’s cards were 115-113, 115-114 and 114-114. This fight also came to be known as “The fanman fight” because the fight was interrupted by the infamous motorized hang-glider which almost landed in the ring.

Holyfield went on to defend his newly re-acquired heavyweight titles against undefeated former cruiserweight champion Michael Moore. For the first time in his career Holyfield looked and fought like he was tired and somewhat past his prime. In that fight, Holyfield lost a very close and controversial majority decision despite the fact he scored the fights only knock down when he floored Moore in the second round.

Following that fight Evander learned he had a heart condition although totally unrelated to boxing. Holyfield was diagnosed with a hole in his heart and shortly thereafter announced his retirement from boxing.

Holyfield never lost his desire to fight and underwent a battery of tests and sought out different opinions from several doctors. Eventually Holyfield received a full clearance to box from the reputable Mayo Clinic. It wasn’t long after that Holyfield was back in the ring to face Ray Mercer on May 20th, 1995 in Atlantic City.

Holyfield started out slow in the fight but by the eighth round the old warrior returned sending Mercer to the canvas for the first time in “The Merciless One’s” career. Holyfield went on to sweep the final rounds of the fight to insure a unanimous decision.

The Holyfield-Bowe rubber match took place on November 4th, 1995. Holyfield was anxious to prove there were no ill effects from his heart problem and he came out early in the fight firing on all cylinders. In the sixth round Holyfield landed a powerful left hook that sent Bowe stumbling backward landing on his back for the first time in his career. Holyfield tried to finish Bowe who was quick to recover from the knockdown. Two rounds later Holyfield was knocked down twice causing referee Joe Cortez to call a halt to the fight; Holyfield lost by 8th round TKO.

Holyfield’s next bout was with former cruiserweight champ Bobby Czyz on May 10th, 1996. It was far less than a stellar performance by Holyfield and many considered it to be the downside of Holyfield’s career including one Mike Tyson. Holyfield stopped Czyz in five rounds and was ready to take on Mike Tyson.

Following both fights with Tyson Holyfield held the WBA heavyweight title and had his sights set on the IBF crown held by Michael Moore.

November 8th, 1997 Evander Holyfield and Michael Moore fought for the second time.

Moore’s southpaw style frustrated Holyfield throughout the first two rounds of the fight. In the third round a clash of heads caused a cut next to Holyfield’s right eye. Because of the cut Holyfield stepped up the pace and a left right combination sent Moore to the canvas for the first of five times in the fifth round. Holyfield knocked Moore down again two times in the seventh round and two more in the eighth round. Following the eighth round referee Mitch Halpern called a halt to the fight with Evander adding the IBF strap to his heavyweight collection.

While in training to defend his titles Holyfield was informed his opponent Henry Akinwande was diagnosed with Hepatitis B and the fight, which was scheduled to take place at Madison Square Garden, was postponed. After speaking to the media Evander returned home to Atlanta.

Ten months later Holyfield got the chance he was waiting for to defend his titles against the IBF’s number one contender, Vaughn Bean in his hometown of Atlanta.

When the fight began it was clear Holyfield’s challenger only came to survive. Bean spent most of the twelve rounds holding and clinching the champ. Bean only occasionally threw the awkward looking overhand looping right to no avail. Holyfield looked a lot more like his old self in this fight, landing punches from the inside and outside, sending Bean to the canvas in the 10th round for the fights only knockdown.

When the bell sounded to end the 12th and final round it was clear the hometown fans got their money’s worth; Holyfield won a unanimous decision on all three judges’ scorecards to retain both titles. The scorecards read…117-110, 117-110, and 116-111.

On March 13th, 1999, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis fought in a highly anticipated unification heavyweight bout in New York. After 12 rounds referee Arthur Mercante Jr read the scores, judge Stanley Christodoulou 113-116 for Lewis, judge Eugenia Williams 115-113 for Holyfield and judge Larry O’ Connell scored the bout 115-115…a draw.

Eight months after their first fight Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis fought a re-match, this time the fight was in Las Vegas and this time the recent hall-of-fame inductee looked bigger and stronger winning a unanimous decision on all three scorecards; 115-113, 116-112 and 117-113.

After this re-match Holyfield admitted he was surprised by the decision. “Of course I was surprised” Holyfield said. “I was not judging the fight. I was just fighting. That is my job, and letting the judges decide. I was disappointed in the decision, but life goes on. When I hit Lewis with a couple of shots in the middle rounds, I thought it would catch up with him.”

On August 12th, 2000, Evander Holyfield made boxing history when he defeated John Ruiz to win the vacant WBA heavyweight title and become the first fighter to win the heavyweight championship four times.

In a close competitive fight referee Richard Steele announced the final score on the judge’s cards as Duane Ford 114-113, Dave Moretti 114-113 and Fernando Viso 116-112.

After the fight Holyfield told the media, “This was definitely a very hard fight; I knew Ruiz would be tough and give it his best. I am very happy to be the first four-time world heavyweight champion, but this is just the first step to becoming undisputed champion again. I will continue fighting until I am undisputed champion.”

On March 3rd, 2001, Holyfield lost the rematch to John Ruiz in a close fought 12-round unanimous decision. Actually it was a close tight fight for the first 10 rounds of the fight. Holyfield went down in the 11th round for one of the few times in his career. Referee Joe Cortez announced the scores as Stanley Christodoulou 110-116, Chuck Giampa 111-115 and Patricia Morse Jarman 111-114 for the winner John Ruiz.

Holyfield and Ruiz fought the rubber match on December 15th, 2001 in Mashantucket, Conn. Fighting in John Ruiz’ backyard Holyfield was denied a fifth title when the bout was declared a draw after 12 rounds.

On June 1st, 2002 Evander Holyfield fought former heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman in a heavyweight title eliminator. This fight came to be known as “the lump” fight; Holyfield scored an eighth round technical win after the fight was stopped due to a baseball sized lump on Rahman’s forehead preventing him from continuing to fight.

Following the fight with Ruiz, Evander Holyfield lost his next three fights to Chris Byrd, James Toney and Larry Donald. In his fight with Chris Byrd, Holyfield dealt with an injured left shoulder he suffered in the first round. Besides having to contend with Byrd’s awkward southpaw style, he now had to fight the rest of the bout with one good arm. Holyfield only landed 3 of 37 jabs in the entire fight.

After those three loses Holyfield stayed optimistic telling the press, “My goal is still to be the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.”

So at a time when pro boxers are earning literally millions of dollars for less than an hour’s work in the ring, and deservedly so in my opinion, Evander Holyfield has made his share his share of money.

Holyfield has always fought a first class text book style giving even the most experienced opponents a run for their money.

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