Evander Holyfield: Career retrospective


Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield dominated boxing for much of the 1980s and 90s. He boxed in the heavyweights during a great era for the weight class, going up against Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis and George Foreman in his time. Let’s take a look at The Real Deal’s career in the ring.

 

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Growing up in Atlanta

Growing up in Atlanta

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Evander Holyfield grew up in the Bowen Homes Housing Projects of Atlanta, Georgia. The youngest of nine children, Holyfield stepped into the ring at seven years old and never looked back. At Fulton High School, Holyfield graduated in 1980 at 5-foot-8, 147 pounds. As the years went on, he’d stretch to 6-foot-2 in his early 20s.

 

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Impressive amateur career

Impressive amateur career

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Like almost every boxing great, Holyfield got his start in the amateurs. He amassed a 160-14 record as an amateur. He recorded 76 knockouts. The scariest part: Holyfield was just getting started.

 

Olympic career

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Holyfield represented the USA during the 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles, California. He fought in the light heavyweight division. The young and determined Holyfield won a Bronze medal after losing to Kevin Barry of New Zealand. Holyfield was disqualified from the match, which is considered a major controversy.  Regardless of the outcome, Holyfield still put on a show, winning the hearts of Americans everywhere. The Olympics were America’s first taste of The Real Deal.

 

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Holyfield fights in the Cruiserweight division

Holyfield fights in the Cruiserweight division

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The Real Deal made his pro debut in 1984 as a light heavyweight, beating Lionel Byarm in the process. After a 4-0 start to his career, Holyfield moved up in weight to the cruiserweight division. Holyfield dominated in the cruiserweight, climbing the rankings in the process.

 

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Becoming WBA Crusierweight Champion

Becoming WBA Crusierweight Champion

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It didn’t take long before Holyfield was the top contender for the cruiser title belt. On July 12, 1986, He’d go toe-to-toe with WBA Cruiser Champion Dwight Muhammad Qawi for his chance at becoming world champ in his hometown of Atlanta. Qawi was a good fighter. But Holyfield wanted it more. In a fight that went the distance, Holyfield came out on top by decision. This classic title bout introduced a new champion to boxing. They don’t call Holyfield “The Real Deal” for nothing.

 

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Unifying the cruisereweight belts

Unifying the cruisereweight belts

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Holyfield wasn’t finished yet. Once he became world champion, he beat Mike Brothers in Paris, France, and defended his title belt against Henry Tillman. Both fights ended in a technical knockout for the champ.

In a highly anticipated bout with IBF champ Ricky Parkey, Holyfield won via TKO in the third round, winning the IBF title belt in the process. Holyfield then won two title defenses against Ossie Ocasio and a Dwight Muhammad Qawi rematch.

Holyfield solidified his place as a cruiser legend after beating Carlos de Leon for the WBC title. It was Holyfield’s last fight as a cruiserweight.

 

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Moving up to heavyweight

Moving up to heavyweight

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With nothing left to prove in the cruiser division, Holyfield bulked up and gained some serious muscle in order to compete in the heavyweights. Holyfield had his heart set on fighting and beating Mike Tyson, the heavyweight champion of the world, and dominating the heavyweights the same way he did the cruiserweights. The division was officially put on notice.

 

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Holyfield beats Douglas instead of Tyson

Holyfield beats Douglas instead of Tyson

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The Real Deal had a hot start in the heavyweight division. He won his heavyweight debut against James Tillis. Then, he went on to win five in a row before a grudge match against Buster Douglas.

Douglas was the world heavyweight champion after his shocking knockout over Tyson. Holyfield was under the impression he’d work his way up the ladder until he finally bumped heads with Tyson for a shot at the title belt. Instead, he handily defeated Douglas by third-round knockout to win the WBA, WBC, and IBF Heavyweight Championships. The Real Deal did what he set out to accomplish… even if it wasn’t against Tyson. Not yet, at least.

 

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Battle for the Ages

Battle for the Ages

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Holyfield’s next fight was a grudge match against George Foreman. 

Foreman, an ageless wonder, was in the middle of a comeback to win the heavyweight title again. He became world champ in the 70s. Retired in ‘77, came back in ‘87 and eventually won the heavyweight championship as a 45-year-old man in ‘94. 

Holyfield would face off against Foreman in ‘91. The fight was named the Battle for the Ages because of the age difference between the two. Holyfield was 28. Foreman was 42. Foreman may have been old, but he went the distance with Holyfield, who won the fight via unanimous decision.

 

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Holyfield’s first pro loss

Holyfield's first pro loss

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It is often said that everyone meets their maker. Holyfield is no exception. 

On November 13, 1992, Holyfield suffered his first professional loss against Riddick Bowe, giving up his world championship belts. Holyfield won his first 28 fights! The Real Deal wasn’t used to being on the ropes. Thankfully, he had a short memory and focused on the future.

