|Holyfield: A Retrospective|
It would be a tall order to think of a heavyweight fighter that had the level of courage to match five time champion, Evander 'Real Deal' Holyfield.
Born in Alabama in 1962, Holyfield began boxing when he turned 12 years old. By the time he reached 15, Holyfield won the The Best Boxer award by competing in the Southeastern Regional championship tournament and represented his home country of the USA at the Pan Am games in Venezuela, winning a silver medal, losing to Pablo Romero on points. But more medals were calling his name when Holyfield captured a bronze in 1984 when he participated in the Summer Olympics Games in California.
November 15th, 1984 saw Holyfield make his pro debut in the light-heavyweight division, winning a six round decision over Lionel Byarm. After racking up eight KO's in only eleven fights, Holyfield faced Dwight Muhammad Qawi for the WBA cruiserweight crown after moving to the higher weight division in 1985. After a tough bruising battle, Holyfield won his first world title, beating Qawi by way of a split decision. After making several defences against the likes of Henry Tillman, who would later face Mike Tyson, and having yet another world title, the IBF, in his possession, Qawi was desperate to regain the crown that was once his and acquire the bonus of the IBF title. However, that was not to be as he was knocked out inside four rounds in 1987, having been dropped twice. Qawi fought for the cruiserweight title yet again in 1989 and lost to Robert Daniels for the WBA crown that Holyfield relinquished.
In 1988, Holyfield became the first and only man to unify the cruiserweight division by beating Carlos DeLeon, and the capture of the WBC belt made Holyfield's mission complete, but he was willing to raise the stakes.It was now time to head into the heavyweight division where the big boys play!
James 'Quick' Tillis was his first victim, losing by knockout in five rounds. Another former Mike Tyson opponent, Pinklon Thomas was next and was retired in seven. A string of knockouts were compiled by Holyfield before facing James 'Buster' Douglas for the undisputed heavyweight title in 1990. Most will remember Douglas for his shock heavyweight defeat of Tyson in Tokyo but he did not bring the same form into the ring with him against the undefeated 24-0 fighter. Coming in at 246lb, almost 15lb heavier than he did against Tyson eight months earlier, he performed like a shell of the fighter he was on that night in Tokyo and succumbed to Holyfield in three rounds when a big right hook connected to his head. Holyfield became the new WBA, WBC and IBF heavyweight champion of the world. But much sterner were queuing!
After making three successful defences against George Foreman, Bert Cooper, who managed to deliver a scare to Holyfield in the third when he drove him to the ropes by a right hand which forced him to take a count, and Larry Holmes, there was the formidable shape of former silver olympic medalist Riddick Bowe, then 31-0 (27 KO's) waiting for his chance.
In what was an epic heavyweight battle where both boxers gave it their all and produced a classic tenth round in what was named Round of the Year by the renowned Ring magazine, Holyfield had to summon the strength of his beloved Jesus Christ to compete with the bigger man but the conclusion was not not to go in his favour on that night of 13th November, 1992 when he lost his crown by a unanimous decision, and suffering a knockdown in the eleventh to add injury to insult.
Seven months later, Holyfield bounced back with a win over Alex Stewart and quickly challenged Bowe to another showdown once again in a fight that was more memorable for the famous incident when a man parachuted on to the top rope of the ring during the seventh round which temporarily called a halt to the fight that had both boxers struggling to stay warm. This man was named James Miller who had also interfered with other sporting events, namely an NFL game in 1994 in Los Angeles in which he was subsequently arrested. Miller died in 2002 by suicide.
After approximately twenty minutes when the situation was restored to order after Miller had been beaten by spectators, Holyfield and Bowe resumed the contest in what was a more tactical affair but one which worked to Holyfield's advantage. The judges scored the fight this time for Holyfield by a split decision, with one judge, Chuck Giampa ruling it even. Holyfield was once again WBA and IBF champion but the WBC belt was not on the line due to Bowe literally dumping the title into a trash can in order to avoid fighting Britain's unbeaten Lennox Lewis!
