Fifteen Years Ago Today: Holyfield Hammers Tyson, Causes Sensational Upset - Which Legend Has The Greater Legacy?

by James Slater: Exactly fifteen years ago today, fans of recent “heart attack” victim Evander Holyfield were bracing themselves for the worst. The 34-year-old - just three fights removed from his loss to Michael Moorer (the fight that led to Evander’s heart issue becoming public), and just one win removed from his 8th-round KO loss to Riddick Bowe - was going in with the fearsome Mike Tyson.

Tyson, younger, faster and fresher than “The Real Deal,” had seemingly recaptured his old form. Having won four bouts by way of swift KO since being released from prison in 1995, “Iron Mike” was again scaring people. Fans were sure Tyson would be way too much for the faded, perhaps damaged Holyfield, and many viewers that November night in 1996 were simply hoping Holyfield would come to no serious harm.

Instead - and in forever damaging Tyson’s mystique - Holyfield proceeded to bang Tyson around, give him a boxing lesson, knock him down and ultimately TKO him in the 11th-round of a massive upset. Holyfield had rejuvenated his career once again; Tyson would never be the same fighter again. Indeed, it could be argued that Holyfield proved Tyson was never a true great.

A harsh statement? Maybe. But the fact that a past-his-best Holyfield twice defeated Tyson cannot be ignored when assessing the greatness of both men. And even though Holyfield was a dominant force, a world champion at TWO weights and a two-time Tyson conqueror, Tyson's overall greatness, in the eyes of many, surpasses that of the former cruiserweight king's.

Just which fighter of the two deserves to go down in history with the finest legacy? (Note: as he is, amazingly, still active, Holyfield could, conceivably, add further glory to his name. Tyson, however, is long retired)

Let’s look at the accomplishments made by both:

Tyson became the youngest claimant to a portion of the world heavyweight title at the incredibly young age of 20. Soon adding the other two versions of the championship to the WBC belt he won by smashing Trevor Berbick, as well as becoming the linear and universally known champ also, Tyson appeared invincible. He wasn't, as his need to regain the title proves. Mike was able to bounce back from his shock loss to James Douglas, however, and become a two-time holder of a heavyweight title. Winning back both the WBC and WBA versions in 1996, it is fair to call Tyson a two-time heavyweight champion of the world - even though his second reign was not that of the linear champion. Score in terms of major titles won: 8.

Holyfield won all three belts, along with undisputed acknowledgment as the one-and-only king, at cruiserweight back in the same year Tyson first captured his portion of the world heavyweight title. Then, moving up in weight, Evander was able to become a four-time holder of world honours at heavyweight. As with Tyson, Holyfield wasn't the true linear champ in all of his reigns. He was a two-time universally recognised champ, though - in 1990 to 1992 and again in 1993 to 1994. In terms of titles won, the edge goes to "The Real Deal." Score in terms of major titles won: 9.

Tyson took on all comers throughout his time at the top in the 1980's. Mike also met some excellent opposition both before and after his 1992 incarceration. Here is a list of the quality names Tyson was able to beat: Trevor Berbick, James Smith, Pinklon Thomas, Tony Tucker, Tyrell Biggs, Larry Holmes, Michael Spinks, Frank Bruno (twice) Carl Williams, Tony Tubbs, Donovan Ruddock (twice) Bruce Seldon, Francois Botha, Lou Savarese. Overall rating for quality of opposition defeated: 7.

Holyfield cleaned up the cruiserweight division, before attempting to do likewise at heavyweight. He wasn't anywhere as dominant as he had been at junior heavyweight, but nonetheless Evander met and defeated some fine fighters as a heavyweight. Cruiserweight first: Dwight Muhammad Qawi (twice) Ossie Ocasio, Carlos De Leon. At heavyweight: Pinklon Thomas, Michael Dokes, James Douglas, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Riddick Bowe, Michael Moorer, Ray Mercer, Mike Tyson (twice) John Ruiz, Hasim Rahman. Overall rating for quality of opposition defeated: 9.

Tyson burst onto the heavyweight scene just when he was most needed. A blisteringly fast, well conditioned, huge punching monster of an exciting heavyweight is what he was and in terms of impact, no other heavyweight of the last 50-years, aside from Muhammad Ali, has made such a colossal one. Showing how big a deal Tyson was in his ferocious prime is the fact that many fans still had that Mike Tyson in their minds even when he was nothing but a shadow of his former self and losing to the likes of Kevin McBride. In other words, the prime Tyson is a fighter that will not be forgotten for a long, long time. Score in terms of impact made: 10.

Holyfield's rise to a world title actually took a lesser number of fights, at 12 compared to Tyson's 27. But Tyson undeniably captured the attention of the whole world much faster than did Holyfield. Evander earned the respect of boxing fans over a longer period of time, when he gradually won them over with his immense courage. In terms of impact made he is second to Tyson, but being second in this particular race is no bad thing. Indeed, aside from Tyson's, the impact made on the sport by Holyfield is likely the biggest since Ali's. Score in terms of impact made: 8.

Tyson's rise was spectacular but so was his fall. Both came quickly and this hurts him in this debate. Also, as foes became less and les afraid of him, Tyson got hit more and more and ultimately wasn't as tough as at first thought. Never once in his career did Tyson get up from a knockdown to win a fight. Once his ability at intimidation wavered, so did Tyson's time at the top. Mike's greatness was of the short and sweet variety. Score in terms of durability and time at the top: 6.

Who is more durable than Holyfield? As unimaginably brave and tough as they come, Holyfield's career at top level lasted so long (and is still going, albeit not quite at “top level”) due to his hardness and refusal to admit defeat. Consider; Evander won his first world title in July of 1986 and was still a champion fifteen long years later, in 2001! If that's not a long time at the top, as well as a sure sign of durability, then what is? Score in terms of durability and time at the top: 10.

In the final analysis, Evander Holyfield was both tougher than Tyson (mentally as well as physically), he remained at the top for longer, and when the two men finally met it was he who was further removed from his prime than Tyson - yet “The Real Deal won, twice!

Which legend deserves the more prestigious place in boxing history? Quite obviously, Evander does.

Article posted on 10.11.2011

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