Evander Holyfield Finally Comes to His Senses, Sort Of, Admits End Is Near

Kevin McRae@@McRaeWritesFeatured ColumnistOctober 13, 2012

This seems like forever ago.
This seems like forever ago.Elsa/Getty Images

For many fight fans, Evander Holyfield defined an era of heavyweight boxing.

There was a time when you could even argue that the "Real Deal" was the best heavyweight of an era that included many greats, including Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe and Mike Tyson.

But, unfortunately many fight fans will not remember Holyfield for what he was—a man with tremendous heart, grit and determination. They won't remember a fighter who constantly defied the odds and did his best when everyone counted him out.

They will remember him for being a seemingly delusional fighter who hung on way past his prime.

In many ways, that is the flip-side of the coin. Determination was what made Holyfield great, but as it turned to delusion, it led to his undoing.

Nearing 50, Holyfield has finally come to his senses, sort of, and while he admits the end is near, he still stunningly believes he has enough left to defeat both of the Klitschko brothers who dominate the heavyweight division today.

"I'm in good enough shape and I'm a good enough fighter and I believe I could beat the Klitschko brothers, even at soon to be 50," Holyfield told Boxing Scene.com. 

While the statement is a ludicrous assertion in and of itself and a possibility that the Klitschkos have thankfully not entertained, there remains in it a glimmer of hope as Holyfield also admitted something we've all known for a long time. It's time for him to go.

Right now I'm winding it down, I can't get the fights I want. I haven't made it official, but the time is coming that I will. I don't have that much fight left in me.

This is good news for fight fans, many of whom grew up watching Holyfield rise to prominence in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These are the same fight fans who spent the last decade or so of his career just hoping he wouldn't get hurt in the ring. 

While Holyfield's career is certainly a long book, it can be broken down into several distinct chapters. 

He rose to prominence in 1986, winning an absolute war against Dwight Muhammad Qawi to capture a share of the cruiserweight title. He would knock out Qawi in a rematch a year later on his way to becoming the first undisputed cruiserweight champion.

Making the jump to heavyweight, Holyfield defeated several top contenders, including Pinklon Thomas and Michael Dokes, before earning a heavyweight title shot against Tyson conquerer James "Buster" Douglas in 1990.

Holyfield dominated Douglas, stopping him in the third round, and became the first and only fighter to win the undisputed title at cruiserweight and heavyweight.

He would successfully defend the title three times, defeating still dangerous former champions George Foreman and Larry Holmes.

The first era of his career, widely considered his best, ended with an epic three-fight series with then undefeated super-heavyweight Riddick Bowe. At 6'5" and anywhere between 235 and 250 pounds, Bowe was a mountain of a man.

The two undefeated heavyweights met for the first time in 1992, with Bowe becoming the first man to defeat Holyfield, winning a unanimous decision and the heavyweight crown. 

With the defeat and the emergence of bigger, taller and stronger heavyweights, such as Lennox Lewis,  people began to question whether the division was passing by smaller fighters like Holyfield.

But Holyfield remained undaunted, turning the tide and becoming the first man to defeat Bowe in their rematch, recapturing the heavyweight title. Ironically, he would lose it in his next fight to another smaller heavyweight, former light-heavyweight champion Michael Moorer.

This fight was widely considered, at the time, to be the end of the Holyfield era. Lingering health concerns after the Moorer fight, and particularly after his defeat in the rubber match against Bowe, a fight he was leading at the time of the stoppage, led many to call openly for Holyfield to retire.

When he chose to fight on, winning a lackluster bout against blown-up cruiserweight Bobby Czyz, most thought Holyfield was absolutely nuts for signing on to face Mike Tyson in November of 1996. 

Tyson, who had regained much of his frightening pre-prison form and held the WBA heavyweight championship, was considered a near-suicidal challenge for Holyfield at the time. The boxing world was absolutely stunned when Holyfield put on the performance of his career, bullying, beating and embarrassing Tyson before stopping him in the 11th round. 

It would be the third world heavyweight title reign of his career, and not his last.

It was the crowing achievement in many ways of a career that was already Hall of Fame worthy. It defined the career of a man who was not the most skilled or talented, but who was one of the bravest and determined warriors to set foot in a boxing ring.

Holyfield would go on to defeat Tyson in a rematch by disqualification, and in the process lose a chunk of his ear, which was bitten off by Tyson necessitating the stoppage. 

Holyfield would move on and settle the score with Michael Moorer, adding the IBF to his WBA title, with a dominant eighth-round stoppage before setting up a unification clash with Lewis.

Lewis simply dominated the first fight between the two and the only ones who didn't see it that way were judges Stanley Christodoulou, who inexplicably scored the fight for Holyfield, and Larry O'Connell, who had it a draw. 

The rematch was much closer, and some have argued that Holyfield could've gotten the nod, but Lewis got what he should've gotten in the first fight, a unanimous-decision win and the undisputed heavyweight championship.

This definitively closed the second era of Holyfield's career, and despite another championship run, it was largely downhill and fast from here. It is this unfortunate era, that many will remember and not his accomplishments during his prime.

Since the sanctioning bodies don't like having one fighter hold all the belts, thinking it's bad for business, they always find a reason to strip at least one, two or three of them from a rightful champion. 

And thus in his next fight after the loss to Lewis, Holyfield found himself facing John Ruiz for a WBA belt he had just lost. 

The trilogy with Ruiz largely defined what Holyfield would become, something of a sideshow act. He was a man who had a well-known name, but his better days were clearly in his rear-view mirror.

Holyfield went 1-1-1 against a fighter who couldn't have laced his boots when he was at his best. In the process, however, he did become the first and only man to win a share of the heavyweight title on four occasions. 

He would challenge for a fifth title, losing a clear unanimous decision to Chris Byrd, before the music stopped playing. 

He would be beaten up and stopped by James Toney, who at the time was a blown-up cruiserweight masquerading as a heavyweight, and be shut out, literally shut out, by the less than immortal Larry Donald.

Mind you, this was in 2004, and already at 42 there seemed no reason for him to continue fighting.

Jeremy Bates, Fres Oquendo, Vinny Maddalone and Lou Savarese. These are names one would expect to find on the ledger of a prospect moving up the ranks, not a 40-something former heavyweight champion seeking another title shot. 

But those were the men Holyfield defeated to earn yet another title shot, losing again, in Moscow against the less than spectacular WBO champion Sultan Ibragimov. 

Then came one of the saddest but yet most interesting of all Holyfield stories. 

Given another ludicrous title shot, this time against WBA champion Nikolay Valuev, an all-around unskilled fighter, Holyfield was absolutely robbed of a fifth world championship in Germany.

The decision was corrupt as Holyfield, who wasn't spectacular in any way, shape or form, outlanded and outworked the giant Russian, who was given rounds on the cards in which he landed only a small handful of blows. There were a few rounds in which he didn't appear to land anything at all.

The decision was so vile and disheartening, many observers felt it could be a blessing in disguise that would force Holyfield to retire.

But that hope was in vain, as the former champ would embark on what could best be described as a sort of senior tour, defeating former champion Frans Botha and most recently Brian Nielson last year.

Now while all of this seems long-winded, it is necessary to understanding the totality of Holyfield's career, one we can all hope is truly coming to an end.

These are the first comments he has made indicating he understands what most of us have known for more than a decade. He had a great run, and it's a shame he has tarnished his once sterling legacy by sticking around way past his prime.

But if this is indeed the end of the road for Evander "Real Deal" Holyfield, he deserves to be remembered for the fighter he was, not the one he has become.


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