30 Years Later: Why The Douglas-Holyfield Fight Is Worth Remembering
By: Sean Crose
One of the strangest things about being a fight fan is that you’re able to remember the details. I’ll never forget tearing open the Waterbury paper at ten years of age to read about the first Leonard-Duran fight, or hearing kids on the school bus griping about the second. I was in the car with my father when I learned Holmes had dropped Cooney in the second round, and still remember the smile on my old man’s face that let me know Hagler had defeated Hearns the night before. And of course, everyone who saw it probably recalls where they were when James “Buster” Douglas knocked out the seemingly invincible Mike Tyson.
Yet some fights are better remembered than others. Few would argue, for instance, that Evander Holyfield’s conquest of Douglas was a hallmark moment for the sport of boxing. Douglas showed up out of shape, after all, apparently having drained himself of discipline preparing for the Tyson bout half a year earlier. Holyfield subsequently made quick and easy work of him. Still, the Douglas-Holyfield match, which went down – wait for it – three decades ago this weekend, was an enormous deal at the time.
For starters, fans wanted to know if the victory over Tyson was just a fluke, or if Douglas – who everyone knew was quite talented – was ready to prove himself as more than a one hit wonder. Fans also wanted to see if Holyfield, who even at the time had people longing for a match between he and Tyson, could cut it as a true heavyweight (the man had been a cruiserweight, after all). Plus, of course, there was the shadow of Tyson and promoter Don King looming large over the entire affair.
One can only wonder how the heavyweight division would have turned out had Douglas actually prepared for his first title defense. How would the man who had beaten Tyson handle himself against the young, rising, and very hungry Holyfield? The world will never know because that Douglas didn’t show up to fight Holyfield in Vegas that night. The weigh in said it all. Holyfield looked as game as could be while Douglas looked…just plain out of shape. The fight was over before it began, and everybody seemed to know it.
I remember holding out hope, though, as we made our way to my friend Fred’s place in Springfield that night. A group of us were getting together for the throwdown, much as young people get together for big fights today. Perhaps, I felt, just perhaps, the flabby champion would have enough in his arsenal to pull it off. He didn’t. By the third round, Holyfield, who was in the shape of a chiseled statue, had his man down and out. Many argued afterward that Douglas didn’t even try to beat the count. The whole thing, in short, was a letdown.
Looking back at it all thirty years later, though, I still think it’s worth putting the brief, one sided battle in perspective for more than just the sake of my personal nostalgia. For Douglas did indeed prove that night that his incredible success over Tyson was a fluke, after all. Had he trained and performed better against Holyfield, or even successfully defended his title for that matter, things would have been different as the glorious 90s got into full swing. Instead, he allowed the decade, as well as the sport, to quickly move along without him.
As for Holyfield, the night of October 25th, 1990 was the beginning of a truly great heavyweight run, one that saw the Atlanta native more than earn himself a position as a Hall of Fame fighter. Holyfield is well regarded as one of the greats of a great era, and it all began with his knockout of Douglas, the man who, for whatever reason, couldn’t steel himself for two major heavyweight battles in a row.