Meeting the gold standard Cruiserweight Evander Holyfield gilded his bronze medal with a WBA title

July 20, 1986

The last time we looked in on Evander Holyfield, the WBA's latest
junior heavyweight, or cruiserweight, champion, it was 1984 and he
was in an Olympic ring in Los Angeles, learning how to play the
Yugoslav version of three-card monte. The game goes like this: You
knock down Kevin Barry of New Zealand in the semifinals -- and then
stand in shock as referee Gligorije Novicic counts you out for
allegedly hitting after he has called for a break.
At least the youngster from Atlanta made history. Holyfield is the
only Olympic fighter ever to beat all of his opponents and then have
the authorities bend the rules so he could win so much as a bronze
medal. It was ( just his bad luck that the only other light
heavyweight remaining in contention was Anton Josipovic, by chance
another Yugoslav, who wound up with a gift-wrapped gold medal. Even
Barry made out better: When he got up they gave him the silver.
But there was no such nonsense in Holyfield's hometown last
Saturday. After 15 grueling rounds fought at the pace of men much
lighter, Holyfield, 23, became the first of the 1984 Olympians to win
a world title, on a split decision over 33-year-old Dwight Muhammad
Qawi.
The victory was all the more stunning considering that, until he
faced the rugged, 5 ft. 7 1/2 in. ex-con (and ex-Dwight Braxton) from
Camden, N.J., Holyfield had never gone beyond eight rounds, and
only that far once, against a guy named Tyrone Booze. In three
fights this year Holyfield had stopped his opponents in Rounds 2, 3
and 5. Qawi's strong suit is relentless pressure, and when boxing
savants factored that in with the 15-round distance, they decided
that Holyfield's people had moved their man too fast.
Yet Holyfield went the distance in winning, bringing the 12 U.S.
Olympians' professional record to 114-1-3, more or less what you
would expect from a squad that won nine gold medals, a silver and a
''bronzed'' consolation prize. Their pace quickens: On July 20, Steve
McCrory, the flyweight gold medalist who has an 11-0-1 record,
fights Australia's Jeff Fenech for the IBF bantamweight title.
The first thing Holyfield did after turning pro late in 1984 was
to tell his trainers, Lou Duva and Georgie Benton, that he didn't
think he had the endurance to go three rounds. Even as an amateur,
stamina had been a problem. ''We had him training at Grossinger's,
and one day he was hitting the heavy bag and he kept going slower,''
says Duva. ''Finally he said he felt like he was going to pass out. I
told him to go to his room to rest.''
Duva followed the fighter to his room. ''The place was full of
junk food,'' Duva says. ''Popcorn, peanuts, potato chips, all kinds
of garbage. I put it all in a pail and set it outside the door. He
said, 'But that's my food.' I said, 'Not any more.' Then I took him
to a supermarket and told him to buy all the fruit he wanted.''
Later Duva and Benton decided Holyfield's problem was more mental
than physical. They set to work on his mind, as well as his body.
First they had him spar three rounds.
''How's that now?'' Benton asked.
''It was great,'' Holyfield said.
! In fact, he was sparring 2- and 2 1/2-minute rounds; Duva
and Benton just didn't tell him. Then they moved Holyfield up to
four rounds, to six, to eight. No problem. Then they dropped him
back to six -- only they let the clock run the full three minutes.
Again, no problem. ''Since then,'' said Duva, ''he's never
complained about stamina. In fact, we have to slow him down.''
As a professional, Holyfield started in the light heavyweight
division, then moved up to the 190-pound junior heavyweight class. He
won his first 11 fights, 8 of them by knockout. A $200,000 offer to
Qawi brought a quick and positive reaction. Qawi, an ex-WBC light
heavyweight champ with a 26-2-1 record, counted on an easy payday.
When the champion went into training five weeks before the fight, he
was 35 pounds over the limit.
At the same time Duva and Benton enlisted Tim Hallmark, a
Houston-based fitness expert, to give their man, in Duva's words,
''stamina, energy and mobility all at the same time.'' Hallmark
further overhauled Holyfield's diet, reduced his between-rounds
recovery time to 45 seconds, and began an intense six-day workout
schedule.
One day Holyfield would do 30 to 45 minutes of sprints,
intervals and plyometrics (explosive movement), plus a stint climbing
a moving chain ladder, a sort of vertical treadmill. ''We'd build
his heart rate for 2 1/2 minutes and then do explosive movements
for 30 seconds,'' said Hallmark. ''At first, with 45 seconds of rest,
his heart rate fell from 190 to 160. Now he gets as low as 140.''
On alternate days, he would spend up to two hours riding a
stationary bike, running on a treadmill, walking at a fast pace on an
elevated treadmill, and stepping up and down from a bench.
That was just in the morning. In the afternoon, Holyfield would
train normally with Benton.
''There were days when I just wanted to quit,'' Holyfield says.
''I didn't think I could do it anymore. Then Tim gave me two days off
and on those days I sparred for 15 rounds. It was like I was on
vacation. I'd end up feeling like I could go 15 more. It was
wonderful.''
The battle plan was to fight Qawi in the trenches for six rounds
and then step up the pace. ''He's going to come right at you,'' Duva
told Holyfield. ''If he bangs you, bang him right back. Don't show
him no respect. Keep the fight even for six rounds and then turn it
on.''
After six it was indeed even, although Qawi seemed to be taking
control during the fourth, fifth and sixth. ''O.K.,'' Holyfield
was then told. ''Now let's go to work. Keep jabbing and keep turning.
Don't pull straight back. That's when he's catching you with the
right hand.''
Holyfield had begun the fight head-hunting, exactly what his
corner did not want him to do. Now, stepping up the already furious
pace, he moved his attack downstairs, pounding Qawi's midbody,
upper arms and shoulders. The champ continued to press forward, but
always into Holyfield's accurate and untiring cannons. As Qawi said
later: ''Maybe I'm getting too old for this. Maybe I'd better start
looking for something else to do.''
The pace was incredible. On average, a lightweight throws 60 to
70 punches per round. Holyfield threw an average of 85.7; Qawi,
forced to work, threw 67.7. In the blur of fists, two of the judges
ended up an almost unheard-of 11 points apart. Harold Lederman had
Holyfield ahead 144-141, which included a point taken away from Qawi
by referee Vincent Rainone for a low blow in the 15th. Neffie
Quintana had Holyfield winning 147-138, while Gordon Volkman gave it
to Qawi 143-141.
Now maybe Holyfield can put his bronze medal to rest. He keeps it
in a safe- deposit box. ''I look at it a lot,'' he said a few days
before the fight. ''Sometimes I feel like taking it out and having it
dipped in gold. Is that crazy?'' END

Photo(s): MANNY RUBIO By Round 10, Holyfield (right) was still strong, and soon enough Qawi was an ex-champ.
MANNY RUBIO Holyfield expected -- and got -- Qawi's best shot early, including this first-round right. JERRY LODRIGUSS All of Atlanta kept Holyfield's arms pumping after the bout.
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)