By Dave Sholler
Photo © Ed Mulholland/FightWireImages.com
For nearly two decades, Evander Holyfield’s name was synonymous with professional boxing. With a chiseled body, warm personality and in-ring prowess, the man nicknamed “The Real Deal” proved to many to be one of boxing’s authentic characters. Not everyone was sold though. In fact, some, including a current Hall of Famer and former Holyfield opponent, allege that Evander was anything but real and say that his link to an Alabama pharmacy accused of selling steroids is proof.
In an exclusive interview last week, International Boxing Hall of Famer Dwight Muhammad Qawi said he had reason to believe that Holyfield was a “cheater” and felt vindicated in reports linking Holyfield to the pharmacy suspected of selling steroids. Qawi, who fought and lost to Holyfield twice in his career, suspects that Holyfield has used performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career, including before and during their legendary 15-round war in Atlanta, GA in 1986. Moreover, Qawi said that he’s been on record for years stating that he believed that Holyfield gained an unfair edge in their 1986 bout thanks to the use of steroids.
In light of new reports that connect Holyfield to steroids – all of which he categorically denied in a statement issued by his promoter, Main Events - Qawi felt now was the time to bring back to light his allegations of Holyfield’s usage. As the reports began to trickle in – including a recent article on SI.com that alleges that in June 2004, Holyfield, using the patient name Evan Fields, picked up three vials of testosterone and related injection supplies from a doctor affiliated with the pharmacy – Qawi realized he could no longer keep his silence. He said he was tired of seeing “true athletes” victimized by steroid users.
“When I saw the article, it just connected the dots for me,” Qawi, who amassed a professional record of 41-11-1 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004, said. “It gave me confirmation.
“I believe it’s more than a rumor now,” he continued. “I’ve said this from day one. Ask anyone who knows me. I believe he’s (Holyfield) on steroids.”
At the heart of Qawi’s belief that Holyfield was and is on performance-enhancing drugs is his allegation that Holyfield was slipped a mysterious drink in between one of the early rounds of their 1986 bout that supposedly aided his revival. Qawi said he was dominating Holyfield in the early rounds, adding that after the fourth round Holyfield was “dead” and “dragging his feet, ” only to see Holyfield storm back to life after receiving the liquid. Qawi also suspects that Holyfield had a foreign substance rubbed on his body during the fight – a substance he alleges could have been a steroid cream – that caused a burning sensation in his eyes after his head made contact with Holyfield’s.
“My trainer Wesley Mouzon said to me after the fourth round, ‘Dwight, they gave him (Holyfield) something in the corner,’” Qawi said, referring to the unknown beverage and cream. “And then after that, something changed.
“He was taking three steps to my one. It was unnatural. It was like he was Superman.”
For those that might say the rejuvenation Holyfield saw was the evolution of a good fighter becoming great, Qawi believes otherwise. He said Holyfield had never gone past eight rounds in his eleven fights prior to their bout in 1986 and that Evander struggled in a fight months earlier against Qawi’s less-talented sparring partner. Moreover, Qawi thinks that since he had battered Holyfield in the early rounds of the fight and was winning the fight, Evander’s sudden strength, stamina and speed after the fourth were suspicious.
“Watch the fifth round and you’ll see a big difference,” Qawi said. “You don’t get spurts of energy like that. There’s no way he could.”
Further adding to Qawi’s confidence that Holyfield was on steroids were statements Holyfield made years after the fight. In particular, Qawi questioned the validity of Evander’s statements in the 2005 book titled “The Holyfield Way” written by Holyfield’s former attorney James J. Thomas II.
In the book, Thomas notes that Holyfield admitted to losing 15 pounds during his bout with Qawi and later being hospitalized. Qawi openly wonders how someone who lost that much weight in a fight could answer the bell in between rounds. He also questions what type of “supplements” Holyfield has admitted to using in the book and whether Evander’s well-documented heart problems he developed later in his career were a result of steroid abuse.
“I’ve never heard of somebody losing 15 pounds in the ring and never showing it in the ring,” Qawi said, adding that Holyfield's physique drastically changed throughout his career. “Something artificially held him up.”
Even though his allegations hit harder than any of his punches ever could, Qawi is quick to point out that he by no means bitter about the loss to Holyfield, but angry that he and the public have been deceived for so many years. While he admittedly has let go of the fact that he lost, Qawi is at peace with his career. However, his anger stems from the fact that Holyfield is often portrayed as “super-clean.” He alleges that fans around the world were led to believe that Holyfield was something he wasn’t, when in fact, Holyfield led a “double life.”
“The thing that gets me is the way he portrayed himself as a man of God,” Qawi, who converted to Islam in the early 1980s, said. “I’m okay with me. But if I lived a double-life, I couldn’t be okay with me. I say ‘To thyself be true.’
“Shortcomings are one thing,” Qawi said. “Trickery and deception are another.”
Still, no matter how at peace Qawi is with his career, the aftermath of the loss in 1986 still stings when he talks about it some 21 years later. Then 34 years old, Qawi’s career nearly flat lined after the fight and his personal life began spiraling downward. Qawi fell deep into depression, drinking heavily and later dealing with a substance abuse that plagued him throughout the rest of his career. While he in no way blames Holyfield for his addiction and depression, he said the incident weighed heavily on him and was certainly the “tip of the iceberg.” He confessed that the loss, teamed with numerous personal issues, led him down a dark, dangerous path.
“It’s not that I can’t lose,” Qawi said. “If I was going to lose, I didn’t want any doubt.
“I was so depressed and puzzled after the fight. I feel like a victim now. That was a pivotal point in my career. I was making my comeback. But that (fight) was it. I felt like there were no more chances for me.
“So I began to self-medicate,” he continued. “The depression set in and it was tough for me to manage.”
While the past twenty years have been an emotional roller coaster ranging from anger to depression to his current peace of mind, Qawi revealed that a new career path has aided his progression and allowed him to feel sympathy for Holyfield and other alleged steroid users.
Now sober, Qawi works with troubled youths at The Lighthouse at Mays Landing, a Southern New Jersey facility dedicated to helping those with chemical dependencies. His own addiction struggles, coupled with his day-to-day dealings with troubled youths, has permitted him to see inside the minds of other addicts and develop an understanding of those dependent on chemicals such as steroids. This newfound understanding has allowed him to come to terms with the fact that maybe Holyfield was a victim, too.
“Emotionally, we have to come to terms with things,” Qawi, who also admittedly learned life lessons while serving time in prison prior to launching his boxing career, said. “Those guys (steroid users) are victims, too. Someone introduced them to steroids and helped them use. As a fighter, you’re taken through the meat grinder. All people see in you is money; there’s no integrity.”
In the end, Qawi acknowledged that there is no way he can prove that Holyfield used steroids, yet he felt justified when reports surfaced last week about the connection between Evander and performance enhancing drugs. When the story broke, he toted a copy of the story that ran in newspapers across the county everywhere he went. The story was somewhat of a title belt for the former world champion, a glimmer of hope that everything he believes Holyfield did in 1986 is actually true. Ultimately, Dwight Muhammad Qawi wants the fans, athletic commissions, sanctioning committees, and everyone else to see “The Real Deal;” that steroid users have no place in sports.
“I wish they (steroids users) could just be honest about it now,” Qawi said just days before Holyfield announced that he would launch his own investigation into the matter. “It used to be ‘it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.’ Now, it’s ‘it’s not how you play the game, it’s whether you win or lose.’”
Dave Sholler is a frequent contributor to BoxingScene.com. He can be heard on ESPN Radio 1450AM in Atlantic City weekdays from 4pm-7pm.