Evander Holyfield was enshrined at The Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York yesterday, along with, amongst others, Marco Antonio Barrera and the late Johnny Tapia. Holyfield, the only four-time heavyweight champion in boxing history, was genuinely moved as he gave his acceptance speech; devoting his success to his mother – who, he told the gathering, told him “never to quit.”
Indeed, quit was not a word in Evander’s vocabulary. The greatest cruiserweight in the division’s history (it’s not even debatable), Holyfield moved up and rumbled with the biggest (George Foreman, Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis, Nikolay Valuev), the baddest (Mike Tyson) and the toughest (Ray Mercer) – and despite his size, or lack of it, “The Real Deal” more than made people who said he wasn’t a heavyweight eat their words.
But in looking back on his Hall of Fame career, Holyfield didn’t list one of his heavyweight wars as the toughest fight of his career. Mike Tyson doesn’t get the distinction as giving Evander his toughest fight, nor Lennox Lewis, not even Riddick Bowe, who he of course went to hell and back with on three thrilling occasions. No, the honour, if you want to call it that, goes to one Dwight Muhammad Qawi, the 5’7” cruiserweight terror who pushed a young Holyfield all the way to the 15th and final round back in 1986.
“Qawi was by far the toughest fight. By far,” Holyfield said as quoted by ESPN.com. “No fighter ever pushed me to that limit. Oh, my, that was a very tough fight.”
Holyfield, who won his very first world title fight by picking up a split decision win over Qawi, is said to have lost 15-pounds during the savage, incredibly fast paced fight, going to hospital straight afterwards. No wonder Holyfield lists this encounter as his toughest ever.
The 15 rounds he shared with Qawi no doubt helped Holyfield, mental-wise, when things got hot in his many heavyweight encounters. Even if, as Holyfield says, no heavyweight ever pushed him as hard as Qawi did.
As for his biggest win, Holyfield’s pick is perhaps an obvious one.
“Nothing was bigger than the first Tyson fight,” Evander said.