Updated: Aug 6, 2019
Born in Atmore, Alabama on 19th October 1962, Evander Holyfield's hometown became Atlanta, Georgia. Holyfield took up boxing and in 1984 took the National Golden Gloves light-heavyweight title. He also represented USA in the Los Angeles Olympic Games, where he picked up a bronze medal.
Holyfield probably threw the punch of the entire tournament, catching New Zealand's Kevin Barry in the semifinal with a left hook. Barry stumbled to the canvas, regained his feet but was still on wobbly legs. The Yugoslavian referee deemed the punch a foul as Holyfield landed it when he called break, and disqualified the American.
Holyfield claimed he never heard the command and the US team filed a complaint. They said the punch was thrown before the break call, deeming the punch legal, the noise level of the crowd so high that their man couldn't of heard the command and Barry was in the process of being warned for holding when the incident occurred; meaning Barry could've been disqualified for excessive holding.
The International Amateur Boxing Association rejected the protest."There is no doubt in the minds of the protest committee," said IABA president Colonel Don Hull. "They reviewed the film and it is clear that there was a violation and that an illegal blow incapacitated. The referee enforced the rules."
Holyfield signed with Main Events, headed by the Duva family and turned professional on 15th November 1984 at New York's Madison Square Garden. The event was billed as 'Night of Gold' and featured the professional debuts of the United States Olympic boxing medalists, including Mark Breland, Virgil Hill, Meldrick Taylor and Pernell Whitaker.
Holyfield outpointed Lionel Byarm and seemed to land at will, troubling his opponent in the fifth round on his way to winning unanimously. Holyfield next fought in January 1985, putting in another dominate performance against Eric Winbush, where he floored him in the second and third rounds. Winbush also had to take a standing eight count in the fifth on the way to dropping an unanimous decision over six rounds.
On 13th March 1985 Holyfield produced his fist stoppage victory over Fred Brown, winning by a TKO in round one. The following month he faced Ohio's Mark Rivera, who boasted a 12-1 (11 KO's) record. It didn't last long as Holyfield forced two standing eight counts in the second, before finally flooring his man to end the contest in round two.
In July that year he had to go the full eight rounds to win an unanimous decision over future WBO cruiserweight champion Tyrone Booze. He put in three more stoppage victories in 1985, finishing the year with record of 8-0 (5 KO's).
By May 1986 he stopped another three opponents. On 12th July 1986 he got a shot at WBA cruiserweight champion Dwight Muhammad Qawi. Holyfield was 11-0 and looking to become the first Olympian from 1984 to lift a world title.
Qawi drew his first contest against Leonard Langley in April 1978. After losing his third bout, he went on an eighteen fight winning spree before losing a fifteen round unanimous decision in March 1983 to Michael Spinks for the WBC and WBA light-heavyweight titles.
Qawi continued to win and in July 1985 knocked out Piet Crous in the eleventh round for the WBA cruiserweight crown. He stopped Rick Enis in the first round, then beat former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks in the sixth round before taking on Holyfield.
The contest was a close and exciting encounter right up to the final bell. Holyfield looked to have outworked the champion, who suffered a puffy left eye from the fourth round. The punch stats say Holyfield landed 629 compared to Qawi's 562. In what was probably one of the last great fifteen round battles, two judges scored in favour of Holyfield 144-140, 147-138, whilst the other judge went for Qawi 143-141.
Holyfield capped off 1986 by stopping Mike Brothers in Paris on 08th December in the third round. His belt wasn't on the line until the following February where he stopped Henry Tillman in the seventh round. It was a dominating performance where he floored his challenger in the second round and repeatedly hurt him with left hooks to head and body, plus snapping his head back with right uppercuts when in close.
Holyfield went on to put Tillman to the canvas three times in round seven, where the bout was stopped at the one-minute 43 second mark. Holyfield improved his record to 14-0 whilst Tillman dropped to 14-2 with ten opponents halted.
