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Now Comes The Hard Part for Evan Holyfield

Kelsey McCarson

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Now comes the hard part for Evan Holyfield, son of renowned Evander Holyfield, who met with the media on Wednesday at the Fighter Nation Boxing Gym in Houston to announce he was following in his father’s footsteps by becoming a professional prizefighter. 

“This is all really surreal for me,” admitted Holyfield. “It’s a blessing for sure because not everybody gets this kind of opportunity.”

The middle of the eleven Holyfield children, Holyfield, 21, certainly has some work cut out for him if he hopes to breach his father’s large shadow.  That’s because Evan’s dad (who was not in attendance) won a bronze medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1984 Olympics, became the first-ever undisputed cruiserweight champion in 1988 and, if all that wasn’t enough, captured the heavyweight championship of the world four different times starting in 1990, sharing the ring with Hall of Fame heavyweight greats like George Foreman, Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis along the way.

Can you imagine trying to live up to something like that?

While Holyfield said he was grateful for the positive impact his father’s legacy had in helping him kick off his own professional campaign, he also correctly noted that at the end of his fighting career he’d only be judged by his own accomplishments. Still, it was probably nice to get this kind of sendoff, the type that only happens when people care about who your father is. 

“It’s all about making it count,” said Holyfield. “That’s what matters at the end of the day.” 

Standing just over six-feet-one-inches tall, Holyfield, a junior middleweight prospect, is described as a boxer-puncher with lightning-fast speed and hard-hitting power. Holyfield, who moved to Houston in February, was 70-15 in the amateur system where he competed while he was living in Georgia. The highlight of those endeavors was reaching the regional semi-finals during the 2018 Team USA western qualifying tournament. 

Not Evander. But not bad. 

Holyfield signed with Main Events, the same promotional company that his father signed with after turning professional in 1984. Main Events, which is based out of New Jersey, was founded in 1978 by the late Dan Duva and is now helmed by Kathy Duva, who has led the company as CEO since her husband’s passing in 1996.

Duva said signing Evan Holyfield was a complete surprise, something she described as the “closing of a circle.” She said she never really expected it to happen but that she was very excited about promoting the new Holyfield’s career. She also stressed there was much more to her company’s decision than just the fighter’s last name. 

“We’ve never signed a famous fighter’s son before,” said Duva. “Even the sons of the fighters we had before that have come along, we never saw one that I looked at and saw what I see here.”

Holyfield seemed excited to start his professional career with such raucous fanfare, and there was plenty of it to be excited about. There was a good crowd on hand, much more than any other recent boxing press events in Houston for any fighter not yet toting a world title around his waist (and even some that do). The happy throng of onlookers included local Houston celebrities, high profile mainstream sports media people, local boxing gym supporters and, of course, a vocal group of general boxing fans. 

“I’m really blessed to have this happen to me, and I’m really grateful to Ms. Duva for taking a chance on me,” said Holyfield, who genuinely seemed humbled by it all.

While Duva admitted her fighter’s first foray into the limelight would be much more about his father than it should be, she said her team fully expects their new signee to make a name for himself in his own right soon.

“Until he gets into the ring and fights, his father is going to be a big part of the story,” said Duva. “But once he starts to fight, we can talk more and more about him.”

Duva said her new Holyfield would be able to carry the burden of his father’s legacy just about as well as anyone might, but that it was more about what kind of person he was on the inside over anything on the exterior. 

“It’s not just the amazing athletic ability,” said Duva. “It’s the same kind of drive that I saw in the great fighters that I’ve worked with before, both his father and many others, including Sergey Kovalev.”

Holyfield’s team is rounded out by two other people with ties to the original Holyfield. Tabbed to be Holyfield’s manager and trainer is local Houston boxing fixture Maurice “Termite” Watkins, a former world title challenger who got his nickname because of his family’s exterminator business. 

After retiring from professional boxing in 1990, Walkins went back into the family business where he worked as a fumigator. He was later contracted by the U.S. military to do some fumigation work in Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion left the country in need of repair. 

While there, Watkins was also assigned to get Iraq’s Olympic boxing team ready for the 2004 Olympics. Overall, he trained nine Iraqi fighters across various amateur tournaments in the region and ultimately guided one of the hopefuls, light flyweight Najah Ali, to the 2004 Olympics in Athens. 

Today, Watkins focuses on serving the local community. “We help keep kids out of gangs,” said Watkins. “If you know anything about gangs, it’s blood in, blood out. We’ve been successful on just a handful, but that’s a handful that survived, isn’t in prison or dead.”

Holyfield’s team also includes Tim Hallmark, one of the sporting world’s most celebrated strength and conditioning coaches over the last 35 years, a man probably best-known as the fitness guru who helped Evander Holyfield successfully navigate his amazingly chiseled physique from the cruiserweight to the heavyweight division.

