World Heavyweight Champion: 1992-1993 1995-1997
Many boxing fans would have noted Evander Holyfield’s defeat by Riddick Bowe in November 1992 with an air of smug satisfaction. Here was a pumped-up cruiserweight whose rise to the top had been carefully orchestrated. His schooling had even included sessions with a 70-year-old ballet teacher, brought in to help improve his agility. His weight gain had been scientifically engineered. Then there was the question of his opponents. Douglas handed him the title on a plate; thereafter he struggled against second-rate opposition.
The entire Holyfield package, far from being the ‘Real Deal’, smacked of a cynical, manufactured marketing exercise. Fortune had conspired to sustain the illusion by putting Mike Tyson out of circulation at just the right moment from Holyfield’s point of view. The murmurings could be clearly heard: ‘Just think what Iron Mike would have done to the likes of Burke Cooper, George Foreman and Larry Holmes.’ Such was the case for the prosecution. The defence – quite naturally including Holyfield himself – saw things rather differently. He had beaten two ex-champions on his way to the title; he couldn’t be held responsible for the condition Douglas chose to be in when he entered the ring, nor the less seemly side to Tyson’s character which prevented their meeting. Prior to the Bowe fight, he had beaten all 28 men put up before him. If the jury was firmly out for the duration of Holyfield’s first stint as champion, he proved himself a very worthy champion when he hit the comeback trail. That began just short of a year after the defeat by Bowe, when he stepped into the ring against the same man. Holyfield fought magnificently and scored a majority points win to reclaim the WBA and IBF titles. He couldn’t claim to be the undisputed champion, though. The WBC had stripped Bowe of their title after the latter reneged on a deal to meet the winner of the Lewis-Ruddock fight. 1993 thus saw a return to the bad old days, with Lewis holding the WBC title, Holyfield the WBA and IBF versions. And then there was the recently formed WBO, whose champion was Michael Moorer. It was Moorer who spoked Holyfield’s second coming. Moorer had renounced his WBO title in 1993, setting his sights on the more established and prestigious versions of the crown. He targeted Holyfield’s WBA and IBF titles, and in April 1994, proceeded to take them.