After a successful campaign at light-heavyweight, winning the WBO title in the process, the hard hitting southpaw, Michael Moorer earned his opportunity to be next in line for Holyfield's WBA and IBF titles. After suffering a knockdown in the second, Moorer came back to win on the cards against Holyfield after being spurred on by trainer Teddy Atlas, who went as far as allegedly denying his charge the chance to sit down between one of the rounds, a claim that was later denied. Michael Moorer became the first southpaw stance heavyweight boxer in history to win the heavyweight crown.
Holyfield blamed an injured left shoulder after his second loss and also told of pain that he felt during the bout. A routine check up revealed that he had a heart condition. Oxygen was not delivered to his body in "normal" fashion as his heart was unable to fill with blood in adequate amounts.
Holyfield retired soon after the diagnosis, but his story was far from over!
Evander Holyfield's licence was reinstated in 1995 by the Nevada Athletic Commission after the boxer went through a battery of physical examinations which showed no physical defects. Holyfield blamed overhydration and medication which he claimed made his heart look like a "pinhole" but did admit that he felt his heart heal after a spiritualist, Benny Hinn, laid his hands on him which he said cured him of any condition or defect he felt he suffered.
After having over a year out of the ring, Holyfield made a return to face former Olympic gold medalist, 'Merciless' Ray Mercer. After a toe to toe battle, he beat him on points, knocking down Mercer for the first time in his career. Six months later, Bowe and Holyfield would meet one more time in a rubber match set for November 1995 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The battle saw both boxers on the canvas, Bowe being the first after being caught with a short left hook to the head which sent him sprawling down on his back early in the sixth. The majority of the contest was fought on the inside and it seemed that Holyfield wanted to make a statement by attempting to knock out Bowe, who reached 240lb in weight and did not look like the trim athletically built machine that beat 'The Real Deal' in their original fight in 1992. However, after starting rapidly in the eighth round, Holyfield found himself on the floor and seriously hurt by a right hand. Holyfield managed to get up but looked shaky. A concerned Joe Cortez let him carry on but more punches sent Holyfield sprawing against the ropes and the fight was stopped. Bowe would retire in 1996, the following year although he made a brief return nine years later and again in 2008.
Calls for Holyfield to retire by fans were heard and seen but the man residing in Atlanta, Georgia knew in his heart that he still had much more to do! Bobby Czyz, a former IBF and WBA champion in the light-heavyweight and cruiserweight divisions, was next for Holyfield's third comeback. Whether it was a movement to try and disrupt Holyfield's focus, Czyz wore a t-shirt as he walked to the ring with the word 'Mensa' written on it. 'Mensa' is an organisation that only members with the highest Intelligence Quotient (IQ) of 2% on the planet can join. But 'Mensa' was seemingly no match for the power of Jesus Christ in Evander Holyfield's mind when he beat Czyz, retiring him at the end of the fifth round in a fight where he looked less than spectacular. The calls for retirement became more prominent when Don King announced that Holyfield would be facing Mike Tyson in their long awaited fight on November 9th, 1996 quickly after Tyson dispatched of Bruce Seldon inside a round for the WBA championship in only his fourth fight since being released from prison after having been convicted for rape.
'Iron' Mike Tyson and Evander 'Real Deal' Holyfield were set to fight way back in 1991 but the rape conviction hindered that proposed battle. Tyson, eager, to get back his belts that he lost to Buster Douglas in Tokyo, expressed great interest in fighting Holyfield before finding something interesting to do in Indiana.
The bad blood between the two men was apparent as soon as their contracts were signed in the middle of 1996 for November 9th that year. Tyson accused Holyfield of labelling him a rapist, something the four time champion denied. The media were quick to dismiss the chances of Holyfield, going so far as to say that the Pay Per View price of $49.95 was a rip off for the fans. Fans were convinced that they would be seeing Holyfield being carried out on a stretcher. These were the same fans who believed that Tyson was back to his old devastating best despite the fact that he had spent less than twenty six minutes in the ring ever since his return, and that the likes of Bruno and Seldon walked to the ring as if they were awaiting an execution of their lives. The hopes of many was that Tyson would get the job over and done with as quickly as possible despite Tyson saying he was going to make Holyfield feel a lot of pain for the alleged accusations.
