Evander Holyfield is best known for his fights at Heavyweight, but also holds the title of being the best Cruiserweight of all time. Despite the ups and downs in his career, Holyfield has solidified himself as one of the best fighters of the last 30 years.
After being robbed of the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics, Holyfield turned professional that same year and was rushed to a title shot after only 2 years and 11 fights. His title fight was against no powederpuff or sacrificial lamb, it was agaisnt WBA titlist and former Light Heavyweight titlist Dwight Muhammad Qawi, who was considered by many to be the best fighter at 190lbs. Despite having never gone past 8 rounds before, Holyfield went through a 15 round war with Qawi in a fight most boxing fans consider the best Cruiserweight fight of all time. After a grueling and exhausting fight, Holyfield would walk with the close but clear decision victory.
In Holyfield's first title defense he was matched against Henry Tillman, who was rated top 5 in the division. Holyfield would drop Tillman in the second round, and then finish him off with multiple knockdowns in the 7th. Next up was the top 3 rated IBF titlist Ricky Parkey, who had won the title strap from Lee Roy Murphy. Holyfield quickly caught up to Parkey and dropped him with a series of punches in the 3rd round. After three knockdowns, the fight was waved off.
Next up was former WBA champion Ossie Ocasio, who was fresh off a win over Dwight Muhammad Qawi. Ocasio made it to the 11th round, but ultimately succumbed to the relentless attack of Holyfield and was stopped after a series of punches. To close out a productive 1987, Holyfield rematched Qawi, who was still ranked very highly at Cruiserweight. This time around was no one sided war however, but a one sided knockout for the prime Holyfield, who took out a fading Qawi in the 4th after landing a clean counter right hand.
Only one more fight remained at Cruiserweight, against lineal champ and possibly the second best Cruiserweight of all time, Carlos DeLeon, who held the WBC title strap and had successfully defended it multiple times. DeLeon fought well, but Holyfield overwhelmed him with a series of right hands, which eventually forced Mills Lane to stop the fight. Despite having only spent under 2 years at the weight, Holyfield beat such a consistant amount of top competition and had such excellent wins that he is undoubtedly the greatest Cruiserweight of all time.
Holyfield then moved up to the bigger paydays at Heavyweight. After an introduction fight against James Tillis, Holyfield faced off agaisnt former WBC titlist Pinklon Thomas, who had previously just been knocked out by Mike Tyson but was still rated in the top ten of the division. After taking a beating for 7 rounds, Thomas retired in his corner, awarding Holyfield stoppage victory.
Now going after a heavyweight title shot, Holyfield took on the 37-1 Michael Dokes, who was considered a top 5 in the division. Dokes gave Holyfield trouble with his handspeed and skill, but was rocked with a left hand in the 10th round and then finished off against the ropes. Later that year Holyfield would face off against another top 5 rated fighter in Adilson Rodrigues, who had an impressive, but padded, 35-2 record. Adilson started off well, but was rocked but a right uppercut and then finished off with a big right hand in the 2nd, knocking him out.
Holyfield, still waiting for his title shot agaisnt Mike Tyson, faced off against the unranked Alex Stewart and Seamus McDonagh, beating both by stoppage. During this time Tyson was majorly upset by James 'Buster' Douglas in Japan, and Holyfield got his title shot against Douglas in October of 1990. Douglas showed up unprepared and out of shape, and Holyfield knocked Douglas out in the third round with a right hand after countering an uppercut, giving Holyfield the lineal heavyweight title and the WBA, WBC and IBF title straps.
Holyfield's first title defense came against the comebacking 41 year old George Foreman, who was barely top ten ranked but considered a very heavy underdog. Foreman proved to be much more risilient than expected, and absorbed very heavy combinations from Holyfield. In a tougher fight than expected, Holyfield walked away with the 12 round decision. Foreman would shock the world by knocking out Michael Moorer and reclaiming the heavyweight crown at 45 years old, 4 years later.
After another unexpected tough match against unranked Bert Cooper, whom Holyfield knocked out in the 7th in a firefight, Holyfield took on another old legend, former heavyweight champ and ATG Larry Holmes. Holmes was 41 years old, but had just recently been top ten ranked after a dominant victory over Ray Mercer. Holmes gave Holyfield trouble, but Holyfield walked away with the wide 12 round decision.
Holyfield then had his first professional loss when he fought the undefeated Riddick Bowe. In a very tough and painful fight, Holyfield fell short, losing a 12 round decision to Bowe. After regaining confidence against former opponent Alex Stewart, who Holyfield beat by decision, Holyfield reclaimed the heavyweight crown by outboxing and decisioning Bowe in a rematch. Unfortunately, Holyfield would again lose his title against former light heavyweight champ Michael Moorer in a close fight.
After a year layoff, Holyfield would be back in the ring against the tough Ray Mercer, who gave him a good fight but was dropped late and lost a 10 round decision. In Mercer's next fight, he would give Lennox Lewis one of the toughest bouts of his career.
Holyfield would then finish his trilogy against Bowe in 1995. Despite badly hurting and dropping Bowe in the 6th round, Holyfield could not capitalize and was knocked out in the 8th round in a war. Holyfield's career looked nearly over at this point, and he faced off against the comebacking and rising Mike Tyson in 1996. Tyson was heavily favoured to destroy Tyson, but in 1996s fight of the year Holyfield shocked boxing fans by not only beating Tyson, but knocking him out in the 11th round after accumulating damage with his uppercuts.
Unfortunately, a rematch against Tyson resulted in controversy, when Tyson was disqualified for infamously biting off a piece of Holyfield's ear. In another rematch, this time against Michael Moorer, Holyfield avenged his previous loss by dropping Moorer multiple times en route to a corner retirement. Moorer was a former lineal champ and rated top 5 in the division at the time.
Holyfield's career progressively went downhill from this point. After getting a gift draw against Lennox Lewis and a close but clear loss in the rematch, Holyfield went 1-1-1 against John Ruiz in controversial and ugly fights. In Holyfield's last clear victory, he decisioned Hasim Rahman after grotesque swelling occured on Rahman's head because of headbutts, halting the bout after 8 rounds. Rahman had just lost the lineal championship to Lewis in his previous fight, and was considered top 5 in the division.
After Holyfield's next three fights against Chris Byrd, James Toney and Larry Donald, it was clear his career was over, as he suffered losses in all of the bouts, including a TKO loss to former middleweight Toney. Yet 4 years later Holyfield got a shot at Nikolai Valuev, the WBA titlist and top 5 in the division. In an incredibly lackluster fight with little action, Holyfield very arguably deserved the decision over Valuev at 46 years old.
Although Holyfield is still, somehow, still fighting at 48 years old, it is heavily unlikely he will accomplish any more, and its more likely he will just end up a sad story in boxing. But his legacy is already set, and he is one of the toughest, most exciting, and most accomplished fighters in a long time, and the best Cruiserweight since the creation of the weight class.
Notable wins over-
Dwight Muhammad Qawi
Dwight Muhammad Qawi
James 'Buster' Douglas
Nikolai Valuev, robbery/very close bout