1. THE third bout between Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe, on November 4 1995, was set for a ratings war with the second installment of Mike Tyson’s comeback following his release from prison. The former heavyweight king was set to take on Buster Mathis Jnr at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on FOX, while Bowe-Holyfield III would take place at the nearby Caesars Palace with HBO broadcasting. However, three days before, Tyson pulled out of the Mathis contest due to a broken thumb.
2. TWO years had passed since Holyfield had levelled the score with Bowe via an upset majority decision win. That sequel came 12 months after their epic opener – still regarded as one of the best fights in heavyweight history – that “Big Daddy” won via unanimous decision. Unlike the first two bouts, the rubber match came without a title attached after Holyfield lost the belts to Michael Moorer in April 1994, whereas Bowe’s WBO title he had picked up since his loss to Evander was not on the line. “The Real Deal” refused to fight for the WBO title because he felt it would damage his goal of regaining the IBF, WBC , and WBA belts.
3. TITLE or not, this was highly anticipated; there was a score to settle. Bowe did not like flying and arrived early in Vegas by bus, finishing his preparations at the Sheraton Desert Inn. Holyfield, meanwhile, based himself close to home in Atlanta to work with trainers Tommy Brooks and Don Turner.
4. BOTH were coming into the bout on the back of big wins. Bowe had ruined two unbeaten records, as he halted Herbie Hide and Jorge Luis Gonzalez, and Holyfield had rebounded from his career-threatening loss to Moorer by outscoring granite ball, Ray Mercer over 10. En-route to defeating “Merciless” Holyfield became the first man to drop him, with a textbook left hook counter in round eight.
5. HOWEVER, at 33 and with comparative inactivity, Holyfield was the underdog. The 28-year-old New Yorker was installed as a 3-1 favourite, but the $16 million prize fund would be split down the middle. 13,500 fans were in attendance at the outdoor Las Vegas venue, and around 700,000 paid to watch the PPV broadcast at home.
6. HOLYFIELD, after a bright start, looked in desperate trouble in round five as Bowe ploughed into him. Commentator, and former Evander rival, George Foreman implored the referee to stop it. “This guy’s going to end up in a pine box,” he said. Holyfield was certainly distressed, his face wincing under a hurtful body attack. Bowe sent one blast low and was penalised a point.
7. BUT Holyfield was not ready for the grave. He landed a superb left hook to begin the sixth and Bowe crashed on to his back. It was an astonishing turnaround, and for a few seconds, as Riddick vacantly tried to get up, it looked like it was going to be another miraculous win for Holyfield. But showing immense strength of body and mind, Bowe dragged himself upright and groggily resumed battle. Holyfield, himself exhausted, could not finish his rival.
8. BY round eight, Bowe was in command and dropped Holyfield for a count of nine, before viciously concluding the rivalry. Afterwards Bowe explained the turning point: “I knew I was down,” he said. “This don’t look right. He has a sharp left hook. Hell, this ain’t right, I thought. I got up and I was shook up, but I had to be cool about it. I hoped Evander would punch himself out like he did in the first fight – and that’s exactly what he did. I was cool. I had to maintain my composure. He was already tired and I was coasting the round. When it got to the eighth, we exchanged and I finally caught him. I want to thank Evander. He’s a great champion. He hit me with some great shots. But I’ll be better because of it. I love him.”
9. HOLYFIELD – one year away from the defining win over Mike Tyson – would later complain that food poisoning had hampered his performance but in the immediate aftermath, he offered no excuses. “In my mind I felt I was struggling at times,” he said. “When I show up I always give all that I have. I didn’t sit and play games. Riddick had more tonight and I give him credit for that.”
10. BITTER Bowe rival Lennox Lewis was ringside and present at the post-fight press conference. “Congratulations,” he said to Bowe. “I’ve got a question. When are you going to fight me?”
“Whenever you want, faggot,” came the reply. Bowe’s manager, Rock Newman, then took to the mic. “Will all contenders knocked out by Oliver McCall wait their turn.”
The fight never happened, of course. Although we didn’t know it at the time, Bowe was in decline and struggled to two brutal disqualification victories over Andrew Golota that spelled the end of his time at the top. In 1999, Holyfield and Lewis fought a highly controversial draw to decide the top heavyweight.