When Holyfield Was Young

By Tom Donelson
Updated: June 4, 2007

IOWA CITY, Ia. — ESPN Classic recently showed some of Evander Holyfield’s classic fights in the late 80’s, when he dominated the cruiserweight division and his entry into the heavyweight division.

What many present boxing fans may not realize is what a complete fighter Holyfield was. These fights also showed that he has to be a serious contender for one of boxing’s great pound for pound fighters.

To be consider a great pound for pound fighter, one requirement should be that a fighter was good in a least two different divisions and Holyfield was certainly that. He was the premier cruiserweight of the late 80’s and we all know his history as one of boxing’s greatest heavyweights.

As a cruiserweight, Holyfield proved to be the complete boxer.

He could box from the outside and he could fight inside. Against Dwight Qawi in their second fight, he dominated the fight from the opening bell.

Their first fight was one of those tough inside fights that Holyfield came back in the later rounds to take a split decision. But in the second fight, Holyfield showed that he learned his lesson from the first fight.

He fought from the outside and kept Qawi off-balance.

He was the quicker fighter and he threw a variety of punches from hooks and upper cuts as well as his effective left jab.

His accuracy consistently nailed Qawi and when the two fought on the inside, Holyfield often got the better of the two. His power as a cruiserweight was even more pronounced than against the bigger heavyweights.

In the fourth round, a left hook sent Qawi down but he got up quickly. Moments later, Qawi did not recover when a Holyfield right beat his left hook to the punch.

Qawi landed on the mat face first and Holyfield moved toward Carlos De Leon and a fight that determined the undisputed cruiserweight champion.

Against De Leon, Holyfield dominated the Puerto Rican fighter from the opening moments and consistently forced De Leon to the rope. Whereas Qawi was a smaller tough insider fighter, De Leon was a boxer who preferred fighting from the outside.

Against Qawi, Holyfield alternated from fighting from the outside to going toe-to-toe. Against De Leon, Holyfield found his comfort zone on the inside as his quickness and power proved to much for De Leon. Holyfield became the undisputed cruiserweight champion by stopping De Leon in the eighth round.

Against Michael Dokes, Holyfield’s conditioning and quickness proved decisive.

Dokes was one of the quicker handed heavyweights in the 80’s but against Holyfield, he appeared to one millisecond behind.

In the early rounds, Holyfield countered Dokes repeatedly and Dokes often threw one or two punches at a time. For those who may remember Dokes, would remember his burst of punches that would travel in a blur. Against Holyfield, he found himself the slower fighter.

Nor could Dokes take advantage of his bigger girth.

Dokes was the natural heavyweight and yet, Holyfield not only took his best shots but when the two men fought on the inside, he won most of those exchanges.

Holyfield fought on the outside and nailed Dokes with the classic one-two or he fought on the inside and dealt him devastating body shots. As the rounds progressed, it was Dokes who tired out.

In the seventh round, Holyfield nailed Dokes with a left hook that staggered Dokes and from that point, the results became predetermined. Holyfield stopped Dokes in the 10th round, but this fight showed that he was a real heavyweight.

While this was Holyfield third heavyweight bout, this was his toughest test as a heavyweight. Dokes came in the fight with only one lost and he was a former WBA heavyweight champion.

Within two years, Holyfield would win the undisputed championship from Buster Douglas and the rest as they say is history.

Holyfield showed himself to be a great fighter in two separate divisions and that alone is reason for him to be considered being one of boxing’s greatest pound for pound.

For those who are interested in what a complete fighter is suppose to look like, simply get a copy of the Dokes-Holyfield or Holyfield-Qawi. One final note, the Dokes-Holyfield bout was fought at a quick intense pace and showed that when you put two technically sound heavyweights, you can see a great fight.