Evander Holyfield Scouting Report

Welcome, everybody, to another edition of our show, where we have a look at young boxers and assess their strengths, weaknesses and current developmental status. All proceeds from this show go to charity. So far we've raised $0 for research into the effects of spicy food and we will not rest until we have raised at least 10 times as much!

Today we reach back into the vault for a special edition of "Scouting Report - Today we reach back into the vault"(Special Edition). Here goes, play the tape:


Evander Holyfield is a Southern boy from Atlanta, Georgia, who finished up his amateur career with a record of 160 wins and 14 losses, winning the National Golden Gloves at Light Heavyweight, as well as a silver medal at the Pan-American Games and a bronze medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, in the clusterfuck that was the Light Heavyweight competition in those games. He turned professional in 1984 at the age of 22, he is trained by George Benton and Lou Duva and has thus far ammassed a record of 11-0 with 8 KOs, campaigning at light heavyweight and the newly created "cruiserweight" division. He is set to challenge WBA cruiserweight champion Dwight Muhammad Qawi this summer. I went to the video store and managed to find several of his bouts on tape:

This is his first pro fight, a cracking bout part of the famous 'A Night Of Gold' event staged by Dan Duva, where US boxing stars from the 1984 Olympics such as Virgil Hill, Meldrick Taylor, Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker, Tyrell Biggs and Mark Breland all made their professional debuts.
Here is his 2nd pro fight, against hard-nosed gatekeeper Eric Winbush, still living off his beatdown of Matthew Saad Muhammad three years ago.
Here is his 4th pro fight against Ohio club fighter Mark Rivera.
His 7th pro fight is against some random kid.
His 8th pro fight is a big step up against cruiserweight contender Anthony Davis
And his 9th pro fight against fringe contender and recent title challenger Chisanda Mutti.
And here is his most recent bout against Texan not-so-great-looking prospect Jesse Shelby.

As usual, here is a list of things I noticed, divided into several categories:

The Very Best

1) Hand speed. For a light heavyweight Holyfield is a rapid-fire machine gun, even moreso for a cruiserweight.

2) Punch variation and angles. Holyfield throws every punch in the book, he combines them naturally and effortlessly and he adapts his punches mid-combination to the new position of his opponent. He doesn't think his combinations beforehand, he just instantly feels and executes the best punch available in that current split-second. And he also changes angles constantly, feinting, bobbing, pushing or digging from below, from the side, off-balance, on the fly, there is not one position of his body or his shoulders from which he cannot unleash a deadly power-punch.

3) Putting weight into punches (compared to their speed). Holyfield manages to put remarkable weight into his quick punches considering he fires them on the fly and without much windup from his body or his feet. Even when changing angles, or when leaning forward or ducking to the side, he seems to naturally find a way to put weight behind every punch, even though he doesn't look like he's pushing that much with his feet or his midesection. This is probably facilitated by his...

4) Upper body strength. Holyfield is built like a tank from the beltline up, he is like a sack of muscles, a black panther. I think he would make a very successful bodybuilder.

5) Parrying. Speaking of other sports, Holyfield would probably be just as good a fencer as he is a boxer. His profficiency at intercepting and deflecting his opponent's high-speed left-hand punches is remarkable. Be it jab or power-punch, if it's on the right side of his face he will catch it with the glove by his face.

The Good

6) Fleetness of foot. Holyfield is up on the balls of his feet at all times, bouncing tirelessly up and down, ready at any moment to catapult forward to attack, backwards to dodge an attack or sideways to escape the ropes.

7) Head movement when punching. Holyfield is profficient in one of the very craftiest moves in boxing, moving his head when punching. On most of his punches, the placement of his head when the punch lands is different from what it was when the punch started. This makes him very difficult to counter because his opponent cannot find his target. Now to be fair this particular skill seems to go away as he gets more and more tired throughout the bout.

8) Rolling with punches. When he sees a punch coming, Holyfield oftentimes chooses to roll with it, and he does it very successfully. He also seems pretty good at following up on that punch immediately, taking advantage of his opponent having given up balance and position whereas he kept his.

9) Work Rate. Holyfield punches a lot and attacks a lot. His opponents are in for a world of hurt with him and he is in for a world of work. More on this in 'The Bad' section.

10) Inside fighting - offense. Holyfield does well offensively in a phonebooth. Finds numerous ways to land punches and hurt his opponent inside.

11) Chin. Holyfield has taken relatively many punches from big, rugged men and didn't seem that bothered. If anything, his own punching tires him out more than his opponents' punches hurt him.

The Decent

12) Body Punching. Holyfield is not a finisher or an artist but he does go to the body consistently in all rounds and also mid-combination, which is very good.

13) Jab. Holyfield has a long, precise jab that looks good but that is seemingly used only in the first half of each round.

14) Size. Holyfield looked large and long for a light heavyweight but arguably looks about right for a cruiserweight.

15) Power. Holyfield is not a one-punch KO artist, but his punches do look gruesomely hard. Somehow quite a few of his opponents have managed to stick around despite taking a lot of flush shots. Either the average Holyfield opponent is tougher than most boxers, or there might be a small red flag with his power. This needs to be taken into account as he moves to cruiserweight.

The Not So Great But Improving

16) Bit of a one-handed fighter? Holyfield seems to use his left hand a lot more, he gets better leverage and better power when hitting with his left, and most his combinations have about 3 times as many left hands as they do right hands.

17) Inside fighting - defense. Holyfield could stand to eat fewer shots when fighting inside.

