After the Olympics, Holyfield decided to turn pro, as a cruiserweight (maximum 190 pounds). Shortly after turning pro, Holyfield married Paulette Bowen, who had already borne their first child, Evander Jr., and was pregnant with their second. On July 20, 1986, he became the first in his Olympic class to win a championship, after defeating Dwight Muhammad Qawi after a grueling fifteen rounds. This gave him the cruiserweight titles for the World Boxing Federation and the International Boxing Federation, but it would be another two years before he became undisputed champ by defeating Carlos DeLeon, the World Boxing Council's title holder. The win was sweet, but Holyfield soon realized that he'd have to enter the heavyweight division if he wanted to break into the big money and earn the fame of a "real" champ.
With the support of his trainers, a father-son team named Lou and Dan Duva, he announced that he would be fighting as a heavyweight, starting in 1989. Sportswriters were almost unanimous in declaring their disapproval. Holyfield, who usually weighed less than 215 pounds, would be going up against fighters weighing over 230 pounds. Holyfield was determined to overcome the doubters, and he underwent a new training regime dubbed "Project Omega." For over a year, he ran, swam, lifted weights, and did aerobic exercises under a staff of trainers that included an orthopedic surgeon, an Olympic triathlete, and even a ballet instructor. With their help, he improved his strength, endurance, speed, and agility. The all-around training helped him reach the finals in television's Superstars, in which he competed against athletes from a multitude of different sports.
But the real test came in the ring, where Holyfield passed with flying colors. He beat his first six opponents as a heavyweight, opponents who were heavier and, they thought, stronger than he was. He began moving steadily up the ranks and, after he defeated Michael Dukes in March of 1989, he began to be seen as a potential challenger to heavyweight champ "Iron Mike" Tyson. In the midst of negotiations to have the two meet, the incredible happened. In a major upset, Tyson lost his title to James "Buster" Douglas. So Douglas agreed to fight Holyfield.
- Evander Holyfield - World Heavyweight Champion
- Evander Holyfield - A Plethora Of Titles
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