Lee Groves

10: Top Boxers with combined Olympic and pro success

 

10. Evander Holyfield: Nicknamed “Chubby” as a kid, Holyfield had developed a picturesque physique by the time he twice upset Ricky Womack to make the 1984 Olympic team. Even as he nears 50 Holyfield remains “The Real Deal” when it comes to conditioning and his work ethic surely is the secret behind his incredible longevity – 27 years in the pros and 38 years overall.

His long stay in boxing is even more incredible when one considers his punishing give-and-take style, a style propelled by his warrior’s mindset. Any one of his classics with Dwight Muhammad Qawi (first fight), Michael Dokes, Riddick Bowe (all three fights) and Bert Cooper would have taken the measure of most fighters but Holyfield not only found a way to persevere, he also continues to persist. The way he’s going, Holyfield may become the Hall of Fame’s first senior citizen first-ballot inductee.

Olympic career – Holyfield ripped through the light heavyweight field in the Los Angeles games, one thinned by the Soviet-led boycott that removed several other powers from the competition (Cuba, East Germany, Poland and Bulgaria among them). But Holyfield’s power and strength against Taju Akay of Ghana (RSC 3), Iraq’s Ismail Khalil Salman (RSC 2) and Kenya’s Syivaus Okello (KO 1) was authoritative to say the least and by the time he met New Zealand’s Kevin Barry in the semifinal he was the heavy favorite not only to meet Yugoslavia’s Anton Josipovic in the gold medal match, but to beat him.

But those plans were scuttled when Yugoslavian referee Gligorjie Novicic disqualified Holyfield for hitting on the break late in round two. Because Barry was knocked out by the two Holyfield blows, he was suspended for 28 days. As a result Novicic’s countryman Josipovic won the gold medal on a walkover, fueling initial suspicions regarding conflict of interest. The American delegation filed a protest, but their attempts to move Holyfield into the final were unsuccessful.

Professional career – Any disappointment surrounding Holyfield’s Olympic experience was quelled by the quality of his pro career. He is the only man in boxing history to be undisputed champion at cruiserweight and heavyweight and he’s also the first to capture pieces of the heavyweight title four times. At 6-2 1/2 and between 205 and 215 pounds, Holyfield was undersized during an era of giant heavyweights but his ferocious fighting spirit and underrated technical skill allowed him to remain a force for the better part of 15 years.

Holyfield became the greatest cruiserweight of all time by beating the likes of Qawi (twice), Rickey Parkey, Carlos DeLeon, Tyrone Booze, Chisanda Mutti, Henry Tillman and Ossie Ocasio. After moving up to heavyweight he took out a who’s who of the era’s big men. He produced enormous upsets of Mike Tyson (twice) and Riddick Bowe (in fight two) and holds victories over James Tillis, Pinklon Thomas, Michael Dokes, Alex Stewart (twice), Buster Douglas, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Michael Moorer (reversing a previous loss), Ray Mercer, John Ruiz, Fres Oquendo, Lou Savarese, Frans Botha and Brian Nielsen.

A 46-year-old Holyfield appeared poised to become history’s oldest heavyweight titlist when he out-boxed Nikolay Valuev but a scandalous majority decision denied him the honor of snapping Foreman’s seemingly unassailable mark. Still, despite universal calls for him to call it a day, Holyfield continues to pursue his final goal of once again becoming undisputed heavyweight champion. In the age of split titles and towering Klitschkos, that notion is quixotic at best. But even if he fails in his quest he will still be remembered as one of boxing’s best. 

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