Story by John DiSanto – PhillyBoxingHistory.com
Philadelphia’s 2018 boxing season begins Friday night at the Sugar House Casino with a show presented by Real Deal Sports & Entertainment, the promotional company headed by former four-time heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield. The eight-bout card features Philly’s Steven Ortiz, 7-0, 2 KOs, against DC’s Joshua Davis, 11-2, 5 KOs, in the main event. Rising local standouts Jaron Ennis, 17-0, 15 KOs, Brandon Robinson, 8-1, 6 KOs, and Marcel Rivers, 3-0, 2 KOs, among others, highlight Friday’s supporting bouts.
“We want to bring boxing back, and bring it back right,” Holyfield said. “People really want to see boxing like it used to be. Today you don’t have the competitive fights like you used to. It’s about putting a guy in good fights and making them understand that if you want to be the best, you have to fight the very best. If you’re going to fight on our card, you have to have good fights. No mismatches.”
Friday’s fight will be the first visit by the ring legend’s “Showcase Series”, but Holyfield expects to make Philly a regular stop on their circuit.
“Of course,” Holyfield said when asked about bringing more shows to Philadelphia. “We plan to do them all over the country, and even plan to do something in Jamaica. We have a goal to put fights on once a week. Right now we do them once a month, but hopefully, we’ll do them once a week. It’s not an overnight thing; it will take time. But, yes, we will come back to Philadelphia.”
Although he never fought in Philly himself, Holyfield has ties to this fighting city.
“I came up at the time when Philadelphia was known for fights,” Holyfield said. “My first fight was with a guy named Lionel Byarm. That was 1984, my first professional fight at Madison Square Garden. I went six rounds in my professional debut. Everybody knows that when you fight a Philadelphia fighter, you better be ready.”
Byarm, a tough Philly cruiserweight who faced many excellent opponents during his six-year career in the 1980s, is best known as Holyfield’s first opponent. However, Evander’s biggest tie to Philadelphia is his longtime association with legendary trainer George Benton.
“Georgie Benton was the best trainer that I ever had,” Holyfield said. “Lou Duva was the guy that brought Georgie Benton in. Lou Duva was the head over everybody, but George Benton was the one that taught me how to fight.”
Benton compiled a roster of world champions that, in addition to Holyfield, included Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor, and nearly twenty other title holders.
“George Benton was a defense specialist,” Holyfield said. “He was very good, and the reason that I was able to beat the majority of the fighters I did, was because of Georgie Benton.”
Before becoming a trainer, Benton had a marvelous career as a middleweight. He faced many of the best, but was avoided by all the champions.
“I’ve seen some of his old fights, and he was one of those fighters who never got the chance to fight for a world title,” Holyfield said. “But he was very good. He probably could have beat a lot of people, but he didn’t get the opportunity.”
“I would never have gotten the opportunity to be the very best if I didn’t have him – and the Duva family,” Holyfield continued. “They were the best at the time, but Georgie Benton was the chief person. That was the guy that allowed me to be able to make the judgments that were necessary to be the very best fighter that I could possibly be.”
Of course, Holyfield made the most of his opportunities. He went to the Olympics as an amateur, and as a pro, was undisputed cruiserweight champion and heavyweight champion an unprecedented four times. Last year, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
“I was honored”, Holyfield said about his induction. “I was honored, because the fact is, I didn’t have anything to do with it. I did my very best (in the ring). Then it’s up to the people to make that judgment. So, I made it, and I’m honored. It’s not like they had to (induct me), but my record speaks for itself.”
“The only thing that proves how good you are is what kind of record you have and the people you fought,” Holyfield said. “I was a four-time heavyweight champion of the world. I was an undefeated cruiserweight champion of the world. My goal was to be the very best. I didn’t know what that was. I never had a plan to be the four-time heavyweight champ of the world. I was hoping that one day I’d be able to beat Rocky Marciano’s record. I didn’t do that, but I’m the only four-time heavyweight champ of the world.”
Of all Holyfield’s many accomplishments, one clearly stands out the most to him.
“The ultimate moment of my career was me making the Olympic team. I didn’t get the Gold Medal, but I remember when they said, “Representing the United States, from Atlanta, Georgia, Evander Holyfield.” That showed that you were the best amateur and that you represented your country. I fought all those years. I started boxing at the age of 9, and at 21, I made the Olympic team. It was just such an honor to represent the United States.”
To read more about the Philly fight scene, visit www.phillyboxinghistory.com.