Remembering the ring legacy of Evander 'Real Deal' Holyfield

Evander Holyfield was the last of the great heavyweights

I LIKE Steve Bunce. Beyond the bombast, the Englishman has an encyclopaedic knowledge of world boxing. An anchor for satellite channel BoxNation, Bunce recently had the pleasure of Evander Holyfield's company for an hour.

Bunce seemed unusually star-struck to be sitting in the same room as the former heavyweight champion - but he managed to pull himself together to ask some good questions of the man who went through his 56-fight pro career by the name of the 'Real Deal'.

Bunce did an infinitely better job interviewing Holyfield than Johnny Nelson and Adam Smith.

Rather than delve into one of the most storied careers in heavyweight boxing history, the Sky Sports duo insisted on asking Holyfield about British contenders Anthony Joshua, David Haye and Tyson Fury.

This was classic Sky Sports missing a trick.

Holyfield, 53, was in Britain promoting a new on-line betting company and did a series of interviews.

It's also 20 years this year since Holyfield caused one of the greatest sensations in heavyweight history by knocking out Mike Tyson.

Holyfield was one of my favourite boxers.

I remember watching a re-run of his epic 15-rounder with Dwight Muhammad Qwai for the WBA cruiserweight title in 1986.

It was one of the most enthralling contests ever witnessed.

For 15 epic rounds, Holyfield nor Qwai took a backward step.

The 1975 Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier bout, famously dubbed the 'Thrilla in Manilla', is generally regarded as the most brutal boxing match in the last 50 years.

The Holyfield and Qwai showdown was equally brutal if not more so.

The best passages in Holyfield’s autobiography ‘Becoming Holyfield’, penned in 2008, are those dedicated to his first fight with Qwai, which Holyfield won on a split decision.

(He granted Qwai a re-match a year later and stopped him in the fourth round).

Holyfield lost 15 pounds in weight in that first fight and was hospitalised for severe dehydration.

“[After the fight] I have no idea how I got back to my hotel,” writes Holyfield.

“My next memory was being in the shower and getting socked with a series of intensely painful cramps… I started to double over and grabbed a fistful of the shower curtain… I went down tearing the shower rod out of the wall.”

He was rushed to hospital.

Holyfield thought he’d noticed blood in his urine but was later told by physicians it wasn’t blood.

“You ran out of all your reserves,” one of the doctors told him. “So you were burning up muscle toward the end. What you saw was the residue of that.”

After dominating the cruiserweight ranks, Holyfield moved up to heavyweight.

What drew me to the God-fearing Atlanta native was his all-round boxing skills and general ring craft.

Nobody could deliver a double left jab quite like Holyfield.

He had every punch in the book.

Left hand, right hand, he had beautiful balance.

His endless combinations just seemed aesthetically better, more precise, more eloquent than any other fighter's.

Perhaps apart from Sugar Ray Leonard, few looked better than Holyfield when he decided to attack.

What also drew me to Holyfield was that he was always trying to beat the odds because he fought against men who were significantly bigger than him.

He was unpredictable too.

You never quite knew what you were getting when Holyfield stepped into the ring. That was part of his appeal.

After his proposed world title defence against Mike Tyson fell through, he fought Bert Cooper.

Cooper was an ESPN fighter, a journeyman.

And yet, he rocked Holyfield to the soles of his boots in the third round, almost stopping him.

Drama and Holyfield, it seemed, went hand in hand.

Memorably, he shared the same ring as Riddick ‘Big Daddy’ Bowe on three occasions.

Bowe was at his peak when they fought for the first time in 1992.

He was a beast of a man, he'd heavy hands and one of the best jabs in boxing.

Inexplicably, Holyfield gave away close to 30 pounds to Bowe and paid the ultimate price.

Bowe beat up on Holyfield for 12 brutal rounds.

While Holyfield’s 11th round stoppage of Tyson nearly 20 years ago was a huge upset, it wasn’t his crowning glory.

Even as early as ’96, Tyson was a declining force.

In his memoir, Tyson writes: “I didn’t really have any particular strategy going into my fights at that time, usually it was just go in and hit them… There was no fun in getting into the ring for me any more. Once I left prison, the fun really died.”

For Holyfield, two moments in his career surpass beating Tyson - and they both came against Bowe.

If there was a round of boxing that defined Holyfield’s greatest qualities, it was round 10 of that first fight against Bowe.

It remains one of the most dramatic rounds in boxing history.

In the opening seconds of the round, Bowe landed a heavy right uppercut.

Holyfield recalls: "Bowe hit me harder than I'd ever been hit in my life. I saw stars, and I mean literally."

It is one of the mysteries of boxing how Holyfield stayed on his feet while being pummelled by Bowe.

And yet, Holyfield found reserves from somewhere to stagger Bowe with a wonderful combination near the end of the round.

"When the bell sounded to end the round we got a standing ovation like I'd never experienced before except at the end of a fight. It would be regarded as one of the greatest rounds ever fought."

Nobody had a bigger heart than Holyfield.

He was a glowing parable for life itself.

Without doubt, his biggest ring achievement was beating Bowe in the rematch by majority decision.

If a man's will could win him a fight, that was the night it happened.

Of course, Holyfield went on to fight Lennox Lewis twice in 1999 - drawing the first and losing the second. That seemed the most natural point to quit the ring.

But, like many great fighters, Holyfield didn't know when to call time on his career.

He fought for 12 more years and lost to men that he would never have lost to during his peak years.

Right now, there's an excitable ripple in the heavyweight ranks again.

Tyson Fury, David Haye, Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder are the ones causing the ripple. But it's only a ripple.

None of them would have been a match for Evander 'Real Deal' Holyfield. For he was the last of the great heavyweights.

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