Promoter Don King, as he is always, was attempting to sell a different fight.
"What you will see will be nothing short of galactic," said King.
Holyfield walked to the ring to face his destiny with a wide grin on his face, full of self belief even though this was not surprising. He had already demonstrated that he had seemingly infinite courage. Tyson walked to the ring in his customary black shorts, wearing black boots with no socks like one of his idols, Jack Dempsey, used to in the first quarter of the 20th century.
When the first bell rang, Tyson caught Holyfield with a big right that sent him stumbling all over the ring. I am sure many were holding their breaths during these first few moments but what was to follow in the next forty five minutes or so was nothing short of spectacular! Tyson, showing extreme confidence, threw one bomb after another. But that was his problem. He only threw one punch at a time and gone were the combinations his twenty year old self used to throw. Very little head movement came from him. These two factors were going to play in Holyfield's hands, quite literally. In the second round, Holyfield visibly hurt him. Tyson, with his back to the ropes, had to fight an adversary who was not afraid of his physical presence and was caught with a left hook. Tyson held on, looking a little bemused. The fifth round was Tyson's best round as he caught Holyfield with a body shot and uppercut that made him stand off, but by this point we got the sense that something extraordinary was unfolding before our eyes! In the sixth, Holyfield made Tyson look amazingly predictable as he came forward, lunging with one ineffective punch after another that Holyfield blocked without failure. Tyson did the same again but suddenly, already having worked out what he was doing, Holyfield took a step back and caught Tyson with a left to the chest that sent the youngest heavyweight champion down on his rear! Tyson immediately got up, not looking hurt but confused. The two exchanged big hooks at the bell before Tyson complained to referee, Mitch Halpern about the cut he had received above his left eye. As the fight unpanned, that WBA crown which was up for grabs, was inching ever closer to being in the possession of Holyfield.
In the final moments of the tenth round, Tyson walked forward on to a big right hook that had him on the defensive. Holyfield reigned down left and right's to the body and head, but it was a crushing left hand that sent Tyson reeling back to the far end of the ring, gloves making a weak defence, covering his face. The bell came to his rescue but there was no doubt that Tyson, who was cut and floored, was on the receiving end of the biggest upset in boxing since that incident in Tokyo six years earlier. Holyfield took charge in the eleventh round, piling on the pressure almost immediately, delivering more heavy left and right hooks that eventually made Mitch Halpern, then regarded as one of boxing's potentially promising referee's, to stop the bout. Holyfield had just put himself back in the elite frame of the heavyweight division once more, and as an added bonus, equalled Muhammad Ali's achievement of regaining the heavyweight championship three times.
In their post fight press conference, Tyson showed his awe when he asked Holyfield if he could shake his hand. Holyfield immediately obliged but unfortunately, bad blood would rise once again.
A contract was signed in the new year of 1997 for the two to meet once again at the same site at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Unlike the build up for their previous fight, very different opinions formed, especially of Holyfield. People were convinced that he would dish out the same punishment but there were a number who felt that Tyson had simply overlooked him and were convinced that he would correct the mistakes he had been making in his previous fights. Tyson teamed up with Richie Giachetti, who had trained him for the fights with Razor Ruddock in 1991 to train him for the mega dollar rematch that would be called 'The Sound and the Fury.' Tyson, looking trim and in better physical form that he had looked seven months prior, made his entrance looking like a boy who was lost in a woods. Tyson kept his head down, avoiding eye contact with his opponent who was now in a different professional position than him. As the two faced Mills Lane for their obligatory instructions, Tyson again avoided eye contact, while Holyfield looked sure that he would be adding his third victory in a row since his knockout loss to Bowe two years previous.
