Mad Hatter series Part I- “Big George” and Holyfield bouts highlight exciting 90s pugilism

By Lenny Moon

While recently organizing my closet, I crossed paths with some interesting hats accumulated over the years in my coverage of some of the major sporting events along the way. Even during routine circumstances, yours truly has always been known to don some sort of hat to compliment my casual wardrobe. Consequently, I accrued the moniker of “Mad Hatter” by a grouping of my colleagues and for whatever reason it seemed to have gained traction and stuck. With this being the backdrop, gravitating back to the closet organizing, as I lifted each of the hats I quickly realized that there were individual stories connected that merited sharing with consumers of my presentations. Initially my thought process was to capsulize the headwear and compose a single narrative. But as they continued to multiply, the executive decision was to compile a series to accommodate the increasing number of hats. Without further adieu, let’s begin with two mega boxing events from the 90s featuring two dynamic heavyweight of that era, “Big George” Foreman and Evander “Real Deal” Holyfield.

Ironically, both Foreman and Holyfield lived and trained in Houston, Tx during the aforementioned time period. George of course as well chronicled, was raised in the rugged Fifth Ward area of H-Town and maintained a residence in his hometown. Although Evander only lived in Houston part-time, he would spend extended excursions whenever he would begin his training regiment for any of his upcoming bouts. As a reporter of the “sweet science”, it was a deluxe experience to witness the “Real Deal” in his blue collar workout venue just west of downtown. And on many occasions, drive up to north Houston to take in “Big George’s” training at the complex that he owned approximately 20 minutes up the road on the same evening.

GEORGE FOREMAN vs GERRY COONEY HAT – January 15 1990

George Foreman’s encounter against Gerry Cooney took place in Atlantic City, New Jersey at their convention center on the Boardwalk. This contest represented a threshold fight for George in that he was in the third year of his unlikely comeback following his 10-year absence from the sport. Cooney a tall, hard punching southpaw from Long Island, N.Y. had an impressive 28-2, 24 KOs record and was clearly the biggest test to date for the 16-year removed ex-champion. The lanky, yet powerful slugger had once challenged titlist Larry Holmes, taking the “Easton Assassin” deep into their scheduled 15 round affair and leading on all judge’s scorecards before Holmes settled things with a knockout in the 13th round. While gradually building credibility during his comeback, Foreman fought 19 bouts with 18 KOs heading into the Cooney bout but none of those previous opponents posed the kind of threat as the Irishman. When it was all said and done, the cheeseburger-eating master pitchman did Houston proud by disposing of the area favorite in a brutal second round knockout. Cooney’s style was tailor made for the sledge-hammer punching Foreman and most of we witnesses were relieved to see the Long Islander able to walk out of the ring upright and not on a stretcher.

EVANDER HOLYFIELD vs MICHAEL MOORER HAT – April 22 1994

The undisputed champion Evander “Real Deal” Holyfield vs challenger Michael Moorer bout transpired in the spring of 1994, representing the champ’s first title defense since re-capturing the crown from nemesis Riddick Bowe. Having an opportunity to know Evander somewhat, the “Real Deal” was an easy guy to cheer for even in my unbiased position as a journalist. To my knowledge, he was one of the early pugilists to regiment his training while bringing in specialists from former 8-time Mr Olympiad Lee Haney for strength conditioning to incorporating aerobics just to name a few. As an athlete, he never took his success for granted and although wasn’t a natural heavyweight, Evander was committed to not allow anyone in his profession to outwork him; that he did control. Anatomically Moorer was similar to Holyfield in that the southpaw was also a highly accomplished light-heavyweight who was forced to move up to the heavier division for premium opportunities. Moreover, the power-punching Detroit Kronk Gym product was undefeated at 34-0, 30 KOs and had the arrogance of a fighter who walked around with a chip on his shoulder. Moorer would prevail, unseating Holyfield with a 12-round majority decision in a stunning upset. Adding to the drama was the hospitalization of Evander shortly following the contest, diagnosed with heart and rotator cuff issues that led to his brief retirement from the game. Fortunately, he would return once cleared medically and would remain a force in the heavyweight division for duration of the decade.

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