Evander Holyfield vs. James Tillis

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Evander Holyfield vs. James "Quick" Tillis onsite poster

Evander Holyfield 202 lbs beat James Tillis 210 lbs by RTD at 3:00 in round 5 of 10

'89 Fight Of Century Taking Shape: Holyfield Eyes Eventual Tyson Bout After 1st Heavyweight Win
By Bernard Fernandez, Philadelphia Daily News, July 18, 1988

STATELINE, Nev. — The wheels of destiny presumably have been set in motion.

For the next nine to 12 months, Evander Holyfield will fine-tune his enlarging body while defeating a lineup of the usual heavyweight suspects, thus creating a public clamor for a megabucks meeting with champion Mike Tyson.

Provided he is not still involved in his lawsuit against estranged manager Bill Cayton, Tyson should help fuel our sense of anticipation during the interim by laying waste to an assortment of designated victims. First on the agenda is a British stiff named Frank Bruno Sept. 3 in London.

Anyway, that's the idea. Whether you, the consumer, buys it - to the tune of the $1,500 ringside seats and $40 closed-circuit tickets that helped produce a $67 million gross for Tyson's minute-and-a-half destruction of Michael Spinks - depends mostly on Holyfield. Tyson, you know about.

Dan Duva, president of Main Events, Inc., and Holyfield's promoter, started beating the drums a few minutes after the undisputed cruiserweight champion concluded his heavyweight debut with a thorough drubbing of veteran James "Quick" Tillis Saturday night at Caesars Tahoe. Tillis's manager, Beau Williford, did not allow his man to come out for the sixth round after Holyfield had pounded him through the first five rounds, particularly the fifth.

Tillis (38-14-1, 29 knockouts), who hinted at retirement afterward, did his part to establish Holyfield (19-0, 15 KOs) as a viable challenger to Tyson. As one of only four men to go the distance with Tyson (he survived 10 rounds with the not-yet champion on May 3, 1986), Tillis's failure to provide more than passive resistance to Holyfield supposedly gives the new guy on the block an air of credibility.

"If (Holyfield) moves like that, uses his legs and don't stand in front of him, he'll give The Gorilla all he wants," said Tillis, who likes to confer nicknames on opponents and always has referred to Tyson as a large, jungle primate.

"Holyfield is a great fighter, stronger than I thought and faster than Tyson."

Dan Duva and his father, Lou, Holyfield's co-trainer, plan to use Tillis as Exhibit A in their case to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Holyfield is, or will be, more than another knockdown toy for Tyson to play with.

"Remember one thing," Lou Duva said during his turn at the microphone. "Tyson hit (Tillis) all night and couldn't put him down."

It should be noted that Holyfield never put Tillis down, either. But let's not let facts get in the way of the Duvas's imagination running wild.

"Our goal is not merely to fight Mike Tyson, but to beat Mike Tyson," said Dan. "We won't rush it.

"We fully expect Evander to beat Tyson when he gets there. This is only the first step. He's not ready to fight Tyson now, but he will be."

Allow Holyfield and his coterie of advisers some leeway here. At 202, a dozen pounds up from the cruiserweight limit of 190 he had to come in at in the first 18 bouts of his career, the 6-2 Holyfield is still a growing lad. Lou Duva envisions him as a 212- to 214-pounder after the bulking-up process is completed, a harder-punching (but with no loss of mobility) version of the dynamo that went through Tillis.

"But there is no set (weight) figure," Lou said. "If he's strong at 212, he'll stay at 212. If he's strong at 218, he'll stay at 218. Whatever feels best and most natural for Evander. Myself, I don't see him going above 212 or 214."

Holyfield, whose heavily muscled physique always has been among the most impressive in boxing, is not gaining weight by eating doughnuts and gulping down chocolate malts. His weight-gain program, dubbed the "Omega Project," is supervised by R. David Calvo, an orthopedic surgeon who runs a sports medicine clinic in Sugar Land, Texas, and Houston-based conditioning expert Tim Hallmark.

When last so ambitious a weight-gain project was launched, Michael Spinks went from the 175-pound king of the light-heavyweight division to the 205- pound conqueror of Larry Holmes and Gerry Cooney. Fight fans marveled at Spinks, or at least they did until the night he came in at 212, the heaviest of his career, and promptly was dismantled by Tyson.