Holyfield, Duva, Watkins and Hallmark were all on stage together, beaming with smiles about the task at hand. Also on stage was Holyfield’s mother, Toi Irvin, and the Texas Commission of Licensing and Regulation Chair Rick Figueroa.

In short, if Evan Holyfield doesn’t make it as a professional fighter, it won’t be because he didn’t have a really strong team around him. If anything, Holyfield was essentially just shot out of a cannon on Wednesday, from the general obscurity of being just one of the many Holyfield children with similar-sounding names to being the one that takes a shot at carrying on the Holyfield name in the business that made it famous. 

And with all that hoopla, with Duva promising to keep him busy and active locally, with Watkins saying he had final say in who his fighter would fight and that he only wanted real fights against good opponents, with the lean, mean Hallmark machine standing tall next to him like a silent gray-haired sentinel, but one that could probably smash a walnut with just one pinky if he really had to do it…well, Evan Holyfield appeared pretty calm in all that. 

It was as if he was standing right where he was always intended to be. That isn’t everything, but it certainly is something. 

“I’m still just processing all this, to be honest,” said Holyfield. “Nothing like this has ever really happened to me. I’ve always thought about this day happening, and it’s just a really great thing for it to finally be here.”

Now, of course, comes that hard part. 

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Introducing Top Prospect Raeese Aleem, the Pride of Muskegon

Arne K. Lang

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At age 29, Raeese Aleem has yet to appear in a 10-round fight, but that will almost assuredly happen this year. The undefeated (15-0, 9 KOs) super bantamweight from Muskegon, Michigan, takes another step in that direction on Friday, Feb. 14, when he opposes San Antonio’s Adam Lopez (16-3-2) at Philadelphia in a bout that will air on “ShoBox,” the long-running SHOWTIME series that’s been a springboard for 81 fighters who went on to win world titles.

Aleem earned a black belt in karate before taking up boxing and becoming a four-time Michigan Golden Gloves champion. As an amateur, he and his coach Terry Markowski did a considerable amount of traveling between meets to find good sparring. Grand Rapids, an amateur boxing hotbed, was just down the road, but Detroit and Chicago were a good three hours away and on occasion they went on an even longer excursion into Ohio.

Aleem turned pro in 2011 and had his first 10 fights on the Midwest circuit, venturing as far north as Green Bay and as far south as Cincinnati. At the time, he worked in the produce department of Meijer’s, a regional rival of Walmart. His bosses, he notes, were generous in letting him juggle his work schedule around his boxing assignments.

For a boxer with designs on winning a world title, the Midwest circuit is like a bicycle with training wheels. Aleem had to shake free of it to see how far he could go. Besides, getting fights was getting tougher and tougher. There’s a 28-month gap in his pro timeline that includes all of 2013. He had several fights fall out during this frustrating quiescence.

If you’re an aspiring film actor, you go to Hollywood. If you’re an aspiring boxing champion, you go to Las Vegas. Not a week goes by without a young fellow turning up here to test his mettle in one of the many local gyms with the hope of attracting the eye of one of the major promotional firms.

“When I came to Las Vegas,” says Aleem who has a daughter back in Michigan, “I had no family here, no friends.” He was directed to Barry’s boxing gym, run by ex-boxer Pat Barry and his wife Dawn, retired Las Vegas police officers, and started training under their son-in-law Augie Sanchez. But Sanchez, the last man to defeat Floyd Mayweather Jr (accomplished when they were amateurs), had other priorities. He is an assistant coach with Team USA which obligates him to spend a good deal of his time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

Things started looking up for Aleem when he joined the Prince Ranch stable under the management of Greg Hannley. At the Prince Ranch Gym, where the head trainer is Bones Adams, he has sparred with such notables as Nonito Donaire and former WBO 122-pound champion Jessie Magdaleno.

Aleem doesn’t miss the weather in Muskegon, a lakefront city where sub-freezing temperatures are the norm in the dead of winter and snow is forecast for all of next week. But he still has one foot in his hometown, as evident by his unbroken bond with Terry Markowski. In an era when some boxers appear to change trainers as often as they change their underwear, Aleem has remained loyal to Markowski who has been in his corner for all of his pro fights and will be there again on Feb. 14.

Markowski, who teaches boxing at the Muskegon Rec Center, is a protégé of Muskegon’s most esteemed boxer, the late Kenny Lane. The epitome of a crafty southpaw, Lane, a lightweight and junior welterweight, was a three-time world title challenger during a 100-fight career that began in 1953.