 

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The fight we’ve all been waiting for

The fight we've all been waiting for

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On November 6, 1996, Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson faced each other in the ring. The pay-per-view was called “Finally,” and rightfully so. The fight had all the hype you could imagine. These were two fighters who didn’t like each other and were willing and able to do whatever it took to come out victorious. 

In front of a packed crowd at MGM Grand Garden Arena, Holyfield defeated Tyson by TKO in Round 11. It’s safe to say the crowd got their money’s worth. The fight quickly became a war of attrition. Holyfield took advantage of a gassed Tyson and had more stamina toward the end, which sealed the deal. Tyson was used to first-round knockouts–not fights that went 11 rounds. By beating Tyson, The Real Deal nabbed the WBA title. 

Holyfield’s win over Tyson is the crown achievement of his boxing career.

 

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Mike Tyson did what?

Mike Tyson did what?

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Tyson was given an immediate rematch for the title belt. The two would meet again in the ring six months later. It was one of the most anticipated bouts of the 90s. This rematch would settle the score once and for all. 

The first two rounds of the fight were about what you’d expect. Both fighters were feeling each other and gearing up for the later rounds. Everything changed in Round 3. In the final minute of the round, Holyfield accidentally headbutted Mike Tyson. This incited Tyson to bite a piece of Holyfield’s ear off. Holyfield reacted how you might expect. He winced in pain and the fight ended thereafter. Tyson was disqualified from the fight. 

Chaos ensued once the fight was over. Police had to rush into the ring and make sure both fighters safely exited the arena. It was a dark day in boxing history. 

There would be no trilogy between Holyfield and Tyson.

 

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Holyfield vs. Lewis

Holyfield vs. Lewis

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The Real Deal went on to beat Michael Moorer next, winning the IBF title. He followed up this bout with a unanimous decision victory over Vaughn Bean. 

The Real Deal’s next bout would be against one of his most formidable foes: Lennox Lewis. The heavyweight sluggers fought their way to a draw in the first matchup. Holyfield lost to Lewis by a unanimous decision in the rematch. The British boxer had Holyfield’s number.

 

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The Ruiz trilogy

The Ruiz trilogy

Holyfield going to his corner after knocking down Ruiz.
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Holyfield’s next rival was John Ruiz. The heavyweight contenders fought each other three times. Holyfield has a 1-1-1 record against Ruiz.

 

Nearing the end

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Holyfield turned 40 in 2002. At that age, most boxers are in the announcer’s booth. Not Holyfield. With calls to retire from every corner, Holyfield bit the bullet and fought on. He was stubborn in the face of father time, who is undefeated against everyone if you look far enough. Once the Ruiz trilogy was concluded, Holyfield went 7-5 (1 NC) as he fought well into his 40s. It was the low point of an amazing career.

 

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Retiring from boxing

Retiring from boxing

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The Real Deal’s last fight was against Brian Nielsen on May 7, 2011. Holyfield left nothing to chance in his final bout, winning by TKO in Round 10. At 48, Holyfield finally gave it up, hanging the gloves up for good.

 

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Outside of the ring

Outside of the ring

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Holyfield has a large family. He has 11 kids with six different women. Two of his sons have followed in his footsteps by excelling in sports. Evan Holyfield Jr. is a 9-1 professional boxer. His other son, Elijah Holyfield, is an NFL running back.

The Real Deal made $513 million over the course of a career spanning three decades. 

 

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Holyfield in pop culture

Holyfield in pop culture

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A household name throughout his entire career, Holyfield was swimming in endorsements and still is today. You can often find him making an appearance at boxing matches, commercials and paid appearances. 

In front of the camera, Holyfield had roles in “Summer of Sam,” “Necessary Roughness” and “Blood Savage.” He appeared in an episode of “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Phineas and Ferb.” And finally, he participated in “Dancing with the Stars” in 2005. The Real Deal even has his own video game: “Evander Holyfield’s Real Deal Boxing” on Sega Genesis. 

The Real Deal boxed former presidential candidate Mitt Romney for charity in a 2015 exhibition bout.

 

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Inducted into Hall of Fame

Inducted into Hall of Fame

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Holyfield was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017. The honor was well deserved. He went 44-10-2 (29 KOs). Often considered the best cruiserweight of all time, he was also a legendary heavyweight as well. He is the only boxer to become the undisputed champion in two separate weight classes.

 

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A giant of his sport

A giant of his sport

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Holyfield was a giant of his sport. He is the only four-time heavyweight champion and is also the only boxer to be world champion in three different decades (the 1980s, ‘90s, ‘00s). Not afraid of a challenge, he fought every great of his era and held his own well into his 40s. Holyfield’s unshakeable legacy will stand the test of time.

David J. Hunt is a freelance writer based out of Philadelphia. He ran cross country at Penn State, became a volunteer firefighter during COVID-19, and is a self taught journalist. He’s a diehard Philly sports fan. When he isn’t watching sports, he enjoys working out, fishing, and traveling. You can find more of his writing at The Chestnut Hill Local and The Temple News. You can follow him on Twitter at @dave_hunt44.





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