Former world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield hadn't fought since 2011, but yesterday he finally officially announced his retirement from boxing at the age of 51, saying that without a chance to fight the Klitschko brothers, he was done with the sport.
Holyfield, who retires with a career record of 44-10-2 (29 KO), had been more or less irrelevant in the sport since a bad loss in 2004 to Larry Donald, which caused the New York State Athletic Commission to suspend his license. Holyfield was back in 2006, though, licensed in Texas and winning four straight fights against lower-level opponents before a loss to then-WBO champion Sultan Ibragimov in Moscow in 2007. After a year off, Holyfield fought another world titleholder, WBA champ Nikolay Valuev, losing a highly controversial decision in Switzerland.
On many scorecards, including mine, Holyfield clearly deserved the win over the giant novelty fighter. Had he gotten it, he might have found a good reason to go out "on top," or more likely he would have had greater juice to angle for a fight with Wladimir or Vitali Klitschko.
Holyfield is a surefire Hall of Famer, a former cruiserweight champion as well as heavyweight champion, and one of the standout boxers of the late 80s and early 90s. He used craft -- and often plenty of dirty tactics -- to overcome size disadvantages in the heavyweight division, winning his first world title in that class in 1990, beating James "Buster" Douglas for the WBC, WBO, and IBF titles, knocking out Mike Tyson's conqueror in the third round.
Holyfield-Tyson was the big fight to make at the time, and it was ready to go before Tyson lost to Douglas. After beating Buster, Holyfield made successful defenses against George Foreman, Bert Cooper, and Larry Holmes. In the middle of that stretch, between Cooper and Holmes, Holyfield was signed to face Tyson in November 1991. Tyson delayed the fight due to a supposed training injury, but then was in court in January 1992, where he was convicted of rape and sentenced to six years in prison.
Without Tyson in the sport, Holyfield found a new rival in the form of another Brownsville slugger, Riddick "Big Daddy" Bowe. Bowe beat Holyfield in November 1992 for the championship, and a year later, Evander won it back. They met for a third time in a 1995 non-title fight, with Holyfield losing by stoppage in the eighth round.
Holyfield's most famous fights, though, would come against Tyson in 1996 and 1997. In the first fight, the heavy underdog Holyfield upset the comebacking "Iron" Mike, stopping him in 11 rounds in a fight he was winning handily on the scorecards at the time of stoppage. In their infamous rematch, Holyfield won by DQ when Tyson bit off a chunk of Holyfield's ear in the third round, a fight that Holyfield was once again winning.
In 1999, Holyfield's fortunes began to change, as he couldn't handle the bigger, younger, and highly talented Lennox Lewis, escaping with an absurd draw in their first meeting in March, before losing a rematch in November 1999. For the remainder of his career, "The Real Deal" went 8-6-1 with one no-contest, and by 2002-04, he was clearly done as a real contender.
As much as it's arguable that Holyfield's legacy took a hit by his hanging around the sport well past his prime, and his frankly delusional quest to unify the world titles while never looking like a real threat even against mid-level (at best) opposition, there's no question that Evander is one of the greatest and most well-known fighters of the last 30 years. His place in Canastota is simply waiting for him, and now with his official retirement, and the fact that he's already been inactive for almost three years, it won't be long before he takes his place there.