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“How Did I Get the Tough Guy?”: Evander Holyfield Opens Up About the Fight That Could Have “Derailed” His Career

Published 11/20/2023, 11:35 AM EST

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USA Today via Reuters

Evander Holyfield, born on October 19, 1962, etched his name in boxing history with an unparalleled career spanning from 1984 to 2011. Branded “the Real Deal,” Holyfield achieved the remarkable feat of becoming the undisputed champion in two weight classes during the three-belt era. As proof of his resilience, Holyfield faced setbacks, including a temporary retirement in 1994 due to medical concerns. His 1995 comeback highlighted his persistent spirit, culminating in a historic victory over Mike Tyson in 1996.

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Furthermore, Holyfield’s legacy extends beyond the ring. In 2015, he was rightfully inducted into the International Sports Hall of Fame, solidifying his status as one of the greatest pound-for-pound boxers of all time. However, it appears that his historic journey to the top was very close to getting impeded right at the beginning. In a recent interview with VLADTV, he revealed the details of the fight that started it all.

Evander Holyfield reveals interesting details about his first fight


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In the interview, Evander Holyfield provided insights into the early stages of his boxing career. The particular topic of his discussion was his debut fight as a light heavyweight against Lionel Byarm at Madison Square Garden. When asked about his feelings after winning his first professional match, Holyfield admitted, “Well, it felt good but it was nerve-wracking because, fact of the matter is that, everybody- this whole place packed.

The pressure was intensified by the caliber of his opponent and the circumstances surrounding the event. “They had me fighting the Philadelphia state champion, and he looked like Joe Lewis,” Holyfield recounted. “I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, how in the world did the four gold medalists get these guys that (are) not good, and I fight the Philadelphia state champ.‘”


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Despite the unexpected challenge, Holyfield emerged victorious. Reflecting on the match, he confessed, “I didn’t say anything, you know, but I was upset. Because the fact of the matter, I said, how did I get the tough guy? If I didn’t win then.” The interviewer completed his sentence stating, “It could’ve derailed your career.”

Highlighting the significance of the victory, Holyfield explained, “Yeah ’cause that’s the only reason why ABC couldn’t take us off ’cause they had a clause that they can only take you off if you lose.” The clause underscored the pivotal role that winning played in shaping Holyfield’s early career.

The surprising influence of Mike Tyson on Evander Holyfield’s weight ascent

The tale of Evander Holyfield’s ascent through weight divisions carries a unique narrative. Inspired by none other than the notorious Mike Tyson, the revelation seems improbable given their intense rivalry and the infamous bite fight. Nonetheless, Holyfield recently shared the unexpected source of motivation that prompted him to climb the weight classes.

In an interview with Vlad TV, ‘The Real Deal’ recounted his journey from being ridiculed for his “skinny” build in amateur boxing to becoming a four-time heavyweight champion. The revelation that Tyson played a pivotal role in Holyfield’s decision to move up is intriguing. “Mike Tyson is the one that made me realize I could do it,” Holyfield stated. He reflected on his dominance in the cruiserweight division.


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Holyfield acknowledged his strengths compared to Tyson, emphasizing his longer reach. “If a guy got short arms like that can hit them, I can hit them too as my arm is a lot longer,” he explained. Despite lacking Tyson’s explosive power, Holyfield highlighted his superior movement. “Mike inspired me to take that chance,” Holyfield concluded. Although the two were rivals during their boxing career, they have even collaborated to launch this product.

What are your thoughts about Holyfield’s debut fight that almost derailed his career? What do you think about Tyson inspiring him to move up in weight? Do share your thoughts in the comments below.


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Watch This Story: 5 Intriguing Facts You Need To Know About Evander Holyfield

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Written by:

Chirag Radhyan


One take at a time

Chirag Radhyan is a Boxing Writer at EssentiallySports. He has authored over 300 articles and loves to talk about the animosity between athletes, leading up to a fight. His coverage of the off-court drama between Jake Paul and Tommy Fury received widespread appreciation from readers.
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Edited by:

Gokul Pillai