On this day in 1994, Michael Moorer became the first southpaw (left-handed) heavyweight champion, beating Evander Holyfield on a debatable 12-round decision in Las Vegas. It was a perplexing fight, waged between an off-his-game Holyfield and a challenger who never fought with the urgency his trainer, Teddy Atlas, wanted. In fact, the fight is best remembered not for its action but for two side dramas: Atlas's Oscar-quality exhortations to Moorer between rounds, and a post-fight discovery (erroneous, as it turned out) of a cardiac disorder for Holyfield, forcing him into temporary retirement.
There was more drama in the Moorer corner than in the ring. Becoming increasingly animated, Atlas, miked up by HBO, began delivering inspirational speeches:
“Start doing what we trained to do, otherwise don’t come back to this fucking corner! Do you hear me?”
“There comes a time in a man’s life when he makes a decision . . . to just live, survive, or he wants to win. You’re doing just enough to keep him off you and hope he leaves you alone. You’re lying to yourself and you’re gonna cry tomorrow. You’re lying to yourself and I’d lie to you if I let you get away with that.”
At one point, Atlas even sat on Moorer’s stool after the end of a round, asking Moorer if he wanted him to go out and battle Holyfield instead. Moorer’s right jab troubled Holyfield throughout, but the challenger never really fought as Atlas asked.
As for Holyfield, he was ragged, moving stiffly and not taking the initiative. His punches lacked crispness, and he rarely put combinations together, except in the second round, when he knocked Moorer down with a right hand that seemed to catch the challenger off balance. He was cut over the left eye and looked exhausted after five rounds, but he mounted a late rally of sorts, trying to save his title. The HBO broadcast team felt that Holyfield had done enough to remain champion, and one judge scored the fight a draw. But the other two gave the nod to Moorer.
The new champion saw his victory overshadowed by his trainer’s rhetorical heroics—and then, a few days later, by reports that Holyfield had a heart problem, which had impeded his performance and even put his life in danger. All this turned out to be inaccurate, however, the result of a hasty misdiagnosis. Holyfield, who had promptly announced his retirement from boxing, unretired almost as promptly. But Moorer understandably felt resentful that all the brouhaha had detracted from his accomplishment.
The two would meet up again three and a half years later, with different, more definitive, results.