Evander Holyfield, who spent most of his childhood in Atlanta and currently lives in Fayetteville, rose to international prominence as a heavyweight boxing champion in the 1990s. He has won the world heavyweight championship three times and set more records than any other boxer.
Holyfield, the youngest of eight siblings, was born on October 19, 1962, in Atmore, Alabama. After moving to Atlanta with his family at age five, he began boxing three years later at southeast Atlanta’s Warren Memorial Boys Club and won the club’s boxing tournament. At age eleven Holyfield qualified for the Junior Olympics, and at age sixteen he won the southeastern regional championship and took home the tournament’s best boxer award along the way. At age nineteen he won a silver medal while representing the United States at the Pan American Games in Caracas, Venezuela.
In 1983 Holyfield won the National Golden Gloves Champion, a prestigious American amateur boxing title. The next year he won a bronze medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California, reaching the semifinal round of the light-heavyweight division.
Holyfield fought in his first professional fight shortly after the Olympics, defeating Lionel Byarm on November 15, 1984, in New York City. Less than two years later Holyfield won his first title belts, the World Boxing Association (WBA) and International Boxing Federation (IBF) cruiserweight (then known as junior heavyweight) championships. He defeated Dwight Muhammad Qawi in fifteen rounds in Atlanta on July 12, 1986, to win the titles, becoming the first boxer from the 1984 Olympics to win a professional championship. Holyfield successfully defended his championship belts for nearly two years and was the first-ever undefeated, undisputed cruiserweight title holder. The cruiserweight belts now feature his image in honor of his achievements in that weight class.
Holyfield gave up the cruiserweight titles to move up to the heavyweight division in July 1988, and he became the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world (winning the WBA, IBF, and World Boxing Council titles) on October 25, 1990, when he knocked out Buster Douglas in the third round. Following three successful title defenses, Holyfield lost a twelve-round decision and the heavyweight belts to Riddick Bowe on November 13, 1992. He regained the WBA and IBF titles a year later, on November 11, 1993, by defeating Bowe in another twelve-round decision.
Three years later Holyfield began a well-publicized pair of fights with former champion Mike Tyson, who had recently been released from prison after serving time for rape. Holyfield kept his titles by knocking out Tyson in the eleventh round of the first fight, on November 9, 1996. When the two met again on June 28, 1997, Tyson was disqualified for twice biting Holyfield’s ear during the fight.
In 1999 Holyfield fought WBC heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis twice—first to a much-disputed draw on March 13 and then with Lewis winning by decision in the November 13 rematch to reunify the titles. In 2000 the WBA stripped Lennox Lewis (who has since retired) of his WBA belt for refusing to defend his title against John Ruiz. Holyfield then met Ruiz three times for the vacant title, winning the first fight by a unanimous decision on August 12, 2000; losing the second on March 3, 2001; and drawing the third match on December 15, 2001.
Holyfield won seven fights after drawing with Ruiz. On June 1, 2002, he beat Hasim Rahman by a technical decision after accidentally headbutting him. He then met WBA heavyweight champion Chris Byrd on December 14, 2002, for the IBF world title that was vacated when Lewis retired. Holyfield lost a unanimous twelve-round decision. Undeterred, Holyfield fought James Toney on October 4, 2003, but lost by technical knockout. On November 13, 2004, Holyfield suffered his third consecutive loss, to Larry Donald, by unanimous decision. In 2006 he won a bout against Jeremy Bates, and continued fighting until 2011, when he triumphed over Brian Nielsen in the final match of Holyfield’s career. He retired in 2012 at the age of fifty, ending his career with a 44-10-2 record, with 29 wins by knockout.
Away from the boxing ring, Holyfield is a preacher whose personal heroes are the Nobel Peace Prize winners Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, the leader of the South African anti-apartheid movement. In addition to contributing a substantial amount of money to evangelical causes, he started a college fund for minority students, and funded a family community center. In 1996 Holyfield published his autobiography, Holyfield: The Humble Warrior, which he wrote with his brother Bernard. In July 2003 Holyfield, who has ten children, married for the third time, and in 2005 he competed as a celebrity dancer on the television series Dancing with the Stars.