Every year in June, The International Boxing Hall of Fame hosts a celebratory weekend in Canastota, New York. Fans fly in from all over the world to be part of this special weekend. A weekend were boxing legends get together to rub elbows with these loyal fans, and catch up with old friends.
As part of the tradition, a new Hall of Fame Class is inducted each year. Evander The Real Deal Holyfield headlines the very impressive class of 2017.
Holyfield’s pro debut took place on November 15th, 1984; a six-round unanimous decision over Lionel Bynum. His last fight occurred on May 7th, 2011; a TKO victory over Brian Nielsen in round ten. In-between those impressive bookends, Holyfield provided boxing fans with a pugilistic journey that rivals any in boxing history.
Holyfield’s journey began in the cruiserweight division. A division, despite being saturated with such talent as Marvin Camel, Mate Parlov and Carlos De Leon, was given virtually no attention in the boxing world prior to Holyfield; Ring Magazine would not even recognize the cruiserweight division during its early days. The red-headed stepchild would get the last piece of chicken over a cruiserweight.
Evander Holyfield legitimized a division boxing did not wat; a hall of fame worthy accomplishment on its own.
Securing a title shot in only his 12th pro fight against fellow HOFer Dwight Muhammad Qawi. Evander, Orlando Canizales (another HOFer), and Qawi, are of the last great boxers to fight 15 round fights.
Holyfield Vs Qawi is arguably the last great 15-round war in boxing history.
Evander escaped with a split decision victory over the Camden Buzzsaw. Many ringside observers, as well as this scribe, felt Qawi edged Evander out. Nonetheless, Evander was a worthy champion and defended his cruiserweight title with pride, passion and aesthetic mastery.
Among his highlights as a cruiserweight champion were victories over Henry Tillman, Carlos De Leon and a rematch with Qawi; all by knockout.
The fight with De Leon was a unification showdown and Evander’s last hurrah in that weight class. Soon after, Evander moved up to the heavyweight division, where a kid named Mike Tyson ruled the division in a way not seen in many years. Where the fun really begins.
So much has been written, and can be written about Evander as a heavyweight. His war with Dokes, the epic battles with Bowe, fan mail, ear bite, it goes on and on.
For me, Evander is so special because he always surprised you.
After the epic loss to Bowe, Evander gave a lackluster performance in the rematch with Alex Stewart. A fight so uneventful I dare anyone to try and stay awake watching that fight. As a result of that fight, many people felt the rematch with Bowe was more of complimentary gesture than a competitive fight. Bowe was getting a lot of heat for defending his title against Michael Dokes and Jesse Ferguson; Evander was considered a major step up, but not a major threat to win. Well, win he did in another simulating 12-round affair.
Evander failed to defend his title, as he dropped a decision to Michael Moorer. In that fight, Evander looked sluggish and dealt with a plethora of health issues after the bout. His best days were clearly behind him…right? Wrong.
Evander bounced back nicely with a decision victory over the formidable Ray Mercer. In that, Holyfield overcame a bad cut and dropped the granite-chinned Mercer. The Real Deal was back to his championship form. But only temporarily.
A lackluster win over Bobby Czyz and a stoppage loss to Riddick Bowe conjured up beliefs that Evander had seen his best days once again.
With everything that has happened during the Tyson fights, it is easy to forget the consensus belief going into that fight was that Holyfield was cannon fodder for Iron Mike. Tyson was on a roll, making it look easy against respectable fighters such as Buster Mathis Jr., Frank Bruno; in a rematch and Bruce Seldon. As I recall it people were actually worried for Evander’s health.
In one of the most electric Heavyweight Title Fights ever, Evander quickly established that he was the one who was going to be doing the hurting on this great evening. Tyson was never in the fight, and his ability to take punishment was the only real skill he showcased against The Real Deal.
With Tyson being projected as the ultimate villain; a convicted rape offender etc., Holyfield’s demolition of such a publicized thug transcended him into an American Hero for many. Now, both men are much more complicated than that, yet those were the true feelings of many at the time.
If Holyfield wanted to, he could have retired right after that fight. It would have saved him an ear, and he would be a veteran Hall of Fame alum, rather than an inductee. But Holyfield was a fighter to his core, and being champion was his muse. Undisputed World Champion to be precise.
Three words that drove Evander to fight a lot longer than most people thought he should have. Three words that contemporizes like Deontay Wilder have recently enumerated as desired goal. Three words that never sounded as good as when followed by Evander Real Deal Hoooolyfield!
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