November had not been kind to incumbents.
On November 3, Election Day Tuesday, George H.W. Bush was defeated by William Jefferson Clinton. The country, and its voters, had spoken and elected Clinton the 42nd President of the United States.
Just 10 days later another mega showdown was looming between two undefeated Heavyweights, undisputed champion Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield and Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe.
The year was 1992.
As a member of the elite 1984 Olympic team that also included Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor, Mark Breland, and Virgil Hill, Holyfield earned a Bronze medal before turning professional in January 1985.
Fighting at Cruiserweight, Holyfield won his first title from Dwight Muhammad Quai. He then defeated Ossie Ocasio and Carlos De Leon to clean out the division and unify the title in the process.
Team Holyfield was now prepared to move up and take on the Heavyweights.
With eyes on Tyson and his undisputed stranglehold on the division, Holyfield fought frequently and earned wins over veterans Pinklon Thomas, Michael Dokes, and Adilson Rodriguez.
Trained by terrific duo of Lou Duva and George Benton, Holyfield had signed to fight Tyson in June of 1990. Then, lightning stuck as Tyson was upset by James “Buster” Douglas.
Despite his accomplishments Holyfield was like Rodney Dangerfield, getting no respect.
Standing just over 6’2”, Holyfield had the heart of a lion yet was forced to fight for legitimacy as a Heavyweight. Often described as a “blown up” Heavyweight at 205 pounds, he was often maligned for facing suspect competition and old men.
Winning the undisputed crown from an overweight and out of shape Douglas in October of 1990 didn’t help improve Holyfield’s appeal.
As champion, Holyfield had beaten both George Foreman and Larry Holmes. Sandwiched between those victories was a real scare in Bert Cooper. Originally scheduled to face Tyson in an October 1991 showdown, the bout was first postponed when “Iron” Mike was injured in training. It was later scrapped altogether due to Tyson’s legal problems.
Cooper stepped in on late notice and dropped Holyfield in the third round. The champion climbed off the deck to secure a seventh round TKO victory. Again, a win was shared with more criticism and doubt.
At 30, Holyfield (28-0, 22 KOs) was now poised to face his youngest opponent as the Heavyweight champion.
Bowe was an imposing figure at 6’5” tall. He had won a Silver Medal in the 1988 Olympic Games after losing in the Gold Medal round to Lennox Lewis.
Trained by the masterful Eddie Futch, Bowe turned professional in March of 1989. He progressed quickly and secured wins over recognizable names like Tyrell Biggs, Bruce Seldon and Tony Tucker.
At 235 pounds, Bowe moved opponents with a long left jab. With very quick hands for a big man, he also possessed solid skills when fighting on the inside and had swiftly established himself as a force to be reckoned with.
Blessed with the gift of gab, Bowe was loveable and likeable outside the ring. He was gaining attention and momentum as he continued to win. In the summer of 1992, Bowe punched his ticket to face Holyfield by stopping rugged veteran Pierre Coetzer in seven rounds.
Despite his size, skills, and accomplishments, Bowe had his share of doubters and detractors who questioned his heart, stamina, and desire. Was he willing to take as much as he could give?
Now 25, Bowe (31-0, 27 KOs) was set to challenge Holyfield for the undisputed crown.
On Friday night, November 13, the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas would host the confrontation. Fight posters posed the question, “Will Bowe be the next champion? Or just next? On Friday, November 13, anything can happen.”
Both camps soon entered the fray and a verbal back and forth ensured. Holyfield’s camp openly questioned Bowe’s heart and labeled him a quitter, referring to his performance against Lewis. Bowe’s team responded by raising questions around drug testing fighters, a remark Holyfield interpreted as an offhanded suggestion that he may be taking steroids.
The champion responded, “You do different things for promotion. But when you go out and slander an athlete by, he’s taking some kind a form of drugs to perform, that’s nothing to joke about.”
Bowe got more to the point on his meeting Holyfield in the ring, “He said he’s gonna put a lot of pressure on me. I just want to see how he’s going to react when I go upside his head.”
The Thomas and Mack Center was sold out with over 18,000 fans in attendance. The anticipation was at a fever pitch as there was serious debate on who would emerge victorious as Heavyweight champion.
Boxing experts and fans alike were spilt on picking a winner in a bout being hailed as the first competitive Heavyweight match-up in years.
Vegas opened the betting line as even. By fight night, the champion was a 7-5 favorite.
