Today in 1986, at The Omni in Atlanta, Georgia, two cruiserweights put on a truly unforgettable 15-round war of a fight that still ranks, all these years later, as THE finest to have been waged in the weight class directly below heavyweight. And though, at the time, the still relatively new cruiserweight division was both dismissed and mocked by many a fan and expert, the battle defending WBA ruler and challenger Evander Holyfield put on went a long way towards getting the division accepted by all.
Holyfield, a 1984 Olympian who was having his 12th pro bout, was seen by many as too inexperienced for the tough, dangerous and crafty born-again Muslim who used to be known as Dwight Braxton. Holyfield, the critics, said, ran out of gas after just a few rounds of warfare, and if that happened against the saw-off slugger (who was also blessed with good defence and a rock of a chin) known as “The Camden Buzzsaw” he would be in a whole heap of trouble.
And for a time in his brave, maybe even impertinent challenge of Qawi, it looked as though the 23-year-old would indeed capitulate. Qawi, using all the experience he had gained in picking up his 28-4-1 ledger, let the man a decade his junior let loose with his big shots in the early going (not that the champ was under fire and unable to do anything about it; Qawi landed some wicked shots of his own in the early rounds as the war settled into real brutality), allowing his rival to shoot his bolt.
By the 4th, 5th and 6th-rounds it looked as though Holyfield was dead tired, his guns emptied. But, to Qawi’s shock and to the crowd’s delight, Holyfield got his second wind somewhere in the 6th and then picked up a third win in the later rounds! Qawi hung with him, but the fresher, younger, faster fighter was, amazingly, boxing, and slugging, his way to glory. The action was breathtaking, the two taking turns stunning one another as they traded with barely a clinch to be seen. Holyfield, who had to go to the hospital immediately after the slugfest, reportedly lost something approaching a stone (14-pounds) of weight in fluids due to his heroic effort.
Qawi, who had trundled forward all night, his broad grin and the top of his head being pretty much all Holyfield had to look at for all 15-rounds, was bitter in defeat, feeling the split decision that went to Holyfield was unjust. To this day, Qawi feels his conqueror “was on something” in the fight, and it was this “something” that allowed Evander to get that second wind and come back strong after he’d been so tired and winded in the initial third of the fight.
“I had him in the 4th and 5th-rounds – if you watch the tape you’ll see,” Qawi told the author many years after the epic fight with Holyfield. “But then he came right back after me, after having been so tired and ready to go in the 6th. I feel I was cheated out of the fight, my title, and history.”
Of course, every loser of a fight has a reason for what happened and it is rarely that the other guy was the better fighter. Still we can never know for sure if Holyfield had taken an illegal stimulant (a very fast-acting one at that!) or not. In terms of how great an action fight Holyfield-Qawi was, though, does it really matter? Nothing can tarnish the superb effort put in by both warriors (not even the disappointing rematch of 1987, that saw Holyfield, now approaching his peak, crush Qawi inside 4-rounds), and no-one who saw the fight will ever forget it.
For those young fans who have not yet witnessed the classic these two put on, this should be remedied ASAP!