Los Angeles — Being trapped beneath the looming shadow of a legendary father can be overwhelming for some. As Evan Holyfield (9-0) prepares to step into a boxing ring for his tenth professional bout at TrillerVerz 5, the 24-year-old understands the lineage he represents, being the son of former world champion Evander. He refuses to allow the weight of that name to become a burden.
Instead, he realizes that making a name for himself is imperative because the first thing people see is never your last name.
One particular incident made that vision clearer.
In 2016, Evan Holyfield had just graduated from high school and his legendary father had gifted him with a check. In the evening hours, Holyfield found an ATM in Fayetteville to make a deposit. The ATM inexplicably had broken glass around it, but nothing he thought was out of the ordinary. Unfortunately, he locked his keys in the car and called his mother to bring him a spare. As he was waiting, a police car pulled up.
“I was on the phone with my girlfriend at the time, and a police officer pulled up,” the 24-year-old reflects with The Sporting News. “I’m thinking, they are going to let me back into my car. I’m approaching the police and he tells me to stop what I’m doing. He asks if I broke the glass because the silent alarm is going off."
It’s at this moment Holyfield realizes that his name alone won't get him out of a sticky situation. He wasn’t the son of a boxing legend. He was just a Black man who found himself in a precarious position.
In an instant, he was surrounded by police and was being questioned in connection with trying to break into a bank. They didn’t believe that he was depositing a check and held him at the scene for what felt like hours. Holyfield’s mother arrived and attempted to speak for her son to no avail. It wasn’t until a cop dug through a trash can and found a receipt with the name “Holyfield” on it that they realized Evan was telling the truth. After another series of questions, they finally let him go.
It didn’t matter that Evander Holyfield was the pride of Georgia and lived in a mansion nearby. It didn't matter that his son was making a routine deposit. One wrong move and it could have ended tragically. Fortunately, his father spoke to the officer on the scene and recognized that Evan wasn't lying. After hours of tension, he was able to go home.
It gave him perspective. That Holyfield name couldn’t precede him. He needed to be his own man, first and foremost, to carve out a legacy for himself because his last name wasn't going to give him a free pass in the real world. He’s going to have to work for it. But while he does have a last name that piques interest, he’ll use it for the greater good, like writing children’s books and inspiring the masses.
"I feel like (inspiring others) is part of being a champion,” says Holyfield, who wrote '12 Rounds to Winning for the Youth' in 2019. “Once you are on top and you have a platform, people look up to you. Why waste it?"
Holyfield will compete on the same card that features Fernando Vargas’ three sons and the Pulev siblings Kubrat and Tervel. There’s a novelty in a fight card that emphasizes lineage, but Holyfield won’t coast on his name alone.
"It's all about the platform, and not everybody gets all that attention on them at one time,” Holyfield says of the card being focused on lineage. “When people do get that attention, they tend to waste it most of the time. It's an honor to be part of the lineage, but I'm gonna start making a name for myself."
Although he’s undefeated and already has pocketed an ESPN highlight when he crushed Charles Stanford last October, he knows there’s work to be done. For this fight, he’s gone to the high altitude of Colorado and trained with Mike Stafford and alongside former world champions Adrien Broner and Rau’shee Warren. It’s there he had to deal with the adversity of high altitude in training camp that made him uncomfortable.
“The second time I sparred, I was having anxiety attacks because it would get really hot, uncomfortable, and hard to breathe,” he says. “I went back to the corner and Adrien, Rau’shee, and Mike told me that this is when it’s time to focus on the things that actually matter, and I made that connection with boxing and life.
“Ultimately, I got over it and got acclimated to the altitude and pressure. It challenged me and made me become a better fighter.”
Holyfield admits that he was prepared to pack it in and head to an easier atmosphere two weeks into that camp but was glad he didn’t. He needed to overcome that adversity, and his last name wouldn’t make the air any less thin or the rounds he sparred any easier. He needed to be pushed harder in camp so he could push himself beyond his own limits inside the ring.
And that Holyfield name? He knows how to use it and what to use it for.
“If you want to be great, you need to look at the greats,” Holyfield says. "If you want to be a great basketball player, you have to look at Michael Jordan. I wanted to be great at boxing, and my father is on that shortlist of boxers I had to look at to see greatness.
"It was surreal to see that my dad has done all of these great things. It’s still mesmerizing to me because each and every time I’m in that boxing ring, I tell myself, ‘Well, it’s not Mike Tyson.’”
That line may be good for a chuckle, but it’s a reality for Holyfield, who has watched his undersized father overcome some of the biggest and toughest fighters in history. And now that he’s a boxer, he respects just how great his father was.
"These fights get harder and harder,” Holyfield says. "When I fought Dylan Carlson it was the hardest I was ever hit in a fight to that point. I won but went back to the locker room and shook my dad’s hand one good time and said ‘You know what? You did what you had to do in your boxing career, and I respect you. I didn’t fight Mike Tyson, but the way he was hitting me had me thinking about Mike Tyson.’"
Evan says that his appreciation for his father has increased exponentially since he has turned pro. Where once upon a time, Evan had a father first who happened to box as a job, now he has a father and a mentor who happens to be one of the greatest boxers to ever live. He'd be a fool to not use the resources his father has brought to him, but it's the way that he plans to use it that he hopes will carve out his own legacy.
"I'm painting my own picture," Holyfield says. "Every time you see me, it's an opportunity to show people that I'm different. I can do things he can't do. I can show different shades of myself and express myself in ways outside of the ring that he didn't.
"I will express myself inside the ring with my fighting and outside of the ring by inspiring people with the words that come out of my mouth."