The Hall of Fame World career of former Undisputed Heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield actually took off in the late 1980s, as he first became Undisputed Cruiserweight Champion of the World.
And, on the afternoon he won his first World Championship the fight was regarded by famed Ring Magazine, as the top Cruiserweight bout in all of the entire 1980s.
July 12th, 1986, at the old Omni Arena in downtown Atlanta, GA, (Holyfield’s hometown) was the site of his challenge of the former Dwight Braxton for the WBA 175 lb. and above title.
Changing his name to Muhammad Qawi after converting to Islam, the champ had made one previous successful defense of his WBA belt against former Heavyweight champion of the World, Leon Spinks. Qawi stopped Spinks by TKO in the 6th round earlier in March of that year.
Holyfield, who was 11-0 in a year and half as a pro, was part of arguably the greatest U.S. Amateur boxing team ever. And although he did not win gold at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, four of his teammates: Mark Breland, Meldrick Taylor, Pernell Whitaker and Henry Tilman did.
But. it was Holyfield who rose to prominence the fastest and would become the first of the group to challenge for a World Championship against the rugged, Maryland native- Qawi.
ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” televised the battle that Saturday afternoon to the entire country with Holyfield’s title quest, as the marketing angle.
At this time the World Boxing Association was still holding championship fights for a 15-round maximum distance in the higher weight classes (they would eventually switch to 12 round maximum a year later). And, this battle between Holyfield and Qawi needed every minute of every round, as they traded toe-to-toe frequently throughout the thrilling 45 minutes of action.
Holyfield had the size and reach advantage over the shorter/squat Qawi. However, the boxing cliche’ of “this one could’ve been fought in a phone booth” was very apt.
Qawi continued to stalk and corner Holyfield and the two would exchange multiple heavy blows in close quarters. The challenger’s best punch was his left hook and frequently rocked Qawi with it. Round after round was a close slugfest.
But, “The Real Deal” began to tire in the later rounds and Qawi scored with rights and lefts on the inside much to the dismay of Holyfield’s thousands of fans in attendance..
Ultimately, starting for the first of many times in his Title career later, Holyfield’s legendary stamina and resolve would kick in for the 13th round. It saw him score almost at will and stagger Qawi, while having arguably his best round of the fight.
He also took the 14th round and as it turned out, those two rounds won him the fight on two of the judges cards.
For all the huge punches landing over the bout, there were no knockdowns. In the end, each fighter had thrown over 1100 punches and both had landed 500+. Incredible numbers for bigger fighters.
Two of the cards, one by famed judge/later broadcaster Harold Lederman, gave the fight to the challenger by 144-140 and 147-138. But, the third judge favored Qawi, 143-141.
Still, it was a split decision win “for the new” WBA Cruiserweight champion.
Later, Holyfield knocked out his Olympic teammate, Henry Tillman, in a February 1987 title defense and then, he defeated Rickey Parkey by KO for the IBF belt. A rematch happened with Qawi in December of 1987 in Atlantic City and this time, “Real Deal” scored an emphatic KO in the fourth round.
And, then, Holyfield became Undisputed champ, when he TKO-ed WBC Cruiserweight belt holder, Carlos de Leon in May of 1988.
Holyfield would go on to move up another 15 lbs. or so, and win the Undisputed Heavyweight crown with a booming one punch KO of champ “Buster” Douglas in October of 1990. He later went on the win or regain at least a portion of the Heavyweight Championship on four occasions throughout the next 20 years of his career.
He finished with a 44-10-2 record. And, to this day, Holyfield has the distinction of having been both Undisputed Cruiserweight and Undisputed Heavyweight World Champ.