The relationship between Raeese Aleem and Terry Markowski dates back to 2003 when Aleem resided in the nearby village of Ravenna, where Aleem’s father, the patriarch of a large blended family, planted Raeese and his siblings to get them away from the temptations of Muskegon which has several blighted areas. “It was a culture shock for me when I started going to school in Ravenna,” says Aleem, looking back, as none of his schoolmates looked like him.

This will be Aleem’s fifth fight in Pennsylvania where he has made four of his last five starts. The connecting thread is Reading, Pennsylvania gym operator-turned-promoter Marshall Kauffman who has been credited with keeping boxing vibrant in the Keystone State.

This being Aleem’s national television debut, it’s important that he make a good showing. His Las Vegas trainer Bones Adams, a former world champion in Aleem’s weight division, expects nothing less. “I’m confident he will be a world champion someday,” says Adams.

Photo credit: Mario Serrano / Prince Ranch Boxing

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A Bouquet for Danny Garcia in This Week’s Edition of HITS and MISSES

Kelsey McCarson

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Two-division champion Danny Garcia had the spotlight all to himself over the weekend in a stay-busy fight against Ivan Redkach on Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It was the main event of a Showtime Championship Boxing tripleheader that had the odd privilege these days of not being counterprogrammed by a Top Rank show on ESPN or any other kind of boxing card on DAZN.

So Garcia, 31, from Philadelphia, had the chance to remind people how excellent a fighter he is in full force, which would help him greatly in his effort to secure an unlikely bout against WBA champ Manny Pacquiao or remain first in line to face WBC and IBF champ Errol Spence whenever the Texan recovers from the injuries he sustained in a car accident in October.

But did Garcia pull it off? Here’s the latest edition of HITS and MISSES.

HIT – Danny Garcia’s Pristine and Precise Technique 

The best parts about Garcia were on full display against Redkach. That was made easier by Redkach’s lack of anything that might have given Garcia any real problems, but nonetheless Garcia was able to show the lovely footwork and balanced countering ability that made him so formidable at junior welterweight. There’s just something special about seeing Garcia fight. The economy of his movement inside a boxing ring is something that is just plain different than just about any other world-class fighter in the world today. In a fight that most people probably would have preferred he just skipped, and one that didn’t turn out to be any different than everyone expected, at least Garcia’s beautiful boxing was on display.

MISS – Showtime Sparring Sessions

In addition to Garcia-Redkach, Showtime rounded out its tripleheader with undefeated junior featherweight Stephen Fulton taking on former Muay Thai fighter Arnold Khegai and former unified junior middleweight champion Jarrett Hurd taking on career welterweight Francisco Santana. While Fulton’s fight against Khegai seemed like a legitimate prizefight, there was something about the other two bouts that screamed sparring sessions. That was especially the case for Hurd’s bout. Not only was Hurd in there with a middling welterweight, but he also used the rounds of the fight to work on vastly different boxing techniques than what made him so popular in the first place. Showtime might not have the pull they once had with the people over at the PBC offices, but they for sure need to get more involved in vetting matchups if they hope to remain afloat within the competitive boxing landscape of today.

HIT – Stephon Fulton’s Title Chances at 122 Pounds

Fulton is a very solid boxer who digs to the body and has a fast, clean jab. Khegai was the perfect kind of opponent for the 25-year-old. He was very game and never stopped trying to win. Additionally, his background in Muay Thai offered some different looks to Fulton that should help him on his way toward world title contention. In the end, Fulton outworked Khegai to hand the tough 27-year-old the first loss of his career. Now let’s hope Fulton is off to bigger and better things such as challenging for a world title. He’s ready right now.

MISS – Andy Ruiz’s Continued Soap Opera

The best thing former unified champion Andy Ruiz could have done after blowing the rematch against Anthony Joshua in December is getting right back to work in the gym. What better way to show trainer Manny Robles that he was taking responsibility for his actions than to get right back to work with the same team he had just let down so badly? Instead, Ruiz fired Robles and is considering other trainers. That would make more sense if there had been some sort of tactical error in the fight. But Ruiz already admitted he simply didn’t train for arguably the biggest fight of his life, and that’s not anyone’s fault but his own.

HIT – Former Middleweight Titleholder Andy Lee’s Second Act

It appears former WBO middleweight champion Andy Lee found his second act in life as a trainer, which makes a ton of sense if you followed Lee’s career under the tutelage of the late Emanuel Steward. Lee, 39, left Ireland after his amateur days to live with Steward in Detroit and train at Kronk. The two had a very close personal relationship and that experience ultimately helped Lee win the world title in 2014 two years after Steward’s passing. Now, Lee is passing on what he knows in the same way Steward did with him to other fighters. He trains and manages Irish upstart Paddy Donovan, is guiding Jason Quigley back to contention and even helped orchestrate distant cousin Tyson Fury bringing on Javan “SugarHill” Steward for the heavyweight’s upcoming rematch against Deontay Wilder.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott

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The Hauser Report: Garcia-Redkach and More

Thomas Hauser

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Boxing made its debut at Barclays Center on October 20, 2012, with a fight card headlined by four world title bouts. Danny Garcia, Erik Morales, Paulie Malignaggi, Peter Quillin, Devon Alexander, Danny Jacobs, and Luis Collazo were in the ring that night. The franchise grew nicely. Fans who went to Barclays saw good featured fights with solid undercard bouts. But as of late, the arena’s fistic offerings have faded.

