Words like awesome, incredible, and spectacular are often over-used superlatives in today’s modern age of hyperbole. However, in this week’s Flashback Friday, take each one of those words and multiply it by 1000 and you will wind up with Evander Holyfield’s epic battle with Michael Dokes.
The clash took place at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Holyfield, 26, was the former undisputed Cruiserweight champion of the world. Having moved up into the Heavyweight division, he had defeated both James Tillis and Pinklon Thomas in his first two, and only, Heavyweight fights.
His goals were simple. Win, continue to win, and challenge the undisputed Heavyweight champion, Mike Tyson.
Dokes, 30, was the former WBA Heavyweight champion. Shortly after losing the title, he stepped away from the ring for nearly three years while battling the demons associated with a life threatening cocaine addiction.
Making a miraculous comeback, Dokes had put together an eight-fight win streak and a victory over Holyfield would put him atop the list in the Tyson sweepstakes. The bout, scheduled for 12 rounds, was billed as “Holyfield or Dokes? A Date With Destiny.”
The year was 1989.
On March 11, the electricity could be felt throughout Caesars and to those watching at home. Showtime broadcast the bout live with Steve Albert and “The Fight Doctor” Ferdie Pacheco ringside to call the action.
Dokes (37-1-2, 23 KOs) was initially installed as a 9-1 betting underdog. By fight night, the odds had dwindled to somewhere around the 3-1 range. Wearing all white with “Dokes” emblazoned in red across his waistline, he entered the ring at 225 pounds and looked to be in superb condition.
The undefeated Holyfield (20-0, 16 KOs) entered the ring in his usual fashion, chiseled from granite and in spectacular shape at 208 pounds. Donned in blue with white trim, the familiar faces of Lou Duva and George Benton accompanied Holyfield into the ring.
Ring announcer Chuck Hull introduced referee Richard Steele and then the fighters.
From the opening bell, Dokes charged right at Holyfield. The game plan was to attack the smaller man’s body and break his opponent down. Holyfield fired back and looked to make Dokes expend energy early and wear him down as the fight went on.
After two rounds of banging to the Holyfield body, Dokes began launching missiles to the head in Round 3. Holyfield blazed back with combinations and power punches. Both men refused to give an inch of ground and continuously pounded with heavy artillery.
As the two traded, Dokes blistered Holyfield’s jaw and began backing him up. The crowd rose to its feet and stood the entire round. Pacheco screamed over the roar inside Caesars. “Hard attack to the head of Holyfield and he’s not fighting back! He looks tired and he looks hurt!”
Duva continued to scream from the corner. “Get that respect! Get that respect!” Often questioned and maligned as a blown up Heavyweight, Holyfield was intent on giving as good as he got and proving that he belonged. Dokes showed dogged determination to prove he was back and could take out an elite competitor like Holyfield.
The incredible pace continued into Round 5 as Dokes again backed Holyfield up and hammered him into the ropes. Albert wailed, “He’s got Holyfield in some trouble here! Uppercuts to the head snapping Holyfield’s head back!”
Holyfield spun Dokes around and returned fire, landing left hooks and right crosses to Dokes face to end the fifth.
Looking to set the record straight, Holyfield charged at Dokes to begin Round 6. The two continued to stand toe to toe in the center of the ring as Holyfield plastered a right hand to the Dokes chin. Pacheco was breathless, “What a jaw on Dokes! Both of these guys are pummeling each other!”
The action continued after the bell sounded to end the round.
Now cut over his left eye, and undaunted Dokes kept coming. Holyfield, bouncing on his toes and resilient in his own right, kept firing back. Holyfield ejected Dokes mouthpiece with a left hook as the crowd moaned and groaned with so many of the punches. Hurt and bleeding, with his once white trunks now a faint shade of pink, Dokes blazed back.
As Round 7 came down the stretch, Holyfield reached back and pounded a major league right hand to Dokes cheek. Albert went wild, “What an exchange there! Big shot by Holyfield! Dokes remains on his feet, I don’t know how!”
The bell sounded with everyone inside Caesars still standing and cheering both fighters.
Dokes began Round 8 like Holyfield began Round 6, charging at his opponent with renewed vigor. The furious back-and-forth action continued as both men took turns pounding away. Dokes owned the first half of the round while Holyfield then took possession of the second half.
Albert and Pacheco desperately tried to keep up with the give and take. “What a round! It doesn’t seem possible,” screamed Pacheco. Albert continued, “Holyfield throwing everything in his arsenal! The crowd is standing here at Caesars Palace!”
Both men had a truckload of guts and chins made of concrete.
Moving into Round 10, the effects were beginning to show on both fighters. Dokes continued to bleed while Holyfield was beginning to swell around his eyes.
The two moved back to close quarters as Holyfield launched a half left hook, half uppercut. The punch blistered Dokes’ jaw while straightening his back and buckling his legs. Holyfield moved in for the kill while Dokes tried to hold his ground and fire back.
Pacheco wailed, “Oh! What a shot! Dokes in trouble! Dokes in big trouble!”
Holyfield then fired a short, crisp left hook that sent Dokes reeling into the ropes. As his body bounced off the ropes, Holyfield fired a right cross that landed flush on the side of his foes head, sending Dokes crashing to the canvas.
Albert called the final exchange, “And there he goes into the ropes! Holyfield looks to finish him off! He’s down! He’s out! It’s over! Evander Holyfield has won it here in the 10th round!”
Holyfield ended the affair, an instant classic, at 1:41 of Round 10. The crowd, still standing, applauded for several minutes.
The Ring Magazine would later name this fight the “Best Heavyweight Fight of the 1980’s.” It is one of the best fights I have ever seen and was privileged to watch. The action, heart and courage displayed by both men spoke for itself.
If you saw it, you’ll never forget it. If you haven’t, watch it. It was beautiful.
All photos by Ring Magazine/Getty Images