In only his 12th fight as a professional, Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield faced WBA Cruiserweight champion, “The Camden Buzzshaw” Dwight Muhammad Qawi in a pulsating 15 round epic struggle for supremacy.
The fight alone is up there with another great fight that went the old distance of 15 rounds, Orlando Canizales-Kelvin Seabrooks, there are other classic 15 round fights that come to mind, but most of those ended in the championship rounds.
For this fight, Holyfield entered a tough training camp lasting six weeks with his conditioner Tim Hallmark in Houston at the insistence of his legendary trainer, Lou Duva. Duva knew that this fight would be Holyfield’s toughest. The Olympic Bronze medalist had never went past 8 rounds in his previous eleven fights Qawi on the other hand was a battle hardened warrior, strong and durable.
Qawi had to come up the ranks the hard way. With no amateur experience, Qawi, at the age of 19, was sentenced to six years in Rahway (now East Jersey) State Prison for armed robbery. While in prison he entered the boxing program and would turn professional one month after his release. He would later fight professional in the same prison before his next fight where he shocked the world by beating Matthew Saad Muhammad to win the WBC Light Heavyweight title by TKO10.
Qawi would eventually lose his title in a unification showdown with Michael Spinks, but it was now becoming harder for Qawi to make the 175lbs limit, an issue that was also causing Evander Hoylfield problems.
After defeating Muhammad at light heavyweight, Qawi, then named Dwight Braxton, converted to Islam and took on the name Dwight Muhammad Qawi. Holyfield, a well known Christian amongst fight fans, admitted that there was no religious war about to ensue, but the atmosphere at the Omni in Atlanta on 12th July 1986 was tense as a lot was riding on the fight for both men, especially Holyfield, who had generated a reputation since his amateur days for gassing out. Was he able to go the distance? Could he cope with an unrelenting pressure fighter?
Holyfield starts fast using quick one-two combinations, using his 7” reach advantage whilst Qawi stalks Holyfield around the ring coming in with the high guard and his head low looking to get Holyfield against the ropes in order to unload, but Holyfield uses his legs popping out the jab, moving side-to-side using his speed. Holyfield round: 10-9 Holyfield.
Round starts with inside fighting, which suits Qawi, who is also showing a tight defence. Both are landing punches with Qawi having slightly more success than he did in the first round but Holyfield lands more. The poor bell at ringside is barely audible at the end as both fighters continue to trade punches. Another round for Holyfield: 20-18 Holyfield.
Holyfield comes out swinging and throws a barrage of punches, he then moves back as Qawi comes forward. Qawi starts to land a few shots of his own as both come head-to-head and start in-fighting which suits Qawi’s style. Both are now landing shots, but Qawi is landing the better of the punches in the inside which may have been enough to win the round. Qawi’s round: 29-28 Holyfield.
At this early stage both fighters are looking tired, especially between rounds. Holyfield tries to box and move but tiredness is already showing, which is confirmed by the way he is throwing his punches. Qawi gets him into the ropes and forces the action, Holyfield spins off and throws a straight right and then throws the occasional jab as Qawi tries to get inside again to work the body. Qawi lands a left hook that looks to have made Holyfield stumble slightly. Holyfield fights back but Qawi slips a lot of the shots with his bobbing and weaving. In the last 20 seconds both men stand toe-to-toe in the center of the ring. Another round for Qawi which levels it up at 38-38.
Qawi comes out and again forces the fight and gets Holyfield on to the ropes, he is warned for a couple of stray low blows. Holyfield back peddles trying to use his jab as Qawi again comes looking for the 23 year old challenger. The champion lands a right hand is more aggressive during the round as he lands more punches, Holyfield tries to fight back towards the end of the round but it isn’t enough to win the round, Qawi takes the lead: 48-47 Qawi.
Holyfield starts the round stronger and throws quite a lot of punches, while some are landing, some are also missing. Qawi again bobs and weaves under the punches and he turns the tables and lands a huge right cross. Holyfield backs up but lands a one-two combinations, he isn’t using his legs much now and elects to stand in front of the 33 year old champion. Qawi lands another right cross, but Holyfield starts landing his own punches, the bell rings but both fighters again don’t hear it and continue to trade shots. I think Holyfield edges the round and its all level again: 57-57.
Round starts with both again standing head-to-head, trying to land shots, Qawi seems to land a few low blows as Holyfield tries to work on Qawi’s left shoulder, perhaps in an attempt to open him up, again the shots look tired, another tight round to score but Holyfield wins it on the cleaner punches landed. Holyfield: 67-66.
Once again both go head-to-head, Holyfield lands a three punch combination as they both continue to fight inside, Qawi pushes Holyfield back but Holyfield then begins to land some of his best punches since the first round, which finally sparks Qawi into life and lands a few punches of his own, another round for Holyfield as he did the better work. Holyfield 77-75.