Getting bigger does not always mean getting better.

Can Holyfield succeed where Spinks didn't? Well, it does take a bit of fanciful thinking, but even now he presents a more compelling argument than Spinks could offer before his annihilation by Tyson. Holyfield is 25, a relative neophyte with 19 bouts who should continue to improve. He has marvelous ring skills, decent power (though not in the same league with Tyson) and no major physical deficiencies. Spinks, you will recall, went into his date with Tyson on creaky knees that had to be supported by braces.

The Duvas are pondering a list of pre-Tyson opponents for Holyfield, all of whom have some name recognition but none who figures to sidetrack 1989's version of The Fight of the Century. Dan mentioned Orlin Norris and former champions Michael Dokes and Pinklon Thomas as possible way stations along the route that figures to end with Iron Mike.

Holyfield, not as verbally expansive as the Duvas, doesn't see any potential problems.

"I felt really good at this weight," he said. "I didn't lose any quickness and I was a lot stronger. The only difference was that I fought a bigger guy than I was used to fighting."

The biggest of them all stands 5-11 1/2 and weighs 218 or so. And if Holyfield can't whittle him down to size, there might not be any suspense in the heavyweight world for years to come.

Heading the undercard was Frankie Warren's successful defense of his United States Boxing Association junior welterweight championship. The 5-3 Warren (25-1, 16 KOs) took charge in the middle rounds to score a unanimous, 12-round decision over "Classy" Clarence Coleman (13-2-1, 3 KOs). [1]


  • Holyfield said before the fight that he would not return to the cruiserweight division, even if he lost to Tillis, but he did not notify the three major sanctioning bodies that he was relinquishing his cruiserweight titles until after he defeated Pinklon Thomas in December 1988.
  • Tillis entered with a record of 3-3-1 in his previous seven bouts, with each loss coming by knockout.
  • At the end of the second round, the fighters continued to exchange punches after the bell and had to be forcibly separated by the referee. During the exchange, which took place along the ropes near Holyfield's corner, Holyfield's trainer, Lou Duva, stepped up on the ring apron and grabbed Tillis' arms from behind and held him back against the ropes. This incited Tillis's trainer, Beau Williford, who ran across the ring and got into a brief shoving match with Duva. As the two trainers were being separated, Holyfield and Tillis embraced in the center of the ring. Showtime analyst Ferdie Pacheco said, "There is no room in boxing for that kind of nonsense! That's hooliganism at any level. That should not be allowed. . . . When tempers flare like that, experienced hands like Lou Duva and Williford should know better than to try and go at each other. That's sometimes called maturity."
  • At the time of the stoppage, two judges had Holyfield ahead 50-45 and the other judge had Holyfield in front 49-46.
  • This was Holyfield's seventh consecutive knockout win. He would go on to extend the streak to thirteen.
  • Holyfield called his victory over Tillis "the biggest step in my career."


  • Dan Duva before the fight: "We've got to beat him [Tillis] and beat him impressively. I want to show the world that Evander Holyfield's for real. If anybody is going to beat Tyson, it's Evander Holyfield."
  • James Tillis before the fight: "Holyfield's given me a shot to make some money and get another shot at Tyson."
  • Evander Holyfield before the fight: "I feel like I already am a heavyweight. I don't feel like I'm moving up. Tillis is my immediate focus. Tyson is the ultimate goal. He's proven himself to be the best of the heavyweights. When do I want to fight him? I'll know after Saturday. ... If I don't beat Tillis, there ain't gonna be no Tyson."
  • James Tillis after the fight: "He is a great fighter. Evander is faster than Tyson. he has very good punching power."
  • Evander Holyfield after the fight: "It was not my best performance, but it got the job done. . . . Weight wasn't a big issue. I wanted to go in confident and bring some strength."


  • "Holyfield stops Tillis after fifth" (1988, July 17) The Pittsburgh Press p. D2. Article
  • "Holyfield has eyes on bout with champ" (1988, July 18) Lodi News-Sentinel p. 14. Article
  • Schuyler Jr., Ed. "Holyfield sends heavy message" (1988, July 18) Ocala Star-Banner p. 1D. Article