Happy Birthday: Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield

Georgia’s boxing legend turns 56 today.

Not many can claim to be the real deal but one man literally took that as his pseudonym. 

Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield turns 56 years old today. The Champ is recognized for being a four-time world heavyweight champion, Olympic medalist and one of the best heavyweights in the history of pugilism. Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, he took boxing lessons as a child and moved on to compete as an amateur in the Golden Gloves competitions in the early 1980s. After winning a national Golden Gloves Championship in 1984, Holyfield made the U.S. Olympic team. 

The 1984 Summer Olympics came during a time when America was at a crossroads. Ronald Reagan had won a landslide re-election for the GOP to his second term in a victory over former Vice President Walter Mondale from Minnesota.

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Of the twelve boxing weight classes in the games, USA Boxing would keep nine Gold medals in the country and bring in a Silver and Bronze, placing the entire team on the medal podium. The boxing display berthed future professional fighters who would make millions, some becoming pop culture icons.

Proud to represent his country at the 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles, he experienced a great disappointment in the ring. He was disqualified during a semifinal match against Kevin Barry of New Zealand for hitting his opponent after a break. Many who witnessed the fight have disputed the referee’s call. Despite this personal setback, Holyfield did receive the bronze medal and actually became the most successful member of the medal collecting team despite not even being one of its gold medalists. 

After the Olympics, Holyfield turned professional and first fought in the junior heavyweight and cruiserweight classes. He won the World Boxing Association’s (WBA) World Cruiserweight title in 1986 by defeating the reigning champion Dwight Qwai. Holyfield trained hard to become big enough and strong enough to compete as a heavyweight fighter. In 1990, he became the world heavyweight champion, defeating James “Buster” Douglas, the holder of the WBA, International Boxing Federation (IBF), and World Boxing Council (WBC) championship titles, in only seven minutes.

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Holyfield’s intense rivalry with boxer Riddick Bowe began in the early 1990s. He suffered a big defeat to Bowe in 1992, losing his title. It was his first loss in 29 professional fights. After briefly contemplating retirement, Holyfield was back in the ring and anxious to reclaim his title. He did just that when he got his rematch with Bowe in 1993, winning by decision. 

But Holyfield wouldn’t hold on to his title for too long as the next year Michael Moorer defeated him by decision. Health problems sidelined the famous boxer for a time, but he returned to the ring and eventually fought one of the most notorious boxers in history, Mike Tyson. 

Holyfield beat Tyson in their first encounter in 1996, winning the WBA championship. No one could have imagined what happened in their next fight, however. During the bout, Tyson twice bit Holyfield’s ear—the second time taking a piece out of it. Tyson was disqualified and the event still stands as one of the oddest things to ever happen in the ring. 

Eventually, Holyfield forgave Tyson, even reuniting with Iron Mike almost two decades later in Nevada.

Several months after this incident, Holyfield took back his IBF title from Michael Moorer by knocking him out in the eighth round, making it his third separate title victory.

In 1999, Holyfield took on another legendary fighter, WBC Heavyweight Champ, Lennox Lewis. The first match between these two heavy hitters ended in a draw, but Lewis triumphed in a rematch later that same year. Holyfield went on to win his fourth championship in 2000, unseating the WBA champion John Ruiz. This victory was short-lived, however, as Ruiz beat Holyfield in a rematch the following year.

Holyfield was inducted in the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame in August 2014 where, as we alluded to earlier, Mike Tyson presented him with his trophy. 

Now a promoter with his Real Deal Sports & Entertainment, Holyfield has a legacy that stands both in the ring and outside of it.

“The main reason I got into promoting was to provide opportunities for today’s young fighters,” said the former champ via press release. “Being able to bring our Real Deal Championship Boxing series to the greatest cities in the world shows the fighters and the fans that our company is the Real Deal.” 

Happy Birthday Champ!

Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. Rhett hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.