12. Evander Holyfield Vs Dwight Muhammad Qawi
July 12, 1986
Venue: The Omni
When you look up the word warrior in the dictionary, you should see a picture of Evander Holyfield. Holyfield was one of the greatest warriors ever to step into the squared circle. After being robbed of a chance to win an Olympic Gold Medal in the 1984 Summer Games because of an erroneous disqualification, the 23-year-old Holyfield received his first shot at a world title after only 11 pro fights. His opponent, the 33-year-old WBA Cruiserweight World Champion Dwight Muhammad Qawi, had learned to box while incarcerated at the Rahway, New Jersey correctional facility. Qawi was a quick learner, and a little over three years after turning pro, became a world champion at 175 pounds. Going into his fight with Holyfield, he was defending his second world title, this time as a Cruiserweight. It would be the greatest fight to be ever fought in that division.
Qawi had a style eerily similar to Joe Frazier. He was an aggressive fighter who constantly bobbed and weaved his head to make him difficult to hit. At 5’7”, he was already undersized for a fighter at 175 or 195 pounds. His bobbing and weaving made him a much smaller and more difficult target to hit. On the other hand, Holyfield was a classic boxer-puncher who worked everything off his excellent jab and threw combinations off that jab. For the first four rounds, Holyfield was able to keep the fight in the center of the ring and landed several combinations after another. Qawi was being out landed, but he was never seriously hurt as he concentrated on the challenger’s body. Qawi was attempting to take the less experienced Holyfield into deep waters.
Qawi began to turn the tide in round five as his body punching began to increase and he was making Holyfield miss more. His momentum continued the next few rounds and in round eight he hurt Holyfield for the first time after a vicious three punch combination. After eight rounds, both my father and I had the fight dead even as we were watching the fight in our living room. My father said this fight was reminiscent of the “Thrilla in Manila.” Holyfield had to dig deep inside to overcome the “Camden Buzzsaw.”
Holyfield had never gone past eight rounds before and was fatigued going into round nine. Qawi was fatigued as well, as he was no longer bobbing and weaving. Rounds nine through thirteen saw both men taking turns landing several punishing shots on each other. No matter how hard Holyfield hit Qawi, the champion would roar right back. Qawi had never been knocked down in his career and he was showing in this fight just how hard it was to penetrate his skull. This was the first fight in which Holyfield, who eventually would go down as having one of the greatest chins of all-time, proved that he had a great chin as well. After the end of the 13th round, we both thought that Holyfield had the edge going into the last two rounds because he was landing more often and the harder punches.
Qawi’s punch output in round 14 dramatically increased and Holyfield took advantage by landing a fusillade of punches to both the head and body. Qawi was completely exhausted and was unable to avoid the bulk of the shots coming his way. Despite the fact that he was landing at will, Holyfield was still unable to hurt the granite-chinned champion. Qawi, a testament of his lion-sized heart, came back strong and outfought Holyfield in the 15th round. Both men hammered each other with one missile after another, but it was Qawi who landed more often. The fans in Atlanta gave both men a standing ovation. They cheered even loader when their hometown hero Holyfield won a split decision and his first world title.
Qawi was never the same after losing to Holyfield. He would get knocked out in the fifth round in a rematch 17 months later. Then, in his next fight, he was a virtual punching bag as he moved up to heavyweight and pummeled by a 39-year-old George Foreman. Qawi was 35 at the time and should’ve retired right then and there. He would fight on and off before finally retiring in 1989 at the age of 46. Today, Qawi leads a quiet life as a drug rehabilitation counselor in his home state of New Jersey.
Holyfield would go on to become the first Undisputed Cruiserweight Champion of the World. He would then vacate the title and move up to heavyweight, and on October 25, 1990 would knock out Mike Tyson conquerer Buster Douglas to become the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World. Two years later, he would defend his title against Riddick Bowe in a fight that will be analyzed later on in the series.