Tyson started reasonably well, using head movement to avoid the big left hooks of Holyfield but got caught with a right instead. In the second, this time it was Tyson's right eye that got cut, seemingly from a butt from Holyfield who ducked and came up close. Tyson complained to Lane, who did very little except allowed the fight to continue. In the third round, Tyson walked out without his mouth piece, something Lane spotted and sent Tyson back to get. Accusations and predictions have since been made that Tyson deliberately went out for the third with immediate intention of doing what he was about to do. Holyfield shocked the world in their first encounter but it would be Tyson's turn this time but with his own unique style! Tyson began with a heavy attack on Holyfield, throwing left and right's at Holyfield who just pushed Tyson back, not fazed by the intensity. With less than a minute to go in the round, the two clinched and Tyson bit a chunk of cartilage from Holyfield's ear, ripping it away and spitting it to the canvas. Holyfield jumped into the air in agony and Tyson, letting his emotions get the best of him, shoved Holyfield to the ropes. Mills Lane, unaware of what had just occurred, asked Holyfield what the problem was, at which point he point to his ear in anger. The fight was put on hold for several minutes as Lane, who is famous for uttering the line "let's get it on" before bouts, conversed with officials. After a short while, he made the decision of deducting two points from the challenger, who was at this point a loose cannon! The contest continued but another bite from Tyson on the opposite ear, although much less severe, was spotted after the third ended. Mills Lane disqualified Mike Tyson, but the rage of 'Iron' was to continue to get the better of him as he scuffled with police who tried to contain him. The crowd erupted into a frenzy. Chairs flew everywhere. People were trampled on. Security found it an almighty struggle to get control of the situation. In the MGM Grand casino area, gambling tables were overturned as the crowd physically showed their displeasure.
Despite all this, Evander Holyfield retained his WBA championship. Having found the missing cartilage piece, Holyfield had to quickly undergo surgery in what was a successful attempt to attach the grisly bloody part. Tyson was suspended from boxing for twelve months and received a three million dollar fine although he made an on-air apology to Holyfield, an apology that Tyson later admitted was not heart felt.
After facing and beating Axel Schulz to win the IBF title, Michael Moorer again faced Holyfield for the second time. Moorer lost to forty five year old George Foreman by knockout in the tenth round of their contest in 1994 to make him the oldest ever heavyweight champion in history! But Moorer regrouped himself to win back his cherished IBF belt with his win over Schulz and made two successful defences against Frans Both and Vaughn Bean. Holyfield was keen to unify the division as he once did in the early 90's and faced Moorer in Las Vegas. Holyfield floored Moorer five times in the fight to avenge his 1994 defeat and become IBF champion. After this fight, Moorer never challenged for one of the big three heavyweight titles again and was knocked out in one round by David Tua in 2002, followed by another defeat to Eliseo Castillo two years later. He was, however, fortunate enough to end his career on a winning note, racking up six victories before hanging them up in 2008.
After a mundane points win in a defence of his IBF and WBA belts over the already mentioned Vaughn Bean, a unification fight with Lennox Lewis was arranged for Madison Square Garden in New York in March of 1999. Lewis regained the WBC crown after beating Oliver McCall in a fight which also avenged his then sole loss in 1997 in a rather unusual match in which McCall had a mental break down in the ring which forced Mills Lane to end the fight after five rounds and award Lewis the title. Lewis made four defences, his most impressive going against Andrew Golota in which Lewis knocked out the notorious Polish heavyweight slugger in the first round.
Holyfield made a bold prediction that he would knock out Lewis in the third round in their upcoming fight, a prediction Lewis was well aware of. As the fight started, the taller Lewis fought his usual cautious but intelligent style, throwing and landing the jab, landing heavy shots in spurts. As it went, the third round was probably Holyfield's best of the entire fight as he managed to land heavy hooks to Lewis's head but the 6'5 champion was able to hold on and see out the round. Holyfield walked back to his corner looking despondent and fought in that manner for most of the contest. It looked as if Lewis was clearly going to be the man to end Holyfield's dreams of unification but a draw read out by Jimmy Lennon Jr disgusted many, including the attending crowd and British cable television provider, SKY. Lewis refused to do a post fight interview immediately after the fight but did hold back his disappointment enough to do one shortly after and voiced his disappointment at the likes of Don King in which he implied there was some kind of wrong doing. Holyfield stated that he had no problem giving Lewis a rematch.
