Holyfield v Qawi - Dwight and Evander give the cruiserweight division its first classic!

26.06.06 - By James Slater: Evander Holyfield was moving quickly. Only eleven fights - all wins - into his pro career, he challenged the vastly experienced Dwight Muhammad Qawi for his WBA cruiserweight title. To more than a few experts, Evander was moving too quickly. Qawi, formerly known as Dwight Braxton, had been in with some very fine fighters indeed. Men like Matthew Saad Muhammad, Eddie Davis and James Scott ( in a fight held inside Rahway State prison ) had been defeated by Dwight at light heavyweight. In fact, aside from an early career defeat over six rounds which was later avenged, the only loss on Dwight's record was a fifteen round decision defeat to Michael Spinks in "The Camden Buzz Saw's" final fight at 175 pounds. Immediately after this setback Dwight made the move up to cruiserweight and, with a eleventh round TKO over Piet Crous, captured his second world title. A successful defence came against former heavyweight champ Leon Spinks, before the audacious challenge of the young Holyfield. Qawi was in no mood to give up his new title to such an upstart!

Evander had represented his country in the 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles, and while doing so he had managed to win a medal, but a bronze only. This was due to a quite controversial disqualification that was the result of Evander being deemed by the referee to have hit his opponent on the break. Despite this disappointment, Evander was confident of a very rewarding professional career. The first step towards paid glory was the attempt at winning the title held by the man ten years his elder in Qawi. And Holyfield would have home advantage too, because the fight was to be staged at The Omni in his native Atlanta. Still, despite this, he was tipped by many to be beaten. It was too much, too soon, they argued. Evander, perhaps speeding things up because of the heartbreak he had suffered at the Olympics, was determined to prove them wrong.

The fight was held in July, 1986 and what followed was a bout that is generally considered to be the greatest fight ever in the history of the cruiserweight division. Both men gave it everything they had - for fifteen gruelling rounds!

Evander started out well, capturing the first three rounds. But then, after burning up so much energy, he was to lose the next few rounds to the slower starting champion. As amazing as it may seem today, in light of the terrific and sometimes exhausting battles that Evander has both fought and prevailed in, back in 1986 his stamina was thought to be somewhat suspect. After the war with Qawi, Evander was to say himself that when the going got tough in the fourth to seventh rounds, in which he had looked quite tired after his bristling start, he almost gave in to the "old Holyfield" - in reference to his amateur days when he was known to run out of gas at times. But, as we would all soon grow accustomed to with "The Real Deal", he came back to find his second wind, and put more rounds in the bank.

The bout was bitterly contested throughout, however, and Qawi was always in the fight - to say the least. Holyfield really had to dig deep and whilst commentating on the action, Alex Wallau remarked about how even the great fighters of the past had worried about getting tired. No-one knew then, whether or not Evander could fight fifteen hard rounds. "Until you've done it, you don't know that you can do it", Wallau explained. Well, after three quarters of an hour of non-stop combat, Evander Holyfield had proved to everyone that he could do it. His effort was admirable - it was later revealed how, during the fight, he had lost a staggering seven pounds in body fluids, so much had he sweated during the intense encounter! And the heart shown by Dwight Muhammad Qawi was something to remember too. Despite being the much smaller man at five feet and seven inches tall ( Evander stands six foot two) he continued to wing punches home all night. Because of the height advantage of his challenger his shots had to be fired upwards, which is far more tiring than having to punch downwards. Due to a constant work ethic, Dwight was able to overwhelm taller opponents in the past. In spite of his gallant try this night, however, he was unable to subdue the future star in Evander. Both men, rightly feeling proud after their heroics, embraced at the end of the fight, and the reading of the scorecards was awaited.

The verdict, when it came, was close. A split decision was awarded to Evander and he became the first of his team of Olympians to capture a world title. With some of his team mates there to congratulate him - including Tyrell Biggs, who a lot was expected of as a heavyweight - Evander was positively beaming. This win made up for the frustration he had felt when standing on the Olympic podium. He was now the champion of the world!

Dwight, for his part, was unhappy with the verdict. He felt as though he had won and expressed his desire for a rematch. Fortunately for him, what with the fight being so good, there would be a sequel to the cruiserweights division's finest hour. Holyfield v Qawi II took place in December of the following year. Unfortunately for Dwight, he was KO'd in four short rounds the second time around - as it was evident how much Holyfield had improved as a fighter. "The Real Deal" went on to clean out the entire cruiserweight division, unifying the titles in the process - before moving up to heavyweight, where his real greatness awaited him.

Dwight too, moved up to campaign as a heavyweight (both he and Evander would fight George Foreman) but he was no match for the really big men and moved back down a weight class. He had one more crack at a world title - losing over twelve rounds to Robert Daniels in a 1989 WBA cruiserweight contest. But he soldiered on and continued fighting right up until 1998, losing almost as often as winning. His recent enshrinement in The Hall of Fame is more than deserved though - and surely his participation in the finest ever fight in the cruiserweight division, or junior heavyweight as it was once known - contributed to the necessary number of votes one needs to go into the hall. Without disrespecting the other great moments he had in his fighting career, it is the fifteen round epic with Holyfield that I most remember him for. It really was that good a fight!

Article posted on 26.06.2006

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