Barclays cast its lot with Premier Boxing Champions. And PBC has moved its prime content to greener pastures (green being the color of money). There were five fight cards at Barclays Center in 2019. Each one struggled to sell tickets.

January 25 marked the thirty-ninth fight card at Barclays. The arena was half empty. The announced attendance was 8,217 but that included a lot of freebies. There were six fights on the card. As expected, fighters coming out of the blue corner won all of them. That’s what happens when 6-0 squares off against 2-10-1.

Three of the fights were televised by Showtime Championship Boxing, which has also been diminished as a consequence of a multi-year output deal with PBC.

In the first of these bouts, Stephen Fulton (17-0, 8 KOs) and Ukrainian-born Arnold Khegai (16-0, 10 KOs) met in a junior-featherweight bout. Each had fought the usual suspects en route to their confrontation. There was a lot of holding and rabbit-punching which referee Steve Willis ignored. Eventually, Fulton pulled away for a unanimous-decision triumph.

Next up, Jarrett Hurd (23-1, 16 KOs) took on Francisco Santana (25-7, 12 KOs).

Hurd is a big junior-middleweight who held the WBA and IBF 154-pound titles until losing to Julian Williams last year. Santana is a career welterweight who had lost three of his most recent four fights and had won only three times in the last five years.

Hurd was expected to walk through Santana. But he was strangely passive for much of the fight, which led to the strange spectacle of Santana (the noticeably smaller, lighter-punching man) walking Jarrett down for long stretches of time. Francisco is a one-dimensional fighter and was there to be hit. When Jarrett let his hands go, he hit him. But he fought like a man who didn’t want to fight and didn’t let his hands go often enough.

By round seven, the boos and jeers were raining down. Hurd won a unanimous decision but looked mediocre. That’s the most honest way to put it. One wonders what tricks losing to Julian Williams last year played with his mind.

Also, it should be noted that, when the winning fighter thanks God in a post-fight interview and the crowd (which supported Jarrett at the start of the bout) boos at the mention of The Almighty, there’s a problem.

“The crowd didn’t love it,” Hurd acknowledged afterward. “But you gotta understand; I got the unanimous decision and I did what I wanted to do.”

The main event matched Danny Garcia (35-2, 21 KOs) against Ivan Redkach (23-4-1, 18 KOs).

Garcia had a nice run early in his career, winning belts at 140 and 147 pounds. But later, he came out on the losing end of decisions against Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter. Other than that, he has gone in soft for the past five years.

Redkach is a junior-welterweight who had won 5 of 10 fights during the same five-year time frame.

There was the usual pre-fight nonsense with Garcia telling reporters, “We picked Redkach because he’s dangerous and we knew he’d be tough.” But in truth, Redkach had been whitewashed by Tevin Farmer at 135 pounds and was knocked out at the same weight by John Molina Jr (who never won again).

Garcia, like Hurd, was a 30-to-1 betting favorite.

Redkach fought a safety-first fight. Also, safety second and third. There wasn’t one second when it looked as though he had a realistic chance of winning the fight or fought like he did.

One of the few proactive things that Ivan did do was stick out his tongue from time to time when Garcia hit him. Then, at the end of round eight, he bit Danny on the shoulder while they were in a clinch. At that point, one might have expected referee Benjy Esteves to disqualify Redkach. But Esteves seemed to not notice.

Rather than go for the kill after the bite, Garcia eased up and cruised to a unanimous decision. Meanwhile, by round eleven, the crowd was streaming for the exits. Most of the fans were gone by the time the decision was announced.

Garcia and Hurd had set-up showcase fights scheduled for them. And neither man delivered the way he should have.

Meanwhile, a final thought . . . Sunday, January 26, would have been Harold Lederman’s eightieth birthday.

Harold was the quintessential boxing fan and loved the sport more than anyone I’ve known. He never missed a fight at Barclays Center unless his health prevented him from coming or he was on the road for HBO. He died eight months ago.

As Saturday night’s fight card unfolded, I imagined Harold sitting beside me. He would have had a kind word for everyone who came over to say hello and loved every minute of it. Harold Lederman at the fights was a happy man.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book — A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing — was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. On June 14, 2020, he will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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