World Heavyweight Champion
On October 25, 1990, champion and challenger met. Douglas had almost 40 pounds on Holyfield, but it was 40 pounds of flab. And Holyfield was in top shape. Not that he was without problems. A car dealership he had been involved with failed a little before the fight, embarrassing him, and closer to home, his wife Paulette filed for divorce just weeks before the big match. Holyfield's devoutness didn't always translate into strict fidelity to his marriage vows, and when women began throwing themselves at the rising boxing star, he sometimes gave in. Despite all this, Holyfield was primed and ready the night of the fight. In the third round, he felled Douglas with a right-hand punch, and Douglas made little effort to get back up. Holyfield became the undisputed world heavyweight champion. As Douglas Lyons summed it up in Sports Illustrated, "It took Evander Holyfield just seven minutes to win boxing's biggest crown." Many critics declared that Douglas had simply lacked heart. Holyfield was more generous in his autobiography: "Who can really judge the heart, or the lack thereof, of another man except God? It appeared to me that Douglas lacked a sense of consciousness."
In Holyfield, the world clearly had a different kind of champion. "A drop of golden sun to Mike Tyson's dark side of the moon, Holyfield is a fervently religious, gospel-singing man who seems to take no visceral pleasure in dismantling his opponents and never stoops to dissing them beforehand," wrote William Plummer in People Weekly, summing up the champ's appeal. But he still had to prove himself. The cry for a Tyson-Holyfield match went up almost immediately, but Holyfield settled on an easier fight with a 42-year-old George Foreman. Actually, Foreman had won 24 straight fights to get there, and this match proved considerably harder than expected. After twelve grueling rounds, Holyfield won a unanimous decision, but without the expected knockout.
That summer, negotiations began for the expected match with Tyson, but Tyson's rape charge, and subsequent conviction, put an end to them. Instead, he fought Bert Cooper in November 1991, before a hometown audience in Atlanta. Perhaps feeling cocky in his home-town, Holyfield got a little sloppy and Cooper knocked him down in the third round, the first such blow he'd suffered in his professional career. He came back to knock out Cooper in the seventh round, but observers noted the fall more than the victory. The following year, he went up against another aging former champ, Larry Holmes, and again he won by a decision after twelve rounds instead of the expected knockout. Critics grumbled that the champ was looking less and less impressive.
On November 13, 1992, Holyfield found himself in a much harder match, against Riddick Bowe, a younger, heavier man who was as hungry for the title as he himself had been. The fight had been promoted as "Friday the 13th: Anything Can Happen." In fact, it was another grueling 12 rounder, but this time the decision went against Holyfield. Ironically, Holyfield earned back some respect in this losing match by proving he could go the distance against a more powerful opponent. Even Bowe told Holyfield, "You were always a class act."