When he was young, Evander Holyfield’s dream was to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. Considered too small for a heavyweight, some gave him no chance against the big guys of the time. So Holyfield went about it the correct way.
First, he unified the Cruiserweight division by defeating the likes of Dwight Muhammad Qawi (WBA), Carlos De Leon (WBC) and Ossie Ocasio (IBF). That was when only the WBA, WBC and IBF world belts mattered. Nowadays, of course, we are talking about the alphabet soup; IBF, WBC, WBA, WBO, IBO, IBC, WBU, WBF and goodness knows what other titles are yet to emerge. The result is that in this day and age, it is pointless and meaningless for boxers to even think about being called undisputed world champions.
Holyfield then went about chasing his dream right from his first fight—a six-round victory over unknown journeyman, Lionel Byarm, at Madison Square Garden, New York in November 1984. He proved his worth as a heavyweight and earned his right to fight for the world heavyweight championship by defeating James Tillis, Pinklon Thomas, Michael Dokes, Adilson Rodrigues, Alex Stewart and Seamus McDonagh. He could and should have then faced the undefeated, undisputed heavyweight king of the time, Mike Tyson.
The only problem was James Buster Douglas knocked out Tyson in the 10th round in Tokyo to claim his title.
So it was Douglas that Holyfield faced and knocked out in the third round at the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in October 1990 to be crowned the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world.
So then, what is Evander Holyfield talking about when he says he is still boxing because his goal is to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world? He is telling anybody and everybody who will listen, including me, that he continues to fight at the ripe age of 48 because he hasn’t reached his goal of being called “undisputed” champion. He says for as long as it takes to become the undisputed champion, he will continue to box. I gave up continuing this line of questioning when I realized I was not going to get anywhere.
Moving quickly along, next question: Do people ask him a lot about the infamous ear biting courtesy of Mike Tyson? This happened in June 1997 at the MGM Grand Las Vegas when Tyson, facing certain back-to-back defeat at the hands of Holyfield, took the easy way out when he got himself disqualified by biting off a piece of Evander’s ear, not once but twice. Holyfield’s answer to this question was a terse NO; no one asks him anymore about that fateful night these days, he says. Holyfield had to be rushed to hospital that night for doctors to attach a piece of his ear. Holyfield does say, though, he has forgiven Tyson and the two last met and spoke a year ago at a function.
Holyfield says he has no connections with Africa but has ambitions of fighting on the continent before finally hanging up his gloves. He thinks given resources and time, African boxing could be great.
In his twilight years, Holyfield has travelled the globe, fighting in Moscow in 2007, Switzerland in 2008, and Denmark in 2011. All his other fights, 57 in total, happened in the USA.
Without revealing much, Holyfield says he has enough business outside boxing and like most people, has lost money in the past in bad investments. He earns a lot from speeches and celebrity appearances.
Holyfield says sometimes he feels like boxing takes too much of his business time. But he loves who he is and still enjoys boxing, and wouldn’t swap careers for anything.
Another pugilist who appears to have had no problem leaving the ring and going into business is George Foreman, the man who lost his title to Muhammad Ali in the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” in Kinshasa in 1974. Foreman has since made a fortune selling grills.
Holyfield says whereas he is happy for Foreman, he will still remain Evander Holyfield and does not wish to trade places with Big George. Holyfield beat Foreman on points in April 1999 when he defended his three titles.
All said and done, the man they call the Real Deal, despite fighting way past his sell-by date, will always have his place in boxing’s hall of fame. The only man to have won the biggest prize in boxing, the world heavyweight championship an unprecedented four times, he remains humble and professional. He never enters the ring less than 100% fit and always gives more than 100%.
For one so fit, incredibly, Holyfield was struck down by a heart attack in his mid-30s. He was told by the doctors he would never fight again.
Miraculously, his heart healed completely and he has boxed on, undeterred, for more than a decade.
Fighting spirit has driven Holyfield on. He hopes that big money deal to fight in Africa will come one day, but even for the tenacious Real Deal, time is surely running out.