Holyfield vs. Bowe I—25 to Life

By Marc Livitz on November 13, 2017
Holyfield vs. Bowe I—25 to Life
Holyfield fought back with perhaps his greatest attribute, nothing more than pure heart.

The epic showdown between undefeated champion Evander Holyfield and unbeaten challenger Riddick Bowe was one for the history books…

Over the last decade and a half, give or take, the heavyweight division has been limited to all but a few tried and true superstars. Two brothers from Ukraine dominated the ranks amongst the trees for much of the 21st century. The mid 1990’s saw the emergence of such talents as Lennox Lewis and the rise and fall of Mike Tyson. Exceptions come nowhere close to the rule in our search for the “Next Great American Heavyweight.” Currently, we’re waiting to see if the owner of the WBC crown, Deontay Wilder, will get a shot at Anthony Joshua, who is recognized by many as the best heavyweight on the planet today. Regardless of where we stand on the wait or the division’s need to return to full attention and front page prominence, a legendary 12-round epic celebrated its 25th anniversary on Monday, November 13, 2017.

For those of us who were around in 1992 to witness the epic showdown between undefeated champion Evander “Real Deal” Holyfield and unbeaten challenger Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe, we remember the bout as one for the history books indeed. As the sun set on the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas on that November evening, IBF/WBA/WBC heavyweight champion Holyfield, a native of Atlanta, Georgia, and Bowe of Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York, shared a combined record of 59 wins without a loss. Without going into much detail because the contest can be easily viewed online, we essentially saw the absolute best of the two fighters that evening. In particular, the tenth round was one to send to the Martians. Bowe rocked the much untested Holyfield with a vicious right uppercut and all eyes immediately fixated upon the troubled champion from the South.

This writer was a high school senior at the time and was seated in the back of a Houston bar. The crowd erupted with excitement at the sight of Bowe possibly knocking out the man who did much of his training in the Space City. However, the “Real Deal” fought back with perhaps his greatest attribute, nothing more than pure heart. Evander fired back with all he could muster to finish strong and get back to his corner, yet he was put to the canvas one round later. The bout would ultimately go to the scorecards. Tallies of 115-112 and matching ones at 117-110 apiece awarded the bout as well as the belts to Riddick Bowe. Holyfield was gracious in defeat. He’d lost to the better man that night and he gave up almost three inches in height as well as thirty pounds on the scale. To many, Holyfield was basically a blown up cruiserweight who used will and skill to carry him to the heavyweight title in 1990 when he knocked out the ill-prepared James “Buster” Douglas in the middle of the third of three lopsided rounds.

The drama would be far from over as the years rolled on by. Before a rematch could take place, Bowe famously dropped his WBC title in the trash as a proverbial thumbing of the nose towards Lennox Lewis. When Bowe and Holyfield met one year later, the bout was halted for over twenty minutes when an individual who came to be known as “Fan Man” guided a motorized hang glider and parachute into the outdoor ring adjacent to Caesars Palace in Vegas. Remember those days when makeshift stadia were set up behind hotels on The Strip? Not long after this, the money moved in (even more of it) and the action shifted to actual arenas connected to resort hotels such as the MGM and Mandalay Bay. In any case, the aerial visitor was beaten to a pulp by on-site security in all its different representations. Holyfield would go on to win a majority decision. They’d meet again for a third and final time two years later in 1995.

Bowe scored an eighth round knockout in a closely fought contest, though many attributed Holyfield’s defeat to a heart problem which had been diagnosed earlier that year. Regardless, the contest which took place 25 years ago today was what many considered to be the finest hour in Riddick Bowe’s career. The loss to Evander in 1993 would ultimately be the lone blemish on his professional career, yet some will always point to the fact that he faced neither Lennox Lewis nor Mike Tyson. Holyfield wasn’t done, as we all know. He shocked more than just the world in late 1996. The rings of Saturn likely felt the tremors of his knockout win over Tyson, who at the time was not only seen as once again unbeatable but downright frightening as well.

Each man would eventually be his own undoing. Bowe’s former manager, Eugene “Rock” Newman indicated, as did “Big Daddy” himself that his greatest vice was over nourishment to an infinite degree. Riddick took an eight-year hiatus from the ring after his two infamous bouts with Andrew Golota in 1996, which each involved a few too hits to an area which greatly brings about a change in cabin pressure. His last fight in a boxing ring was in 2008, although he dabbled once in the mixed martial arts world. Holyfield lost his titles to Lennox Lewis in 1999 and had various sojourns with basic alphabet straps before finally retiring in 2011 at the age of 48.

It’s quite hard to believe that a quarter century has now passed since two great American heavyweights gave fans one hell of a night in Las Vegas. One can only wonder how long until we’re treated to such a spectacle again.

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  1. Mike Curtis 10:58am, 11/14/2017

    Holyfield built himself a heavyweight upper body and neck, but the guy always had the legs of a junior middleweight. He was a top heavy guy in the mold of Ken Norton and Bob Fitzsimmons.  “Holy” must have skipped a lot of “leg days” in the weight room. I think the guy could have actually fought at light heavy for a little bit longer. He even had to build himself up to the cruiserweight limit at first. Regardless, he is the greatest cruiserweight champ of all time and certainly in the top 10 of all time heavies.

    Holyfield and steroids? No doubt, but me thinks that Tyson was probably guilty of taking special vitamins as well.

  2. tlig 07:16am, 11/14/2017

    One of my favourite fights to watch - ever. But I have to say Holyfield has been a steroid cheat for years and seemingly gets a pass (which is alarming), from most people in boxing. It’s such a shame how Bowe’s career never really hit the heights we all expected it to reach.

  3. Pete The Sneak 05:22am, 11/14/2017

    “after his two infamous bouts with Andrew Golota in 1996, which each involved a few too hits to an area which greatly brings about a change in cabin pressure”...Man, I’m doubling over just reading this part…ooof….Great write up Marc on what was indeed an incredible night of heavyweight boxing in Bowe-Holyfield One, the likes of which may never be seen again. These 2 guys fought like middleweights and my God, Holyfield coming back as he did in the midst of what appeared to be a Bowe KO. Great stuff. Thanks Marc…Peace.

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