Broadcast live on TVKO pay-per-view, Len Berman and Al Bernstein, teamed up to call the action. They were joined by Lennox Lewis who had demolished Razor Ruddock two weeks earlier. Lewis was poised to face tonight’s winner.
Bowe entered first. Wearing white with red trim, Phil Collins “In the Air Tonight” boomed through the arena. His supporters were out on force, cheering wildly as he climbed up the steps and into the ring.
Holyfield quickly emerged from his dressing room. Wearing red with black trim, the champion looked energized as he entered the ring while MC Hammer thundered in the background. His supporters were as loud as Bowe’s as a smile resonated on his face while he bounced in the ring.
After Michael Buffer introduced the fighters, referee Joe Cortez provided instructions.
Perhaps reacting to the magnitude of the moment, Bowe looked stiff at the opening bell. Holyfield immediately unveiled his plan, jabbing Bowe with his left hand while bouncing and moving side to side. The champion was getting off first as he was clearly the quicker fighter in the opening moments.
Holyfield’s plan was to box early, take Bowe into the deep rounds, and lure him into more exchanges late in the fight. By following this strategy, he and his team believed they could take the young challenger into deep waters and drown him.
Bowe began to loosen up in the second round as he tried to get his plan on track. He wanted use his size and power to goad the champion into early exchanges. His team was confident that they would wear down the champion in the early rounds.
As the two came together Bowe appeared to hit Holyfield low.
Cortez stepped in to break the fighters. Holyfield whaled back at Bowe who responded with firepower of his own. Cortez bailed out and the two went toe to toe leaving Berman screaming from his announce position, “War has broken out in the middle of the ring! He was trying to stop the action and the two of them just started throwing bombs!”
In that exchange, Bowe landed a devastating left hook that shook Holyfield. From that moment, although it was early in the fight, the ebb and flow of the action changed dramatically. Holyfield became angry from the low blow and his plan to box and move went out the window.
Holyfield was now standing toe to toe with the much bigger Bowe. He was hammering the challenger with left hooks but was not able to shake him.
After Bowe took control in rounds two through four, Holyfield began to reclaim control in the fifth. Bowe showed clear signs of slowing and the champion was again the busier fighter. The Bowe contingent tried to rally their man, chanting, “Let’s go Bowe! Let’s go Bowe!” The Holyfield fans began to boo loudly to drown out the Bowe supporters.
The challenger seemed to have caught a second wind in the seventh, landing a blistering right hand and then brutally attacking Holyfield to the body. Firing short, crisp combinations, Holyfield was on the defensive as the crowd again began chanting for Bowe.
Both men were now showing battle damage. Bowe’s left eye began to swell and looked tender. The champion’s right eye was nearly closed and he was now bleeding from his left eye. With the two again standing head to head in the center of the ring, Bernstein was left to ponder, “Can Holyfield win a war like this?”
As the two men entered the tenth round, Bowe immediately seized command and strafed Holyfield with a vicious right uppercut. The champion staggered into a corner as Bowe unloaded everything in his arsenal, desperately trying to put the champion away.
While Bowe appeared to be weary after unleashing a sustained assault, Holyfield had survived and came back with his own assault. Bernstein screamed, “He’s tired, Riddick Bowe! Evander Holyfield coming back, showing you something extraordinary! What an incredible Heavyweight round! I think he hurt Bowe!”
The crowd, in a frenzy, was on its collective feet and cheering wildly as the bell sounded to end the round. The two nodded at each other in respect while Bernstein continued, “That’s one of the best rounds in Heavyweight history! Period!”
Both corners worked feverishly to rally their fighter. Only six minutes remained.
The competitive phase of the fight ended just seconds into the eleventh round as Holyfield immediately tried to test Bowe. The challenger responded with a left hook that stopped the champion in his tracks.
Bowe then pounded Holyfield with a left uppercut and an overhand right. As the champion crumbled to the canvas, Berman shouted, “And Holyfield is down! The champ down for the second time in his career!”
Grasping at the ropes, Holyfield pulled himself back to his feet. Bowe immediately attacked, but was again unable to finish the champion.
After twelve rounds the judges had scored the action unanimously. Riddick Bowe was the new undisputed Heavyweight champion of the world. Like the presidential election just 10 days earlier, the torch had been passed to a younger man.
Within minutes of beating Holyfield, a confrontation with Lewis erupted near the announcers table at ringside. Cortez rushed to the scene to help separate the fighters while they exchanged verbal pleasantries.
It was, however, the action in the ring that stole the show earning Ring Magazine’s “Fight of the Year” and “Round of the Year” after the incredible 10th round war.