Evander Holyfield retires at age 51 – “The Real Deal” goes down in history as a true great

By James Slater - 06/27/2014 - Comments

Living legend and huge overachiever Evander Holyfield has officially retired from boxing at the age of 51. “The Real Deal” said that he has been unable to get fights and that he “don’t want to get hit.” The announcement will no doubt come as a relief to Holyfield’s fans and friends, as it looked until quite recently that the former four-time heavyweight ruler would stick around for what he hoped would be one last big fight.

Now that he has realised he has done more than enough in boxing, Evander can sit back and let the historians decide where they will rank him amongst the other boxing greats that lit up the sport. It’s almost a gimme that Holyfield – who retires with an overall record of 44-10-2 – 1 no-contest (29 KO’s) but a spotless 18-0 (14) as a cruiserweight – will go down as THE greatest cruiserweight of all-time. As to where he will be placed amongst the heavyweight immortals, the 1984 Olympic bronze medallist will probably be placed somewhere in the top-10, or at the very least just below the top-10.

As a cruiserweight, Holyfield was unbeatable. While as a heavyweight, Evander, overcoming size and weight disadvantages (it wasn’t until Evander defeated Riddick Bowe in the second of their three epic fights that the critics stopped claiming the 6’2.5” warrior was “too small” to compete against the elite men at heavyweight) used sheer heart, courage and great skill to win. Wins over the likes of: Riddick Bowe, George Foreman, Mike Dokes and, perhaps his best win as a heavyweight, Mike Tyson, prove how Evander more than showed he belonged at heavyweight.

Possessing a truly great chin (stopped just twice, by the huge Bowe and, when a faded force, by James Toney), Holyfield thrilled the fans numerous times. Who can forget the first war with Bowe, or the upset over Tyson? Evander also experienced the wild and crazy side of the sport. The infamous Fan-Man incident which occurred during his return with Bowe was shocking; Evander’s “Bite Fight” with Tyson was even more so.

All in all, Holyfield went through just about as much as any prizefighter in history could ever have imagined experiencing. And what’s more, Evander did it all with class. A true champion and a born winner, “The Real Deal” made fans proud to be fight fans.

Some of the magnificent battles Holyfield engaged in, the ones that made him great, are as follows:

W15 Dwight Muhammad Qawi. The greatest cruiserweight fight in history according to many judges, this fight was simply breathtaking. Both men gave their all in July 1986, with Evander, who lost over 12-pounds of fluids during the gruelling battle, edging Qawi to win his first world title.

TKO10 Mike Dokes. Holyfield’s first real test as a heavyweight saw him pushed to the limit by a still-hungry former champ. This March 1989 war was deemed so good it was looked at as the best heavyweight rumble since the legendary Ali-Frazier III classic over ten years before.

KO3 Buster Douglas. This one wasn’t a great fight and for once Evander had an easy night of it. Still, the one-punch KO he scored over an unmotivated Douglas in October of 1990 won Holyfield the world heavyweight crown.

W12 George Foreman. The old lion against the new champ. This fight, derided by many beforehand, resulted in great action. Holyfield had to rely on his chin and desire at times, as the old man pushed him hard. The critics were not altogether impressed by Holyfield’s April 1991 points win, but people had to remind themselves that nobody ever stopped Big George (Ali aside of course).

L12 Riddick Bowe. Ironically, Evander’s first loss brought him a boatload of respect. Maybe it was due to the mesmerising action he and “Big Daddy” treated us to that November night in 1992. Maybe it was that amazing 10th-round in particular. But all of a sudden, Holyfield was recognised by all as a real heavyweight and a real warrior.

W12 Bowe. Coming back with new trainer Emanuel Steward, Holyfield proved he was far from done in doing Bowe in in November of 1993. Not as great a fight as the first slugfest maybe, but Holyfield-Bowe II was a dandy all the same.

TKO11 Mike Tyson. This was the win Evander always craved. Tyson, going back to the amateur days of the two rivals, had always had the respect. Holyfield wanted it, and that November night in 1996, when, as a huge underdog, he put Tyson down and then finished him off late in the fight, saw him get it. Holyfield could have quit right then and there, his career complete.

Then came the controversial “Bite Fight,” and then the equally controversial draw with Lennox Lewis, and a slow decline for Evander. He could still roll back the years on occasion (and some people actually feel he did enough to have won the second fight with Lewis), winning his fourth heavyweight title over John Ruiz in 2000 (making Holyfield the only fighter in history to have reigned as champion in three consecutive decades) – but the world has seen the best of the Atlanta warrior.

Losses to the likes of Toney, Larry Donald and Chris Byrd came at a time when Holyfield should have been retired and looking back on a glorious career, while wins over guys like Frans Botha and, in his last fight, Brian Nielson, proved little.

Still, none of this matters now, as Holyfield is revered by all as a true great. One who will be enshrined in the Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017.

Where does Holyfield rank amongst the heavyweight greats?

Here’s my list:

1: Muhammad Ali

2: Jack Johnson

3: Joe Louis

4: Jack Dempsey

5: Rocky Marciano

6: George Foreman

7: Larry Holmes

8: Lennox Lewis

9: Joe Frazier

10: Evander Holyfield