Evander Holyfield was a whopping, great 25/1 underdog. The former cruiserweight king and former two-time heavyweight ruler had suffered a “heart attack” in the ring during a fight, he had been KO’d by Riddick Bowe and, in his most recent fight, he had laboured to defeat former light-heavyweight champ Bobby Czyz. In the opposite corner was Mike Tyson. No-one was willing to give Holyfield a shot in hell of winning.
It was 25 years ago today, when the fight dubbed “Finally!” took place (Holyfield and Tyson initially set to fight in 1991, before “Iron Mike” was jailed). Without being guilty of exaggeration, quite a few folks were actually and seriously worried for Evander, the thinking being the still-terrifying Tyson might inflict actual bodily harm on Holyfield, maybe worse. But Holyfield and his team knew better. There was zero fear, only huge motivation. Holyfield had had a firm eye on Tyson and he had been wanting to fight him since the 1980s (the two sparred one vicious round back in 1984, when Tyson was 17 and Holyfield was 21).
Now, finally, Holyfield had his big chance. Armed with utter self-belief and a game-plan far superior to Tyson’s – who had squandered a good deal of his talent and now relied on his ability to intimidate an opponent and then score the quick KO – Holyfield took the fight right to the so-called “Baddest Man on the Planet.”
Tyson, who had run over four guys since being released from prison in 1995, had no real answer. Tyson kept attacking but he was being hit with snappy body shots and blows to the head, and worse for him, he was being backed up. Holyfield was also the boss when it came to the inside stuff, his physical strength greater than Tyson’s and his willingness to fight rough (with his head at times) discouraging Tyson.
Then, in round-six, ironically after Tyson had had his best session of the night in the fifth, Holyfield took Mike’s heart. First, Holyfield inflicted a cut to Tyson’s eye with a butt that was ruled unintentional, and then Holyfield sent Tyson crashing to the floor with a shot to the chest. Tyson was from this point on a thoroughly beaten man. To his credit, Tyson did not quit (although some feel he may have tried to, this in round seven, when a wild Tyson clashed heads with Holyfield and then cried out in pain as he looked, perhaps hopefully, at the referee). Was Tyson hoping to either be stopped on cuts, or was he hoping Mitch Halpern would throw Holyfield out for butting?
Instead the now one-sided fight carried on, with Holyfield putting the finishing touches to his stunning night’s work. Holyfield had Tyson reeling across the ring at the end of the tenth, his legs gone. The bell gave Tyson a temporary respite, but Evander soon closed the show; this at the :37 second mark of the 11th round, when Holyfield blasted Tyson with further hurtful punches. Halpern had seen enough. It was The Upset of the Year and Holyfield had proven to the world that he was a greater fighter than Tyson.
We will never know what would have happened had Holyfield and Tyson met earlier, maybe in 1990 (had Tyson not been beaten in an even bigger upset, this in the fight with Buster Douglas), but judging by the hammering Holyfield gave Tyson on this day a quarter of a century ago, “The Real Deal” would always have had Tyson’s number.