Their second fight was announced for November 1999, and while it was tougher for Lewis than their predecessor, he won the fight by a unanimous decision to finally get the justice that many felt he deserved. Holyfield performed well, shaking up and staggering the Englishman in the seventh round with more head hooks, but it was not enough this time to prove that he was the superior man in the ring in Las Vegas that night Lewis became the first British heavyweight champion in almost one hundred years!
After not agreeing to defend his WBA crown against John Ruiz, Lennox Lewis was stripped of the crown in court the next year which gave Holyfield yet another opportunity to win back a portion of the crown. Ruiz and Holyfield met and had a trilogy of bouts over the next sixteen months. While they failed to capture the imagination of the public, Holyfield surpassed Muhammad Ali and won the crown for the fourth time in their original contest in August of 2000, an achievement that is sorely underrated and seldom mentioned! But it was Ruiz's turn in their rematch when he became the first Hispanic American to win the championship and knocked down Holyfield in the eleventh. Their third and final fight ended in an uneventful draw.
Evander Holyfield fought Hasim Rahman in a WBA title eliminator but the fight ended abruptly after the eighth when Rahman received a horrific swelling injury to his head after a butt. Holyfield lost to Chris Byrd on points in a IBF challenge and was knocked out by middleweight Great, James Toney in the ninth round in his next fight. This was thought to be the end for him but over a year later, he was back in the ring again, losing a lopsided decision to Larry Donald. After nearly two years out of the ring, he made yet another comeback, winning four fights but beating little of subtance before challenging Sultan Ibragimov in 2007, losing on points once again in an uncompetitive contest.
Nokolai Valuev, the intimidating looking seven foot boxer from Russia defended the WBA title against Holyfield in December of 2008. A laid back performance by Valuev convinced many that the veteran should have been the rightful winner but the fight on foreign soil (the fight was held in Switzerland) did Holyfield no favours as he was denied the win, losing by one point, a draw on another and four points on the third.
Sixteen months later, Holyfield returned again to beat Frans Botha, receiving a No Contest against Sherman Williams and a tenth round TKO victory over Danish Brian Nielsen in Denmark, his last bout as of writing that took place in May, 2011.
Recent developments unfortunately have developed documenting Holyfield's financial troubles. His mega 109 room estate faced foreclosure in June and was sold for $7.5 million. Holyfield owed approximately $14 million on it. He also faces paying almost $500,000 after fathering over eleven children. An auction has recently been announced to commence near the end of the year which will feature many recognisable pieces of memorabilia used in Holyfield's career, including his cherished silver olympic medal and his pair of gloves worn in his rematch with Mike Tyson.
To date, Holyfield is still chasing a dream shot against one of the Klitschko brothers but the Ukrainian heavyweight champions have more lucrative fights to take care of, one of them being a mega match between David Haye and elder Klitschko brother, Vitali.
Approaching 50 years old and with a boxing record of 44 wins, 10 defeats and two draws, Evander Holyfield, like many fighters, should always be remembered for his glory days. It is all too common for money troubles to follow fighters. The likes of Mike Tyson, Thomas Hearns and Riddick Bowe, who have also filed for bankruptcy, know what it feels like to win and lose it all.
One can only hope that the 'Real Deal' story ends on a happy note at this point in time, and even though material items have been taken from the man, nobody can take away the various many legendary memories of yesteryear that he must proudly hold. It is difficult to think of a heavyweight boxer that...no, scratch that! A boxer that has or had the courage that Evander 'Real Deal' Holyfield has to be the very best. It is disheartening and sad to see him still having to overcome the odds in his advancing years, but write him off at your peril!
There is no doubt in this writer's mind that the International Boxing Hall Of Fame will accept him with pleasure when the time comes, and talks of "fantasy matches" from fans proves that they already rate him as one of history's greatest!
While money must surely be one of the main factors for his continuing career, Roy Jones Jr and Oscar De La Hoya, to name a couple, know what it feels like to face the challenge of walking away. But walk away soon, he surely must.
When the time comes, Evander Holyfield can hang up his gloves knowing that he chose the correct path. He chose what he was born to be. A fighter.
And not a bad one at that.
|Last Updated ( Wednesday, 08 August 2012 21:29 )|