Evander Holyfield: A Real Life Balboa
By Thomas Cannon (December 8, 2004) 
Photo © HoganPhotos.com
As Evander Holyfield took a seat at the table next to me at the Gatti-Leija press conference, I very quickly noticed something about the legendary fighter. Well, maybe two things. The first thing I noticed was the sleek and stylish blue suit he had on but after a quick admiration of his décor I had to take note of his stature. When watching his fights on TV Evander Holyfield had always come across as a mammoth specimen absorbing crushing blows and delivering thunderous punches. In person though, he is much less overwhelmingly gargantuan. He stands at a generous 6’2” and it's hard to believe that he was able to stand toe to toe against the much taller and heavier fighters; he epically battled with (Lennox Lewis 6’6”, and Riddick Bowe 6’5”). Courage and Holyfield’s “warrior-like” mentality must have been much more of a factor during those fights than most realize. But now, as “The Real Deal” stands at what could be his final crossroad as a professional boxer, I can’t help but compare him to the cult film icon Rocky Balboa.

Rocky Balboa was a down on his luck underdog fighter from the streets of Philadelphia. He broke into the heavyweight scene and was given no chance, no respect, and no love. Holyfield entered the ranks of the big men much the same way. He bumped up from the cruiserweight division after quickly dominating the field and was deemed too small and too light to match up well in the heavyweight bracket. However, he soon proved, much like Balboa, that fearlessness and resolve to win are things that don’t weigh in on the scale.

Rocky’s title bouts with Apollo Creed were tests of will and endurance. They went the distance and both fighters were forced to rely on every ounce of pride, courage, and pure grit they had left in their bodies. Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe fought much the same way every time the two stepped into the ring. 1992’s bout was declared Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year and I ‘m sure it could make a case for Fight of the Decade as well. Rocky then went out to Russia and matched up against a machine of a man, Ivan Drago. The Russian’s punches were off the meter and many feared Balboa would not just lose the fight but would be critically injured as well. In 1996 Holyfield came up against such a force. His name was Mike Tyson. Tyson’s raw punching power and tenaciousness was supposed to quickly dispose of Holyfield and open up a new Tyson-led chapter in the heavyweight division. Holyfield’s monumental upset in 1996 proved that he was in fact “The Real Deal.”

In Rocky V GW Duke (an obvious Don King character) says, “That man fought wars in the ring.” This is exactly how I would describe Holyfield’s career. His epic battles with Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis, and Michael Moorer stand out in the memory as classic sports moments and can possibly only be overshadowed by the antics and strange occurrences which took place around the man. These two men were one in the same in the way they fought the odds and refused to lay down for the count. However, Balboa never had his ear bitten in half by Clubber Lang or had a parachutist land ten feet away from him during a title fight. These are real life events which could have never been dreamed up by screenwriters or producers. Life sometimes is more dramatic than what happens on a movie screen.

So here we are now, 2004, in the present. Holyfield has been counted out once again. This time it is the New York State Athletic Commission he has come up against. They have told him he will be hurt if he steps in the ring again, maybe even permanently brain damaged. The image of Rocky Balboa’s neurological X-Ray comes to mind right away. Adrian pleading with him to never absorb another shot like the ones he had become famous for taking. Sometimes life happens to imitate art and as Holyfield ponders the future of his career and the status of his health, I believe this is one of those times. I hope for Evander’s sake there is an Adrian there for him. I would not like to see one of the athletic icons I have come to adore, mentally paralyzed or slowed because he wanted to fight just one last time. If he does decide to fight, you better believe I would be one of the first to tip my hat to him and wish him the best. However, I cannot say with full confidence that I think he can get back the title in his 40's like George Foreman did
© Copyright / All Rights reserved: Doghouse Boxing 1998-2004