The Bad

18) Susceptible to uppercuts. Holyfield is surprisingly open to eating uppercuts, especially inside.

19) Punching himself out. Holyfield has some stamina issues. When going past the 3rd round, he starts tiring, and the second half of each round after that is a bit of a struggle. All of his 'Good' attributes diminish in the second half of each late round. And by 'late' I mean anything beyond 3 or 4 rounds. His defense evaporates, his jab and his head movement disappear, his power seems to fade away, he doesn't roll with punches any more, but he does keep his inside fighting and his work rate. But I have seem him visibly gassed at the end of a number of rounds, enough so that a quality opponent might have attacked him like a wounded animal. In fact, in his fight with Eric Winbush, despite being a total shutout, at the end of the bout it looked like Holyfield was ready to go, whereas Winbush seemed somewhat fresh. Had that been a 12 or 15 round fight, I would not have ruled out a Winbush comeback KO late. In that bout, the commentator revealed that this was the main problem that Holyfield himself and his training staff had encountered in his preparations, and the fact that they spent a lot of time training him to fight 2 and a half minute rounds because that was what he could handle. To me, whether that was was just an intermediary step or not, it seems to have stuck with him, as he seems to be very winded towards the end of each round. This is one of the most usual corrections young fighters have to do so in the long term shouldn't be of great concern, but right now the problem is very much on the table and they may have mishandled it thus far.

20) Blind aggression. Holyfield wants to punch, wants to hurt. He is always attacking, always pushing, always hitting. Doesn't take rounds off, doesn't box to safety to preserve a certain lead, he fights like he is the underdog about to get screwed on the scorecards in all his bouts and all his rounds. This actually sounds better than it actually is. Why put yourself in the path of so much hurt and so much risk when you are perhaps in the middle of a shutout with a round or two left to go or when the round has been clearly won?

21) Guard. Holyfield has an incomplete guard. He covers well with his back (right) hand but not at all or at least inefficiently with his left arm. This makes him susceptible to right crosses or overhands. And when he goes into earmuff mode, he keeps his hands literally to his ears, leaving a lot of space down the middle.

The Downright Horrible

22) Getting into brawls. Holyfield gets into give-and-take blood-and-guts wars with most of his opponents. How such limited opponents such as Rivera, Winbush or Shelby manage to land so much on Holyfield remains a mystery. You'd think the difference in class and ability would cause at least some of his bouts to be wipeouts where he dominates the opponent and doesn't let him get off at all, making it out unscathed. Well, fat chance of that! Holyfield would likely manage to brawl with a bantamweight.

23) Tactics / not using his strengths. Holyfield fights mostly on the inside, where he takes one to land two. But here's the thing, when he operates on the outside and uses his jab, his reach, his footwork and his parrying, he rarely gets caught while continuing to land long crosses and straights. He would arguably take a lot less damage and outpoint his opponents more convincingly from a distance, yet he chooses to go inside on them when he has them trapped on the ropes. The commentator in one of the bouts thought his trainer, former middleweight contender George Benton is training him to fight the way he used to fight. I am not sure this is the best strategy.

24) Experience with 12/15 round fights. Holyfield has never been past 8 rounds (which you will notice is about half the distance he will have to go in his upcoming title bout) and he hasn't even been past the 5th round in over a year. Maybe it wouldn't be such a big problem if we didn't already know that stamina in long bouts is his main problem.

Overall Impression

Well, one thing's for sure, Holyfield's offense is indomitable at both cruiserweight and light heavyweight. He is a wrecking machine, and there is simply no way that a man stepping into the ring with Holyfield escapes an ungodly amount of punishment. I honestly don't think there's any defensive plan that can stop him from landing (and landing a lot!). But this doesn't mean that he is unbeatable. Several people proved to be tough enough to take him the distance, absorbing a lot of punishment but remaining on their feet nonetheless. And the best contender he has fought, Anthony Davis, was actually laying a bit of a beating on him before succumbing to the young man's attacks. I think Holyfield was close to punching himself out on at least two occasions, so I definitely think that until his stamina improves or he learns to be slightly more calculated in the ring, he can be taken out in the late rounds by an opponent tough enough to take his initial onslaught. Then there's the issue of weight and fighting style. At Light Heavyweight, Holyfield was significantly bigger than his opponents but had stamina issues. At this newly created cruiserweight division he has looked more at home, but he is now fighting guys his own size. The thing is, Holyfield's misguided gameplan seems to revolve around wrestling and overwhelming his opponents inside, something which will be more difficult to do with men his own size. And then I hear whispers of him possibly exploring heavyweight at some point. This could be feasible if Holyfield managed to stay and box from the outside, where his speed, footwork and reach would give him an advantage over cruiserweights and heavyweights. But if he starts wrestling with men over 190 pounds... I don't know.
I do domewhat applaud his team's decision to move him into a title shot already. The way he fights, Holyfield's career might be short and tumultuous. At this rate he might be shopworn in 5 or 6 years, so might as well not waste too much time. Although the choice of the title (WBA), owned by Dwight Muhammad Qawi, the Ring Magazine's top rated cruiserweight, might be slightly unfortunate. Qawi has the exact skill needed to beat Holyfield - serious toughness. In this day and age, there really are other options (can you believe we are up to 3 sanctioning bodies nowadays?!). The WBC's Carlos De Leon and the IBF's Lee Roy Murphy would be easier targets. Anyway, all and all I predict a short and spectacular career at cruiserweight for Holyfield but I am not too sure he can make it as a heavyweight, especially if he takes a few years of punishment at cruiserweight and then moves up.


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