On 15th May 1987 Holyfield took on IBF cruiserweight champion Ricky Parkey. He turned pro in 1981 and in his third fight, weighing 196 lbs fought future WBA heavyweight champion James 'Bonecrusher' Smith. 'Bonecrusher' weighed 252 lbs and won a six round points decision.
Parkey won four more bouts before dropping a majority decision to Bobby Jennings at the start of 1983. He didn't lose again until he was outpointed by Bernard Benton for the vacant USBA cruiserweight title in September 1984. He beat Renaldo Snipes in a heavyweight contest on points, but lost for a third time on points to ex light-heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. Parkey picked up the vacant WBC Continental Americas title by beating Michael Arms over twelve rounds.
After a TKO victory over Carlos Hernandez, he challenged Lee Roy Murphy for the IBF cruiserweight belt on 25th October 1986. He stopped Murphy in the tenth and successfully defended it against Chisanda Mutti before his unification showdown with Holyfield.
The usual durable Parkey was nailed inside three rounds. Holyfield found his man early with stiff left jabs and the IBF champion was having trouble evading his opponent's right hand bombs. A left, right combination staggered him, but his chin held up. Holyfield was stinging him with single shots in the second round, then he opened up and had Parkey retreating to the ropes, but he fought back effectively enough to hear the bell.
Late in round three a right hand from the WBA champion had Parkey wobbling to the canvas. He got to one knee and signalled to his corner that he was ok. He was met by a barrage of punches that floored him again for the final time with 16 seconds left of the third.
The now WBA and IBF champion was asked in the post-fight press conference when he would add twenty pounds and chase Mike Tyson. "I want to wait and make sure I can be effective at 205-210 pounds. I think we're smart enough to know when," replied Holyfield.
Holyfield's trainer Lou Duva cautiously stated "He's going to clean up the cruiserweights first. There's no telling how long that will be."
The former challenger to Larry Holmes' WBC heavyweight title was up next for Holyfield. Ossie Ocasio, hailing from Puerto Rico, dropped down a division after his third defeat and faced Robbie Williams on 13th February 1982 for the vacant WBA cruiserweight title. He won it with a fifteen round split decision and made three successful defences, before getting outpointed by Piet Crous. He won back to back ten round points decisions against Narcisco Maldonado and Dwight Muhammad Qawi, before challenging Holyfield on 15th August 1987, in Saint-Tropez, France.
Holyfield stopped his thirty-one year old challenger in the middle of the eleventh round. He caught Ocasio on the cheek with a solid right hand. The Puerto Rican staggered back with the champion following up with a left uppercut and another right, which floored him. Ocasio got up, but was being hit at will on the ropes, before British referee John Coyle stepped in. Holyfield improved to 16-0 (12 KO's).
Holyfield closed 1987 with a rematch against Dwight Muhammad Qawi. Unlike the first contest, which was a close epic battle that saw Holyfield win the WBA title by a split decision, the champion despatched his IBF number one contender in the fourth round, dropping his man twice in the process.
Evander Holyfield faced WBC cruiserweight champion Carlos De Leon to see who would become the undisputed champion. De Leon had been a pro since 1974 and first won the WBC belt in 1980 against Waldemar Paulino. He made two successful defences, before losing it in the second round to S T Gordon in 1982. The Puerto Rican came back and the following year won an unanimous decision over Gordon to regain the title.
He defended it a further three times, before losing a split decision in his fourth defence against Alfonso Ratliff in June 1985. In March 1986 he challenged Bernard Benton for his old belt, becoming a three time champion with a majority decision. De Leon defended the belt four times before taking on WBA and IBF champion Holyfield.
Holyfield hit De Leon with every punch possible, but didn't seem to be able to make a dent in the brave opponent. The WBC champion was never off his feet, but in the eighth round Holyfield landed a barrage of twenty unanswered punches, forcing referee Mills Lane to intervene at the one-minute 08 seconds mark. Holyfield became the first undisputed cruiserweight champion and his date in the heavyweight division was on the horizon.
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