By Sean Crose
Forty-four wins. Ten losses. Two draws. That is the official and apparent final record of former heavyweight and cruiserweight kingpin Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfied. Like many greats, however, Holyfield’s final record doesn’t do the man justice. For Holyfield, in the unfortunate tradition of other ring titans, lingered in the ring for too long.
Not that it really matters to fans of the sweet science. Holyfield won’t be remember for double digits in his loss column. He’ll be remembered as one of the greatest heavyweight champions ever – count on it. The man fought the best of his time and place, often repeatedly, and usually came out on top.
Dwight Mohammad Qawi, Pinklon Thomas, James Douglas, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Riddick Bowe, Michael Moorer, Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis. Evander Holyfield fought and defeated all of those men, except for one. And the one he never beat, the great Lennox Lewis, was an opponent I believe he met about five years too late.
What makes a champion great, however, is not the ability to beat a lot of big names, but to dominate. And, believe it or not, Holyfield proved that he was the greatest heavyweight of his era. Yes, even greater than Tyson. Many will say Tyson’s best days were behind him when the two men met for the first time in 1996. That may be true – but I felt Holyfield would have beaten his man even if they had met in 1991.
So, what was it about Holyfield that allowed him to rise above such an intensely notable field of competition (if only most of today’s lumbering heavyweights were half as talented)? Well, for starters, the guy was a skilled boxer-puncher. Here was a man who was all movement in the ring, a guy who could really, really work, on the inside.
What’s more, Holyfield was the individual who arguably rang in the era of today’s fitness fighters. Before Alex Ariza, before CrossFit, before the unending line of strength and conditioning gurus began strutting(sometimes annoyingly, arrogantly, and ridiculously) across boxing’s stage, Holyfield was a practitioner of advanced conditioning. Sports Illustrated even dedicated an entire article to the man’s cutting edge training way back in 1987.
Holyfield’s fitness showed in the ring, as well. He had the physique of an Adonis, while maintaining the ability to hit and move at will. Such a combination was unheard of at the time. Holyfield, simply put, showed there was more than one way to train for a fight.
There was one thing, however, that was even more important to Holyfield than his impressive strength and conditioning, one thing that was even more important than his amazing skill set. And that one thing was heart. Holyfield had the greatest heart in boxing since Rocky Marciano. Period. The man wouldn’t stop. He was a warrior who believed that warriors do battle. You could see it on Holyfield’s face when he fought. Even still photos of the guy in his prime show an individual who is always, at all times, digging deep.
Frankly, boxing could always use more of the kind of heart Holyfield displayed throughout his long and illustrious career. He hadn’t fought in ages before announcing his retirement on Thursday, but the occasion stood as a moment to note the warrior spirit which causes certain individuals in the fight game to rise above the fray.
Thankfully, The Real Deal won’t be leaving the fight game entirely. For Holyfied also announced on Thursday that he will be working with Dynasty Boxing, which features Chinese heavyweight Zhang Zhilei, for whom Holyfield will perform the role of adviser. To say Mr. Zhilei found himself a solid mentor would be an understatement.
If only other modern heavyweights could be so fortunate.