World Heavyweight Champion: 1996-1999
Having won and lost the title twice, 32-year-old Evander Holyfield could have walked away from boxing with his head held high and a telephone-number bank balance. Indeed, that is what he seemed to have decided, announcing his retirement shortly after the defeat by Michael Moorer. But a year later, he was back in the ring, and some of his greatest moments still lay ahead of him. A third clash with Riddick Bowe didn’t augur well for Holyfield. He dumped Bowe on the canvas in the sixth round with a tremendous left hook. But ‘Big Daddy’ paid him back with interest, and the referee stopped the fight two rounds later. After that struggle, few gave Holyfield a prayer against Mike Tyson.
Released from jail and looking to make up for lost time, Tyson seemed intent on taking his enforced break out on his opponents. After quick-fire wins over Peter McNeeley and Buster Mathis Junior in 1995, he demolished WBC champion Frank Bruno in three rounds in March of the following year. The expectation was that Tyson would go on to hoover up all the titles, as he had done a decade earlier. He carried on in the same vein in his next fight, taking the WBA crown from Bruce Seldon inside two minutes. This was the daunting situation which faced Evander Holyfield in November 1996.
Holyfield beats Tyson
Five years after their planned meeting had been forestalled by the American judicial system, Holyfield and Tyson were finally able to show what they could do in the ring. Despite Holyfield’s credentials as a two-time world champion, the bookmakers had him as a 22-1 rank outsider. They got it all wrong, and a host of so-called experts were soon called upon to consume large quantities of humble pie. In 10 rounds and 37 seconds of breathless action, Holyfield showed complete disdain for the aura of menace and invincibility that was supposed to surround Tyson. When referee Mitch Halpern stepped in to end the 11th round onslaught, it was Tyson he was protecting. The return match will be forever remembered for the infamous and despicable ear-biting incident. Tyson’s third-round disqualification left his future in the sport hanging in the balance, while Holyfield had confirmed once again what a true champion he was, both in his performance and his demeanour.
Holyfield’s Indian summer was completed with an eight-round win over Michael Moorer, the man who had deposed him in 1994. With that victory came Moorer’s IBF belt.The only top-ranked fighter that Holyfield hadn’t faced was Lennox Lewis, the reigning WBC champion. That was the obvious next match, and the one everyone wanted to see. They met at Madison Square Garden on
March 13, 1999. The much-hyped fight failed to deliver, and was most noteworthy for the controversy sparked by the scorers. One of the judges made Lewis the winner by three points, which many observers felt was about right. A all-square, w hile the third – the second judge had them
American Eugenia Williams – provoked a storm of protest by awarding the fight to Holyfield. A drawn contest in such controversial circumstances meant that a rematch was inevitable. That fight took place eight months later, on November 13, 1999. It was to be the swansong for the heavyweight of the 1990s.