REAL DEAL ‘Smart’ and ‘humble’ Evander Holyfield was like a ‘walking tiger’ in the ring, lauded by Mike Tyson and other legends as the best they ever faced.
Boxing legends Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe and Michael Moorer all consider Evander Holyfield to be the greatest fighter they ever fought.
For some reason, Holyfield’s name isn’t mentioned as much in the same conversations as Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, and Tyson – but he’s right up there with the best ever.
Perhaps it’s his humble, quiet demeanor, or maybe because we remember him as the guy who had a chunk of his ear bitten off by Tyson in 1997.
Holyfield won both of his fights against Tyson in the 1990s. He beat Foreman and Larry Holmes, too.
The 57-year-old is the only four-time heavyweight champion in history, and the only boxer ever to win the undisputed championship in two weight classes.
As talk of a remarkable third fight against Tyson gathers pace, it’s no surprise that most of the spotlight has fallen on ‘Iron Mike’, being the character that he is.
But, there’s a reason why Holyfield was nicknamed ‘The Real Deal’. Here’s what some of the biggest names in heavyweight boxing had to say about him…
For years, Tyson claimed he bit Holyfield in protest against relentless headbutting during both fights.
However, the world knew it was actually frustration at being outfought, and Tyson eventually admitted that to Oprah in 2009: “I was so pissed off that Holyfield was such a great fighter and wanted to desperately beat him.”
In a recent interview with Holyfield on his podcast ‘Hotboxin”, Tyson said: “He’s a good guy, I always knew he was a good guy. I want people to react and get in their heads, but he never reacted.
“He was an awesome counter-puncher. I’d say the best ever.
“I always wondered how he could be so good and so humble.”
And in an interview with Ring Magazine, Tyson described Holyfield as his best ever opponent. He said “Great champion: chin, heart, determination, work ethic, demeanor.”
Lewis was one of the few men to overcome Holyfield, although it took 24 brutal rounds.
Their first fight in 1999 was called a split-decision draw, before Lewis got the decision in the second bout, even though Holyfield still insists he won.
“People seem to be genuinely surprised when I tell them [Holyfield] was my toughest opponent, not to be confused with my toughest fight, which was [Ray] Mercer, but when you really dive into why that is, it actually makes a lot of sense,” the 54-year-old wrote on Instagram.
“Holyfield, like me, has an extensive amateur pedigree that has served him well throughout his professional career. He started boxing at eight years old and was an Olympic bronze medalist in 1984. Before he moved up to the heavyweight division, he’s a man that cleared out the cruiserweight division to become the undisputed champion, and arguably the best ever, in that weight class.
“That’s a lot of experience and it’s safe to say that by the time we met for the undisputed heavyweight championship in 1999, he had seen it all. When you combine Evander’s amateur and professional experience, you would be hard pressed not to see the kind of success he’s had in the ring.
“I may tease him a bit on our two fights, he knows I won both fights even though he won’t admit it, but in all seriousness, he’s the only man that has gone 24 rounds with me.”
A 42-year-old Foreman was punching his way back to the top before he met Holyfield in 1991.
Nobody gave Foreman a chance against Holyfield in his prime, but he managed to go the distance before losing via unanimous decision.
Big George tweeted in 2017: “No one ever had as much heart, you hurt him you get 15 shots, like waking a Tiger.”
Bowe did something nobody else could manage and beat Holyfield TWICE during their epic trilogy of fights.
Holyfield considers Bowe his toughest ever opponent, and it turns out the feeling is mutual.
Bowe told Ring Magazine: “He was better than anyone I ever fought. He could think, he could match wits with you. Our fights were so good because he could match me in the thinking aspect. He was always in such great shape.
“He had the best defence, the best offence. I mean hands down he made you work. If you weren’t in shape, it wasn’t going to happen.
“I could shake Evander and he’d come back with four, five shots. And if you weren’t in shape, that’s when he was going to get you. He was always going to come back at you.
“Here’s a guy, you hit him with a left hook, he would keep his guard up, get close to you and turn his body. He was very smart in that aspect.
“Evander was smart, he was a thinker, he was in great shape, he had all the attributes to make him a great champion. That’s why he and I fought against each other so hard and so well.”
One of the reasons Holyfield isn’t always included in conversations about the greatest ever is because he carried on too long.
Having suffered only three defeats between the age of 22 and 37, he lost three in a row when he was 40 and carried on until he was 48.
Speaking at the time, though, Holmes explains why Holyfield was able to continue deep into his forties.
He said: “Today’s fighters don’t have the dedication and the dicipline to come out and be a champion. That’s why Evander’s still fighting.
“You can’t blame them for fighting when there’s nothing out there. You can keep giving him opponents, he’s going to keep fighting and keep winning.
“These guys still need to learn how to fight, Evander is the only one I see with the discipline. He dedicates himself and still weighs the same thing he did ten years ago.”
Moorer is the only other man, alongside Bowe, to beat Holyfield in his prime.
And like Bowe, Moorer has nothing but respect for ‘The Real Deal’.
He told Ring Magazine: “Every time he fought someone a second time, he was better, except maybe against Lennox Lewis.
“He was a student of the game and then he perfected it. I’ve always respected his smarts.
“I feel that Evander was the best that I faced, because he was always at his peak.
“When you are at your peak, you are always ready for everything and anything that is put before you. Evander always came ready.
“So I feel that he would have to be the best one that I fought, because he would always get himself in the best shape possible for any fight.
“He was always that guy. If he did not beat you the first time, he would beat you the second time.”