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Evander Holyfield has finally decided to give up the ghost of regaining the undisputed heavyweight title and, on his 50th birthday on Friday, will announce his retirement from boxing.
Holyfield told Sports Illustrated that he still believes he can beat heavyweight champions Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko, but said, "I can't make nobody fight."
Few could fight like Holyfield in his prime. He was a fierce competitor who, despite being naturally smaller than many of his opponents, rarely took a backward step. He retires with a 44-10-2 record, along with a no contest, but that mark is deceiving. He was 8-7-1 with a no contest in his last 16 fights, all of which came when he was 37 or older and far past his prime.
"The game's been good to me and I hope I've been good to the game. [...] I'm 50 years old (on Friday) and I've pretty much did everything that I wanted to do in boxing."
In his prime, he was clearly one of the 10 greatest heavyweights ever and one of the most exciting big men to ever enter the ring. He's most known for his 1996 upset of Mike Tyson, but he also scored wins over elite fighters such as Riddick Bowe, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Ray Mercer, Michael Moorer and Michael Dokes.
Before he went to heavyweight, he was the best cruiserweight in the world. He won the cruiserweight belt in a sensational 15-round battle with Dwight Muhammad Qawi and went on to become the greatest cruiser ever.
It was as a heavyweight, though, where he made his name. He held the heavyweight title four times and was the linear champion twice.
Though there are few, if any, quality heavyweights active now beyond the Klitschko brothers, Holyfield fought during an era when there were great heavyweights. He not only ducked none of them, he fought many of them multiple times.
Here is a list of Holyfield's 10 greatest fights:
Holyfied W15 Dwight Muhammad Qawi to win WBA cruiserweight title, Dec. 7, 1986: In what remains the best fight in cruiserweight history, Holyfield outhustled Qawi in just his 12th professional bout to win his first of many world titles. It was a fast-paced, heavy-volume affair. Holyfield started quickly and raced to an early lead. He seemed to tire and Qawi won many of the middle rounds, but Holyfield rallied late to win. It was one of the best performances of Holyfield's magnificent career.
Holyfield TKO10 Michael Dokes in a non-title heavyweight bout, March 11, 1989: The New York Times said of the fight, "It was a furiously waged punching match, with both fighters landing haymakers from the opening bell." The bout was Holyfield's third at heavyweight, and there were plenty of questions at the time whether he was big enough to hang against the elite of the division. He picked up the pace as the fight went on, stopping the very talented Dokes with a pair of lefts and a clubbing right. That answered the question of whether Holyfield punched hard enough to keep a big heavyweight off of him. Sports Illustrated's great Pat Putnam wrote there were moments during the bout when it "looked like two men trying to knock down mountains."
Holyfield KO3 James "Buster" Douglas to win the undisputed heavyweight title, Oct. 25, 1990: Douglas entered the bout having stunned the seemingly invincible Mike Tyson the prior February. Douglas reveled in the win and didn't seem to take the bout as seriously as he should have. He was referred to by some as "Buffet Buster," for his penchant for partaking in the elaborate buffet at The Mirage, the Las Vegas casino which hosted the fight. Holyfield, though, took no such shortcuts. He was in marvelous physical condition and simply imposed his will on Douglas. He landed 66 of 100 punches in the first two rounds, then finished it with a perfectly placed right cross when Douglas threw an uppercut from the outside.
Holyfield W12 George Foreman to retain the undisputed heavyweight title, April 19, 1991: Some might say that the then-42-year-old Foreman was over the hill, but he would go on to win the heavyweight title a little more than two years after this bout. Holyfield showed his legendarily great chin, eating some big shots but outworking the far slower man.
Riddick Bowe W12 Holyfield to win the undisputed heavyweight title, Nov. 13, 1992: In one of the great fights in heavyweight history, Bowe outboxed and outfought Holyfield over 12 grueling rounds. The 10th was one of the great rounds in the sport's history. Putnam wrote in Sports Illustrated, "No heavyweight champion and challenger have ever fought a more heroic round." Holyfield was badly hurt early in the round and on the verge of going out. Remarkably, he came back and had Bowe in trouble later in the round. That was just the best of a series of great rounds in what was easily one of the best heavyweight matches of all time.
Holyfield W12 Bowe to win the WBA & IBF heavyweight titles, Nov. 6, 1993: In what became known as "The Fan Man Fight," Holyfield and Bowe engaged in another classic. This time, Holyfield came out on top in a bout mostly known for the bizarre sequence in the seventh round when a man parachuted onto the ring apron.
Bowe TKO8 Holyfield in a non-title fight, Nov. 4, 1995: In the finale of their classic trilogy, Bowe stopped Holyfield in the eighth round. Holyfield had knocked Bowe down earlier in the fight, but he didn't have the energy to follow up. Bowe rallied for the victory and Holyfield later claimed to have had hepatitis prior to the bout.
Holyfield TKO11 Mike Tyson to win the WBA heavyweight title, Nov. 9, 1996: Holyfield seemed at the end of the line entering this bout. He was just 2-2 in his previous four and was coming off of an uninspiring win over Bobby Czyz. He was extraordinarily confident in the build-up, but few were buying it. Only two boxing writers dared to pick him to beat Tyson: Ron Borges, then of the Boston Globe, and the late Bruce Keidan of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Holyfield was supremely confident, though, and showed why when the bell rang. He wouldn't let Tyson bully him, pumping a hard jab as Tyson rushed in, and fighting back whenever Tyson got rough. As the fight wore on, Tyson seemed to wilt and Holyfield stopped him in the 11th. He was a 24-1 underdog and trainer Lou Duva, who had bet on him, gleefully went to the ticket window to cash his bet.
Holyfield TKO8 Michael Moorer to retain the WBA heavyweight title and win the IBF belt, Nov. 8, 1997: Less than five months after Tyson twice bit his ear in their rematch, Holyfield was in prime form in a rematch against Moorer. He performed poorly in his first fight against Moorer in 1994, losing a majority decision in a bout in which he didn't have his typical energy. But Holyfield was brilliant in the rematch, dropping Moorer five times en route to a dominant win.
Lennox Lewis W12 Holyfield to win the undisputed heavyweight title, Nov. 13, 1999: This was a rematch of a March 13 bout in New York, in which everyone thought Lewis won by two of the judges. That bout was a split draw, so a rematch was held eight months later in Las Vegas. Holyfield fought much better, battling the far bigger man on even terms for most of the night. He thought he won, but the judges scored it 117-111, 116-112 and 115-113 for Lewis. The bout, which was outstanding, marked Holyfield's last stand as a truly elite heavyweight.