Holyfield tries to use his jab more but Qawi is unrelenting as he keeps coming forward and does land a few good punches, Qawi manages to get the challenger to the ropes but he manages to get out of trouble, a quieter round but one that I think Qawi takes on pure aggression. 86-85 Holyfield.
Holyfield starts fast, jabs and moves while Qawi hunts him all across the ring, Holyfield slips on water in his own corner, and Qawi is able to land a couple of punches after the restart as both now begin to trade some huge shots, Qawi showing massive heart, Holyfield who has never went this far in his entire career also looks to be landing the bigger shots, a round I think Holyfield just edges: 96-94 Holyfield.
Holyfield again starts with jabbing and moving but its not long before both come head-to-head again, then Holyfield springs into life, Qawi comes firing back, both fighters come together -- again, but Holyfield then lands a great one-two combination but Qawi pushes in again, Holyfield ends the round with a four punch combination and wins the round. 106-103 Holyfield.
Holyfield lands another flurry of punches early, Qawi tries to land a right hand, as he pushes back the challenger landing a few punches of his own, Holyfield comes back with a double left hook and a straight right hand, both fighters are landing, Qawi lands a solid jab that puts Holyfield back into the ropes. Qawi does enough to take the round. 115-113 Holyfield.
Both fighters are tired, again Holyfield starts strong with another combination as he trades hard, he then tries to box on the outside and lands a few combinations as well. In the last 30 seconds they both land punches as they decide to stand and trade but it’s a clear round for Holyfield: 125-122 Holyfield.
Qawi seems to start the round stronger this time as he stays close and tries to keep Holyfield on the ropes, Holyfield turns it round and lands a few shots of his own, he then seems to get stronger as he jabs and keeps his distance, but Qawi keeps coming and does have some success, but Holyfield takes the round: 135-131 Holyfield.
Qawi marches in and lands some good punches and even though both fighters look completely spent the champion does everything he can. With 20 seconds left Holyfield lands some good punches of his own, Qawi looks to stumble slightly and looks like he may fall, but then he comes barging forward again fighting with everything he has left, backing up the challenger to the ropes on the opposite side of the ring showing a true warriors heart. I think he showed enough to win the round.
Final score: 144-141 for Evander Holyfield.
The commentators states that Qawi was deducted a point for a low blow but I never saw or heard the referee stating this so I haven’t deducted the point from Qawi.
Harold Lederman – 144-140 for Evander Holyfield
Gordon Volkman – 143-141 for Dwight Muhammad Qawi
Elias Quintana – 147-138 for Evander Holyfield
Evander Holyfield wins the WBA Cruiserweight title on a split decision.
Both fighters were perhaps hampered by the fact that it was July and the heat was incredible inside the arena, after the decision and Holyfield was lofted high in the ring you could see the he was totally drained.
In fact a stark reminder in what these guys go through was when Holyfield recounts what happened after the fight. He had no recollection on how he got back to his hotel room that night, but while in the shower he was overcome by severe cramps in his legs, back, arms and neck.
As he shouted on his wife to get help, Holyfield collapsed and knew straight away that he was badly dehydrated, but he had no idea to what degree of dehydration until he went to the hospital and was informed what had happened to his body during the fight.
Firstly, Holyfield was asked how much he weighed going into the fight. The doctor knew but wanted to make sure, “186 lbs” was the reply. The doctor then replied, “well the problem is you now weigh 171 lbs!”
Holyfield lost a over 15 pounds in weight during the fight. He then informed him of the pain he was in and that he had urinated a bit of blood. The doctor had found that some what weird as he never saw Holyfield take a lot of kidney punches.
The doctor would then inform the new champion that he hadn't urinated blood, Holyfield had used up every single ounce of his reserves during the fight that towards the end of the fight he began burning up muscle and it was the residue of his muscle that he was seeing in his urination. His kidneys weren’t working right from being so dried out but the good news was there would be no long term effects. After being stabilized and getting an IV drip Holyfield would leave hospital a day later weighing 196 lbs.
The two warriors would meet again some 17 months later this time Holyfield was defending the WBA and IBF belts and won by 4th round knockout.
Qawi would never win another world title and finished his career as a heavyweight in 1998 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004, he will always be remembered as a tough fighter with a some what Joe Frazier-esque type of defence. As for Holyfield, even though he claims to have retired, he would go on and continue to upset the odds and become involved in some truly epic battles while also becoming the Ring fighter of the year on three separate occasions and then there was the small matter of becoming the undisputed heavyweight champion!
When Holyfield's Hall of Fame induction day comes, one thing I'm sure he'll tell us, if someone should ask who his toughest fight was - the first fight against Dwight Muhammad Qawi, perhaps one the last great fights to go the full 15 rounds.