Hall of Fame Class of 2017: Evander Holyfield
CANASTOTA, N.Y. — Evander Holyfield predicted — promised — a third-round knockout of Lennox Lewis.
When his boast didn’t come to fruition, Holyfield didn’t just begin to question how much he had left to give in that legendary heart of his.
He knew: The end was near.
He knew when Round 3 concluded and there Lewis was, still standing of course. And he certainly must have know after the fight was declared a draw, a decision media and fans alike derided as one of the worst ever.
Holyfield was a slight betting favorite during the 1999 meeting for the undisputed heavyweight championship, but it was Lewis who dominated the fight.
At 36, Holyfield was aware he was finished as a top-flight fighter — one of the greatest of all time — and “The Real Deal” considered hanging up the gloves there and then.
But he couldn’t; not just yet. His mother taught Evander to never give up, and he wanted to pass the lesson to Evander Jr.
So he fought on, far past his 37th birthday, and far past his in-ring expiration date. Holyfield became a shell of the once-great, never-say-day fighter, the man who is both an all-time great heavyweight and cruiserweight, but didn’t retire until age 48 when his quixotic quest to regain a heavyweight title proved fruitless.
All these years later, Holyfield — and the fists who made him a fistic legend — finally realized what was a long time coming: official entry in the International Boxing Hall of Fame on Sunday afternoon.
“Life is all about what you believe,” Holyfield, decked in a navy blue suit with light blue shirt, sans tie, said from the dais in his methodical speaking style, every word carefully parsed out. ” … My first fight, the bell rings and my trainer says ‘I want you to hit him right in the nose. And his coach told him to hit me in the nose.
“The kid ran out there, and closed his eyes; I didn’t close my eyes, I hit him right in the nose, he started crying and the ref stopped the fight.”
His trainer told a 9-year-old Holyfield afterward, ‘You just took your first step to being heavyweight champion.’ It was the first of many occasions Holyfield would make his foe submit.
Holyfield (44-10-2, 29 knockouts) earned an Olympic bronze medal at the 1984 Games and soon after became champion of the then-nascent cruiserweight division, a classic war with Dwight Muhammad Qawi.
It was but one of many all-action scraps that will live on in history for their unbridled savagery and fistic brilliance.
He twice was one-half of THE RING’s Fight of the Year, a heavyweight title defeat to Riddick Bowe in 1992 (part of an epic trilogy) and in 1996, a massive upset of Mike Tyson to once again become heavyweight champ (even if the infamous “Bite Fight” overshadows it).
He brawled with a 42-year-old George Foreman in 1991, a matchup that announced Holyfield as a bona-fide star and the new face of boxing’s glamour division with Tyson imprisoned.
The buy rate of that clash (percent of households who purchased “Battle of the Ages”) was 8.8, which is still the record.
“I worked hard but could never become as fast as the other kids,” he said as two former foes — Bowe and James Toney — looked on. “I was real good at boxing by 15, 16; things started to work because I wouldn’t quit.”
That relentless attitude; the resilience he showed in rallying after being wobbled and rocked by men like Bert Cooper, Foreman, Tyson — would define his legendary career.
The bedrock of his historic run? His mother Annie’s insistence to always sacrifice in pursuit of his lifelong dream.
A 16-year-old Holyfield won an amateur tournament and it was on to Canada, but there was a scheduling conflict: his prom.
Holyfield wanted to forego the trip north, but Annie wouldn’t allow it.
“What does prom have to do with being heavyweight champion of the world” she asked? “Do you want me to tell the girl you’re not coming, or do you wanna tell her?'”
Holyfield learned an important lesson; sacrifice was paramount to success in any endeavor, but especially boxing.
He no doubt inspired so many fighters who followed his incendiary path, and learned the same to be true.
The work is done, but hundreds of years from now, fight fans will know the name Holyfield.
Mike Coppinger is the Senior Writer for RingTV.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger
CLASS OF 2017
Click the photos to read our profiles of this year’s IBHOF inductees