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Family ties and Pacquiao inspire Holyfield before pro debut

When Evan Holyfield makes his professional debut on the undercard of Sergey Kovalev and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez’s blockbuster WBO light-heavyweight clash it will not be the family affair it was the first time he pulled on boxing gloves in public.

Holyfield is the son of all-time cruiserweight and heavyweight great Evander Holyfield, while his brother Elijah is part of the Carolina Panthers practice squad on his rookie season in the NFL.

When they were children, there was briefly a possibility of Elijah following his sibling’s career path – naturally with some final pointers from their father and a touch of sparring before entering the Georgia Games – a community multi-sport event in their home state.

“We both had our first fight on the same day,” Evan recalled when talking to Omnisport. “We were eight years old and it was just me and him.

“My Dad brought us downstairs and taught us the ‘one-two’ and, before you know it, me and Elijah were having our first fight.

“We ended up in a tournament on the same day at the Georgia Games.”

Evan and Elijah, both 21, remain close as they aim to write the next chapters in the story of one of America’s most famous sporting names

“All our other brothers and sisters are older and there’s a couple younger than us – he [Elijah] was like my best friend,” Evan said.

“We have a really good relationship. I Facetime him often and we always ask each other what’s going on with our football and boxing.

“At this point I feel like I’m one of his big fans as well as his brother. I just get a kick out of watching him as a football player. I’m really proud of him.”

It will be Elijah’s turn to play loyal supporter when Evan steps through the ropes at the MGM Grand against fellow novice Nick Winstead, who was stopped on his own debut five months ago.

Campaigning in the light-middleweight division means Holyfield Jr takes his stylistic cues a little further away from home than a father who reigned during one of the most celebrated era for boxing’s big men in the 1990s.

“The person I most look up to other than my father when it comes to boxing is Manny Pacquiao,” he said. “I grew up watching him and besides my Dad he’s the one person who really got me into boxing.

“I feel like I take a lot of stuff from him, including his footwork. Even though his speed and combinations are realty hard to duplicate, I try to work on that too.

“I also take stuff from ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard, ‘Sugar’ Ray Robinson – all those people and try and mix it in and make something that’s my own.”

When it comes to his son’s boxing career, Evander has been happy to take a back seat and hand over the reins to esteemed trainer and former light-welterweight contender Maurice ‘Termite’ Watkins.

In Evan’s eyes, the four-time heavyweight ruler was always a parent first and a superstar fighter second.

“When I think of my father as a boxer, it actually took a couple of years for it to soak in and for me to really understand him as a boxer,” he added. “When I was younger I really only saw him as a father.

“It was only when I got into boxing and really started to study boxing that it really hit me – him as a legend.

“I have memories of going to some of his fights but I was about eight or nine and wasn’t really into it.

“A couple of years down the line I was watching all his fights, studying and asking questions. Now I know him as a person and a fighter.”

Getting to know Evan Holyfield as a fighter is a process the boxing fraternity will begin with no little excitement at the MGM Grand.


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