In the mid- to late-1980s and into the early ’90s, heavyweight boxing’s most fear-inducing terror had a name: Mike Tyson. And the fear the scowling young knockout artist generated was justified, and then some.
Tyson’s aura of invincibility, of course, had been cracked if not exactly shattered when he was knocked out in 10 rounds by 42-to-1 longshot Buster Douglas in Tokyo on February 11, 1990, but even that all-time stunner did only so much to lessen the defeated champion’s reputation as the baddest man on the planet.
On the edge of Tyson’s horizon stood Evander Holyfield, the former undisputed cruiserweight champion who had moved up to heavyweight in the summer of 1988 and was being touted in some quarters as the only plausible threat to a refocused Tyson.
The 30-year-old Tyson who entered the ring that night surely was not all that he once had been, but he nonetheless was a huge 25-1 opening-line choice over Holyfield, 34, just 6-3 in the interim since he was first slated to swap punches with Tyson. Holyfield had appeared sluggish and badly faded in his most recent bout, a fifth-round stoppage of Bobby Czyz on May 10, 1996, in Madison Square Garden.
Through the 10 completed rounds, the extent of Holyfield’s mastery of the moment was reflected in the official scorecards. Judges Dalby Shirley and Jerry Roth had Evander ahead by the same 96-92 margin, but Frederico Vollmer had him winning even wider at 100-93.
“If that fight had gone off as planned in 1991, it would have been the same outcome as the one five years later,” said trainer Tommy Brooks, who at various times worked with both Tyson and Holyfield. “Evander just had Tyson’s number. Sometimes, that’s just the way it is. Evander had the right style to fight Mike, and he had that incredible mental strength as well.”
For all his presumably superior physical attributes, the foremost being power, where Tyson came up short in comparison to Holyfield was the heart and head, in the estimation of longtime Holyfield cornerman Lou Duva.
After he did what he always believed he would do, the usually self-effacing Holyfield smiled and said, “The only difference between Tyson and myself is that he just knocks out people quicker than I do.”
History, including boxing history, is not frequently written in absolutes. Tyson diehards continue to insist that he would have gobsmacked Holyfield had the fight that didn’t happen in 1991 gone off as scheduled.
But regardless of which side of that debate anyone is on, the fact remains that when Holyfield and Tyson finally did get it on for the first time, it was Holyfield who turned in a performance that Long Beach Press-Telegram sports columnist Doug Krikorian described as “Rembrandt artistry as he out-boxed, out-slugged, out-thought and out-gutted” Tyson.
That debate has been raging for 25 years. More than likely, it still will be on Nov. 9, 2046.