When heavyweight greats Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fought, the world stopped. When Joe Louis and Max Schmeling fought, the world REALLY stopped (for fight-two anyway), and when Mike Tyson actually lost (for the first time), the entire world was in shock. However, when two men – Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield, neither of whom being initially expected to make it as a heavyweight champion – fought, every single hardcore boxing fan stopped what they were doing to tune in.
These fans had a strong inkling it would be special when these two intense rivals duked it out. Expectations only soared after the greatness of fight-one, won by Bowe in November of 1992. Fans everywhere now knew Bowe was indeed for real, and they also knew the “too small” Holyfield was also a diamond cut from the sternest of rocks and that he could be as formidable a big man as any great. How would the rematch turn out? No-one who knew their boxing was willing to miss out on finding out.
Bowe, dubbed a “big baby” by those who knew him as an amateur, socked it to ’em in the first fight, when he out-fought, out-gutted and out-punched “The Real Deal,” in so doing proving he was very much for real himself, that he had the heart. But Holyfield was no one-trick pony, he could fight hard, or harder – or smarter – if given a second shot. This second shot came almost exactly a year later. This time guided by Emanuel Steward – the Kronk guru a formidable match for the cerebral Eddie Futch who was once again working with Bowe – the former cruiserweight king came at Bowe from different angles.
As agile as Bowe was out of shape and overweight, Holyfield put the needle through the thread of holes in Bowe’s sloppy, slower defensive moves, also cutting through with hard and precise shots to head and (flabby) body. It was all working until a quite sad attention-seeking lunatic paraglided into the ring. A twenty-minute break later, and a marked-up Bowe was able to regroup, regain the composure he’d had knocked out of him by Holyfield’s new and advanced fighting approach, and get back into the fight.
Years later, Holyfield insisted that, if not for the crude intrusion, he would have stopped Bowe. Who knows? In any case, Holyfield had done enough after 12 engrossing, if not quite as thrilling rounds. The rematch was Evander’s and fans all over the globe took a deep breath in anticipation of the absolutely foregone conclusion of the rubber-match. The decider would have to happen, and indeed it did – not the following November, but in November of the year after.
1995 and the ending to this, the purest, most violent heavyweight trilogy in boxing history, came, the fight once again going down in Las Vegas. But this time things became as strange and disturbing as they were exciting.
By the time of the decider Bowe had gained even more weight, he had got a touch softer and “Big Daddy” had enjoyed the vast amounts of money his talents has earned him. By contrast, Holyfield, though older and a little more worn, had resisted any such attempts at living a rich man’s life. So much so that, even after suffering a minor heart attack in his losing fight to Michael Moorer, the now-named “Warrior” refused to budge an inch. Now “healed” and fit to fight again according to the world’s governing bodies, Holyfield wanted so badly to beat Bowe and earn the trilogy. Who would prevail in fight-three?
Holyfield looked dead tired in the early going – so much so that HBO commentator George Foreman began “freaking out” on live TV, demanding that the fight be stopped. But then, incredibly, awe-inspiringly, God-only-knowingly, Holyfield regained some of his strength (some reports later said Evander was suffering from Hepatitis and that this accounted for his fluctuating energy) and decked Bowe with a sizzling left hook in round-six. Bowe looked gone, in fact he would have been had Evander had the basic strength needed to be able to follow up. Bowe, rooted to the spot, survived as the spark in Holyfield’s hourglass sifted away.
Soon after, Bowe caught an advancing Holyfied with a thunderous shot and ended matters. Holyfield was done in in round-eight and this was the only fight in the savage series that failed to go the distance. Nobody knew it at the time, but Bowe was practically done as an elite-skilled fighter. By contrast, and adding to the sheer amazement this superb fighting machine caused during his exceptional fighting career, Holyfield would go on to rule the world all over again.
No matter, these two would forever be linked and spoken of as a double-act; a genuinely great one at that. And, for hardcore fight fans, the month of November will always make them think of Bowe and Holyfield, of Holyfield and Bowe.