On a beautiful spring night in New York City, Madison Square Garden hosted an evening touted as “The Night of the Heavyweights.”
The card featured three televised bouts that included Tim Witherspoon vs. Jorge Luis Gonzales, Lennox Lewis vs. Ray Mercer, and in the main event, Evander Holyfield vs. Bobby Czyz.
Holyfield (31-3, 22 KOs) was fighting for the first time since losing the rubber match to Riddick Bowe in November of 1995. In that fight, Holyfield was stopped for the first time in his career after succumbing to a barrage from Bowe in the eighth round.
Now 33 years old, many were clamoring for Holyfield to retire for good. In 1994, after a bout against Michael Moorer where Holyfield looked lethargic and appeared tired through most of the fight, he retired upon being diagnosed with a heart ailment.
His doctor explained that he was suffering from a congenital heart condition and, in the split decision loss against Moorer, “He fought 12 rounds essentially in heart failure.”
After the loss to Moorer and subsequent diagnosis, Holyfield claimed to have been healed and returned to the ring 13 months later to beat Mercer. He floored the man known as having an iron chin and went on to an impressive unanimous decision victory.
Holyfield then chose to meet Bowe for the third time and again looked sluggish. Despite dropping Bowe and nearly finishing him, many thought he was done for good after the decisive defeat.
The man known for having the biggest heart in boxing was now forced to consider retirement because of it. But the irresistible force kept coming. Just 13 months after the third loss to Bowe, Holyfield signed to meet Bobby Czyz in a card chalked full of Heavyweights at the “Mecca of Boxing,” in New York.
Czyz began his professional career in April of 1980. Fighting in the Middleweight division, Czyz was eyeballing a shot at the Middleweight linchpin, “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler.
After reeling off 20 straight victories, Czyz suffered his first loss in November of 1982 against veteran, Mustafa Hamsho. The unanimous decision defeat left him out of the ring for just over a year.
He returned to action in the fall of 1983, now fighting at Light Heavyweight, and pieced together a 12 fight win streak. In that run Czyz won the IBF Light Heavyweight championship stopping Slobodan Kacar in five rounds.
After three successful defenses, Czyz met Prince Charles Williams in October of 1987. He was unable to come out for the tenth round, losing both the bout and his crown.
After losing a rematch with Williams and a unanimous decision to Virgil Hill, Czyz moved up to Cruiserweight and won 10 of his next 11 fights. Now pulling double duty as a color commentator with Showtime, he had been toying with the idea of moving up to Heavyweight. After three fights as a Heavyweight, he would get his chance on the big stage against a two-time Heavyweight champion.
Now at 34, Czyz (44-6, 28 KOs) was fighting in a fifth different weight class. As he entered the ring that night, only Thomas Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard had accomplished that feat.
Entering the ring first wearing white trunks with gold trim, Czyz sported a shirt with “MENSA” embossed across his chest. A member of this organization meant that Czyz, impressively, had scored in the highest 2% of all IQ test takers.
Holyfield entered the ring next. Wearing white and purple, the former champion was 3-3 in his last six fights. Interestingly, he had not fought in Madison Square Garden since his professional debut in November of 1984.
After Michael Buffer introduced the fighters, referee Ron Lipton provided instructions. As the two stood face to face, Holyfield had the decided height advantage by some three plus inches.
From the opening bell Holyfield seemed determined to push back and muscle the smaller Czyz. Usually the smaller fighter in the ring, Holyfield was single-minded in his effort to turn the tables on an unwilling Czyz. He threw volleys of punches and was content to load up and throw a truckload of power punches. Punch stat numbers showed Holyfield throwing 87 punches in the first round. Not since his Cruiserweight days against Dwight Muhammad Quai had he been that active in a single round.
In the second, Czyz continued his defensive posture, knees bent and hands up high, jabbing and firing to the body when he wasn’t consumed with slipping and dodging the Holyfield assault. George Foreman, commentating ringside with Larry Merchant and Jim Lampley, saw this as a possible strategy. “Every time he weathers the storm, as the fight gets longer and longer, his chances grow bigger and bigger.”
Holyfield immediately backed Czyz into the ropes to begin the third and the two traded toe to toe for 45 seconds. Lyle stepped in during the hail of punches and administered a standing eight count to Czyz. An irritated Czyz looked directly at Lipton, “Remember what I told you in the dressing room?” Perhaps he was reminding Lipton of his strategy to get Holyfield to tire and then come on strong in the later rounds.
As round four got underway, Holyfield continued to press forward. Czyz continued to counterpunch and began landing left hooks to Holyfield’s chin. He also doubled up his jab and landed a pair of solid straight right hands. Although he was now landing cleanly, Holyfield did not move backward. Czyz shook the sweat but could not move the man.
The fifth round was more of the same. About a minute into the round, the crowd began to chant, “Bobby! Bobby! Bobby!”
Nearly all three minutes were fought inside of a phone booth. The two traded overhand rights and left hooks. Holyfield began with a flurry but began to slow after Czyz whipped his head back with an uppercut. As Holyfield came back and pinned Czyz against the ropes, Czyz countered with a beautiful one-two combination. Holyfield looked at Czyz in amazement, smiled, then shook his head in an act of denial. With 15 seconds to go in the round, the two again stood head to head and traded until the bell ended the round.
Not an empty seat could be found as the packed house stood and applauded the action.
As Holyfield stood in his corner in between rounds a ’la Foreman in his second career, the Czyz corner told Lipton they were stopping the fight. The bell then sounded to begin the sixth as Lipton walked Czyz to a ringside physician. He was feverishly blinking his eyes and complained of severe burning.
Unable to see, the fight was stopped as Holyfield was declared the winner via TKO. It was an anti-climactic ending to an otherwise exciting fight.
Next, Holyfield would do the improbable in winning a pair of fights against “Iron” Mike Tyson. He would then redeem himself against Moorer winning via an eighth round TKO. Last fighting in 2011, the “Real Deal” retired in early 2014.
Czyz would fight only one more time after being stopped by Holyfield, a second round TKO loss to Corrie Sanders.
In an interview in July of 2013, Czyz gave his version of that evening’s events saying, “Someone put something on Holyfield’s glove. I don’t think it was Evander I think it was his corner and Don Turner. In the gym you may rub Vaseline on a fighter’s gloves to stop cutting and marking up during sparring but, in a fight, you don’t rub anything on as you want to cause damage in the fight. Look at the tape of that fight, from the second round, Turner is continuously rubbing Holyfield’s gloves in between rounds. I’d been boxing twenty years and had never experienced anything like it.”