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.