In 1992, one of the greatest heavyweight title fights in boxing history took place, as Riddick Bowe defeated Evander Holyfield to claim the heavyweight championship of the world. While their rematch a year later, won by Holyfield via majority decision, was closer on the cards, the first fight was the better scrap. Nearly every second of every round was hotly contested by both men, as Bowe and Holyfield hammered away at each other in close range.
But both of the first two Bowe-Holyfield bouts were classics. For fans my age, not quite old enough to remember the Ali-Frazier rivalry, Bowe-Holyfield was our consolation prize. If you aren’t old enough to remember Holyfield and Bowe, I feel sorry for you, because you’ve never known the unparalleled dramatic excitement of a great heavyweight prizefight.
Holyfield had become the undisputed champion after smashing Buster Douglas by Round 3 stoppage in October 1990, after Douglas had shocked the world by knocking out Mike Tyson in February of that year. Holyfield had defended the belts three times prior to facing Bowe, against the aging legends George Foreman and Larry Holmes and with a Round 7 TKO of tough journeyman Bert Cooper sandwiched in between. Cooper actually had Holyfield in trouble when he buzzed the champ in Round 3.
Bowe and Holyfield were both undefeated coming into their first showdown and both had been Olympic medalists. With Tyson serving time on his rape conviction, Bowe was the best available candidate for Holyfield’s title, having knocked out such former champions and leading contenders as Pinklon Thomas, Tony Morrison, Tony Tubbs and Cooper.
On the night of this first fight, Bowe looked as good as nearly any heavyweight fighter in history. The 6’5″ Bowe came in at a well-conditioned 235 pounds. He out-punched Holyfield and landed at a higher percentage. Giving up three inches and 30 pounds, Holyfield hung tough with the younger slugger.
Round 10 of this fight was particularly brutal. I’d rank it beside Holmes and Norton’s Round 15 as the greatest single round in heavyweight championship history. Bowe dropped Holyfield in Round 11, and the champion appeared to be done. But once again, Holyfield’s endless bottom and legendary heart were on display, as he survived the frame. He came roaring back in the final round to end the fight in a shoot out with Bowe.
Bowe was supposed to defend the championship against Lennox Lewis, who had knocked him out for the gold medal at the 1988 Olympic games. Unfortunately, the two sides never reached an agreement and Bowe tossed the WBC belt into a trash can at a press conference, rather than defend it against Lewis.
The 1990s were a terrific decade for heavyweight boxing, but the fact that Bowe and Lewis never faced off will be forever regretted by fans who remember the era.