Atlanta (not unlike many cities across the country) has a tradition of honoring and immortalizing its most celebrated sports heroes. Statues of famous Atlanta sports heroes, including Bobby Jones, Dominique Wilkins and Hank Aaron, grace our city as permanent tributes to those who exemplified a lifetime of achievement in their respective sports.
Yet, despite his historic achievements in his chosen sport, one Atlanta legend has – to date – been overlooked and has yet to receive such recognition or immortalization.
Although he was physically born in Atmore, Alabama, on October 19, 1962, Evander Holyfield relocated to Atlanta when he was five years old. For all intents and purposes he is an Atlantan and a Georgian. In fact, Evander officially considers himself (and others worldwide consider him) to be an Atlantan and a Georgian.
But birthplace has not been a key factor in Atlanta’s celebration of its sports heroes. To be sure, Georgia is the birth state of many professional athletes including, Bobby Jones, Jackie Robinson, Ty Cobb, Jim Brown and Sugar Ray Robinson. Yet, two of the above examples of athletes immortalized via statues in Atlanta – “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron and Dominique “The Human Highlight Film” Wilkins – were not physically born here.
Evander Holyfield first began boxing at age 7, spending many hours and days in the gym at the Warren Memorial Boy’s Club. He grew up in the Bowen Homes Housing Projects, attended Fulton High School and even worked at Fulton County Stadium, where he sold Coca-Colas.
Holyfield was a Golden Gloves boxer in the 1980’s and became a Golden Gloves Champion in 1984. Subsequently, he was named a member of the United States Olympic team and won a Bronze Medal at the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984.
Holyfield’s professional boxing career spanned from 1984 to 2011, during which time he was named the champion in both the cruiserweight and heavyweight divisions. He is the only four-time world heavyweight champion in the history of the sport, earning him the nickname, “The Real Deal.”
In 1986, he became the World Boxing Association (WBA} Cruiserweight Champion by beating the reigning Champion Dwight Qwai at the Omni here in Atlanta.
Never a big fighter, Holyfield had to train hard to gain weight and strength in order to move up to the heavyweight division. In 1990, he became the World Heavyweight Champion by defeating Buster Douglas, the reigning International Boxing Federation (IBF) and World Boxing Council (WBC) Champion.
So, as the saying goes, the rest is history. I consider myself privileged to have personally witnessed several of his pivotal bouts, including his performances at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, as well as his 1986 Cruiserweight Championship bout at the Omni.
Yet, in spite of his achievements, Evander Holyfield – in my opinion – has not received the permanent, lasting recognition he so rightly deserves here in his home city and state.
A lasting, fitting tribute to him would be a statue located outdoors: perhaps in downtown Atlanta- Centennial Olympic Park, Woodruff Park or Margaret Mitchell Square. Such a location would be visible to locals, tourists, conventioneers and sports fans from all walks of life. My choice would be Margaret Mitchell Square, across from the Central Library.
It is time to get in his corner, go the distance and bestow this tribute on one of our greatest sports heroes of all time, Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield.
The author is a former Atlanta City Council president and former Fulton County commissioner.