Should Evander Holyfield Be Ranked As a Top Ten Heavyweight?

Evander HolyfieldBy James Curl: Having gotten into boxing in the early 80’s, I followed many fighters’ careers including Evander Holyfield. I witnessed most of Evander’s fights at some kind of gathering that usually included a lot of my friends, a BBQ, and alcohol. Although all of my friends are what I would call casual fans, I consider myself a serious fan, possibly a fanatic, and have been since I was 16. Having watched the rise and fall of Holyfield, now that his career is over (or is it), I can take a look back at his accomplishments and compare him with the other great champions. For this evaluation, I am only looking at Holyfield’s heavyweight career.

In my opinion, a fighter deserving of a top ten rating must prove his heart, desire, and character (even in defeat). They must also face the best available contenders and champions. Evander did this several times. His fights with Bert Copper and Riddick Bowe come to mind. Evander pulled out a win against Bert Cooper from the brink of defeat proving his heart and toughness. Now some may argue that if Evander was a truly great fighter, he would not have had a hard time with Cooper in the first place. I don’t agree. A lot of great champions had hard fights with lesser opponents. I could list half a dozen easily. It’s not whether or not the champ had a hard time with a lesser or equal opponent for that matter, it’s how the champion reacts to the adversity that marks him as a great champ. Let’s remember Cooper was a tuff strong guy with a decent punch. Holyfield also displayed a lot of heart and toughness in his three fights with the bigger stronger Riddick Bowe. Holyfield was outweighed by 30 pounds in the first fight and lost by decision. Holyfield’s willingness to mix it up with the bigger stronger Bowe is proof of Evanders toughness and heart. The Bowe-Holy trilogy is certainly one of the best in recent boxing history, and a prime Bowe was a damn good fighter. Evander once again proved his toughness when he faced a still young and dangerous Tyson. I remember the first fight like it was yesterday. Tyson hit Holyfield with a right to the body and followed with a ripping right upper cut. I cringed when that combo landed while all of my friends hooted and hollered. Most fighters would have been out but not Holyfield. As most of us know, Evander went on to win by a KO. Some will say that Tyson was not the same fighter when he fought the “Real Deal” at age 30 as he was when he was 22 or 23. Sure he may have declined a little but at only 30 years old he was certainly still one of the top fighters in the world and a devastating, fast puncher.

Another consideration when assessing a fighters place in history and his place on a top ten list is the level of competition. Evander’s level of competition was certainly top notch. He defeated James Buster Douglas, fresh off his surprising KO of Mike Tyson, although Douglas lacked the conditioning and motivation he had for the Tyson fight. Holyfield also demonstrated his skills when he defeated an older but still dangerous George Foreman, who outweighed Evander by 39 pounds and was still a killer puncher. Holyfield beat tuff contender Smokin’ Bert Cooper and an older but still decent Larry Holmes. Among Evanders better competition and victories was a prime Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe, Evander won a decision against Bowe In the second fight of their trilogy to recapture the heavyweight title. Evander went on to defeat and become the first fighter to knock down the tuff iron chinned Ray Mercer. He also beat the first south paw heavyweight champ Michael Morrer, avenging a previous loss in the process. Of course, let’s not forget his KO of iron Mike Tyson. Evander also fought Lennox Lewis, Chris Byrd, John Ruiz, Hasim Rahman, Larry Donald, James Toney, and Sultan Ibragimov . Keep in mind that all these fighters were world champs closer or at their prime’s at the time of the fights. Even though Holyfield lost many of these fights, Its’ my opinion that a prime Holyfield would have beaten Lennox Lewis, James Toney, Sultan Ibragimov, Chris Byrd, and John Ruiz. So, as we can see, Evander beat a strong group of contenders and champions including a near prime Tyson who, is on many top ten lists, and a prime Riddick Bowe. Did Rocky Marciano ever beat a fighter the caliber of Riddick Bowe or even a declining mike Tyson or an older Foreman? Did Louis? Dempsey? Liston? Holmes? All these fighters are regularly placed top ten or top five.

How about other accomplishments like length of title reign and title defenses? Evander became only the third man besides Muhammad Ali and Floyd Patterson to win the lineal heavyweight title 2 times. He had a total of 9 lineal title fights winning 5, loosing 3, and drawing 1 with a total of 3 successful defenses (only counting lineal heavyweight title fights for the WBC, IBF, WBA and WBO belts). Evanders combined lineal and non lineal title fight record is 18 total fights (10 wins, 2 draws, with a total of 6 defenses (again only including WBC, IBF, WBA, WBO )). Evander held the lineal heavyweight title from 1990-1992, 1993-1994 and the non lineal title from 1996-1999, and 2000-2001. He made more lineal title defenses than Liston and Foreman, and he held the heavyweight title longer than either Liston or Foreman. Both Liston and Foreman are on many top ten lists and as high as top 5. So we see that Evanders accomplishments and level of competition was good or better than some of the top ten greats.

So what are some of Holyfield’s short comings? Well, for one he could be inconsistent and lacked the KO punch Tyson, Foreman, Louis, and Dempsey possessed. Also the lengths of his title reigns were shorter that that of some of the all time greats like Louis, Ali, Frazier and Holmes. At times had stamina issues and seemed that could be knocked down easily but other times he would take heavy beatings that would KO lesser fighters. Of course, so could all of the greats. He was stopped twice in his career; once by Bowe and once by Toney when he was way past his prime.

One last question would be how would Holyfield do against the all time great fighters that are typically placed on the top ten lists? Fighters like Louis, Ali, Frazier, Holmes, Dempsey, Liston, Marciano, Johnson, Foreman, and Jefferies (in no particular order). Some lists would also include Lennox, Tunney, Tyson, and Charles. I am sure that Holyfield would be competitive against all of them but I feel sure he would loose to Ali, Louis, Foreman, Liston, and Johnson. I have not seen enough of Jefferies fights to make a solid judgment but from what I have read, Jefferies may have been a little too strong and durable (like Liston) and would probably beat Holyfield. It could be possible that Holy could win a decision in a 12 round fight against Jefferies, but a fight to the finish or a 20 rounder would be an advantage for Jefferies and probably a victory. I believe Evander could beat Holmes by decision. Frazier, Marciano, and Dempsey would be wars for Holyfield and possible losses but I could see him pulling out a win. I believe Dempsey would have the best chance of winning. Evander would have to be in peak shape to fight at the pace Frazier and Marciano were known to set. A peak Tyson would KO Holyfield unless Evander could some how frustrate Tyson and last the distance to win a decision. A prime Evander could out box Lennox and win a decision. Charles would loose a decision or be stopped. Tunney could possibly out box Evander but I can see Evander winning a decision in a boring fight. The bottom line is Evander would give any champ in history a tuff fight since he was not easy to KO.

So after this evaluation of the “Real Deal’s” heavyweight career, we see that his accomplishments rank among the best heavyweight champions. Evanders level of competition, length of title reign, and number of title defenses is better than some of the all time greats. Winning the lineal heavyweight title 2 times is a big plus and was something Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey, Joe Frazier, Mike Tyson or several other all time greats did not achieve. Evanders low number of lineal title defenses and sporadic title reign is a negative. Holyfield’s toughness, heart, and work ethic were world class. In my opinion he would defeat some of the all time greats and be competitive against any heavyweight champion ever.

So is Evander a top ten champion? I would say YES, he could be ranked in the top ten with little argument. In my opinion the “Real Deal” would rank somewhere around 8 to10.

Article posted on 28.12.2008

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