On This Day: The Holyfield vs Qawi War

The Greatest Cruiserweight Fight Ever; The Last Great 15 Round Fight

By the summer of 1986, the 15 round fights were on their way out, they had been for some time. After the 45-minutes of sheer hell Evander Holyfield and Dwight Muhammad Qawi went through in their July, ’86 war/battle of attrition/slugfest, both men would no doubt have been happy to have fought a 12 rounder, not a 15 rounder.

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It has been said, many times, that the superb battle Holyfield and Qawi engaged in, on this day in 1986, ranks as THE greatest cruiserweight fight ever; while this fantastic fight is also looked at as the last great 15 round fight. Certainly, the fight the fight that took place on a hot afternoon in Atlanta had everything: constant two-way action, unlimited slugging, guts and heart on show with pride, a veteran’s skills and toughness Vs. an up-and-comer’s desire and hunger. And, with the great Alex Wallau (for many, the best boxing commentator of the lot) calling the action, July 12, 1986 was indeed a memorable day for fight fans.

Qawi, all 5’6” of him, resented the fact that a “novice” in 1984 Olympic bronze medal winner Holyfield would dare challenge him. Not only that, but “The Camden Buzzsaw,” as Qawi was known, disliked the way so many experts had picked Holyfield, known as “The Real Deal,” to beat him.

In an effort to prove who was the better man, both fighters pushed themselves about as far as is possible in a boxing match. As a result, we got a classic.

Holyfield started well in the fight, winning the opening three rounds with his work-rate. But then, after burning up so much energy, and having nothing but a snarling/grinning Qawi looking at him to show for it, Holyfield was to lose the next few rounds. This was a fight that was bitterly contested throughout, and nobody knew who was winning. Both warriors really did have to dig deep. Later, it was revealed how Holyfield lost around 14 pounds in fluids, such was his grinding effort at winning. Qawi never had things easy himself, at all, and it’s said that that was Dwight’s last great fight.

Holyfield boxed, moved and slugged. Qawi trundled forward all night long, taking turns in unloading hurtful shots and slipping what came his way. At other times, Qawi ate what was fed to him without fuss or complaint. It was a fight that contained dizzying action, relentless action. Amazingly, there were no knockdowns. Or cuts. Or signs of giving in from either side.

Finally, after a fight that served to make many a casual observer a fight fan for life, Holyfield got the split decision win. To this day, Qawi believes the stamina-suspect fighter he had studied was “on something.” Regardless, Holyfield was the new WBA cruiserweight champ. And so much awaited him.

To this day, some 36 years on, no cruiserweight fight has come close to topping this one in terms of intoxicating, non-stop action.