Instigator / Pro

Evander Holyfield would defeat Muhammad Ali if Ali were resurrected and both were at their respective peak. [Both users must agree that over time the average Boxer has improved their strategy]


The debate is finished. The distribution of the voting points and the winner are presented below.

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After 3 votes and with 16 points ahead, the winner is...

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Contender / Con

Con absolutely must back that Ali will win or very exactly tie.

No Kritik of 'time travel is impossible' or 'they can't be compared' is allowed.

Round 1
So, wait a minute, Ali vs who?

If you're not a huge fan of boxing, it's possible you barely know most heavyweight boxers despite them being at the height of their sport. Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson are two examples of boxers who became famous for reasons other than their boxing. In a way, both are infamous but with Ali you can argue it's positive fame as well. His arrogance is a main reason he got famous and as an arrogant guy myself, I don't hate him for that but while he a legendary Black History and Pro-Islamic icon, as a boxer he was just 'one of the greats' and deep down I think even he would admit that others surpassed him, perhaps even directly due to their humility.

Ali was a forceful persona on the industry and less notorious but equally (if not more) skilled and refined boxers like George Foreman (who Ali did defeat, as did Holyfield but look at his overall record) and Evander Holyfield, who came later and never got to face off with Ali, didn't get as much limelight. Ali is a legend, there is no denying that but he was a legend for his notoriety and his boxing skills were simply so impressive because back then boxing wasn't a properly 'solved' sport and people were still figuring out how to stretch the movements so that the only way for your opponent to hurt you back would be them breaking the rules or letting you hurt them differently.

Holyfield came an entire era later than Ali, where the only one of the 'oldies' left in the game was George Foreman who lost to Holyfield despite holding his own with almost every single other new age heavyweight in the game. I seek to assert that the true master of war and boxing is Holyfield and that Ali didn't understand the strategies as deep as Holyfield nor could he apply it as well either.

The artful dodger meets the endurance-heavy counter-strategist.

Ali is an artful dodger, he is a master of footwork and ensuring his opponent wastes a lot of effort in landing big bad heavy hits which is why I think he also could handle Mike Tyson and be one of the few who could go up against the monster who could break your ribs through your arms guarding them with his ferocious hits. Holyfield defeated Tyson twice and is similar to Ali in specialising in ensuring the opponent wastes effort but he does it very differently. 

I will like to observe some footage and explore how it is that both Ali and Holyfield bring the opponent to a state of tiredness and who actually erodes the opponent properly while the other relies on the opponent being an aggressive fool. Ali's record is 'better' than Holyfield's because he is from an era where his edge was far bigger as the average boxer came in more aggro and less good with footwork and timing than modern times (this is just a plain fact, coaches got better over time as did the average boxer and it's agreed in the resolution). Holyfield was up against better boxers as time went on, Holyfield's average opponent became Ali's 'very hard' opponent. Both had a similar tier of what's an easy and very hard opponent but the average became better over time, for sure.

Let's go into what I call 'counter-strategy' and is something Ali never bothered with practising as perhaps his brain itself was better built for being 'sneaky'. Holyfield fights with an adaptive strategy where he aims to hit you back if you hit him and he blocks it but if you miss, he will often not necessarily bother to hit you back but save effort for later. This is both a good strategy for ensuring you end up the better scored fighter at the end of 12 rounds and also a better strategy if against a heavy 'I must knock you out' type fighter to ensure they not only never do but that you hurt them to a point where they are forced to become a patient fighter like you and are totally out of their comfort zone.

Evander Holyfield vs George Foreman Highlights:

Please, if you don't have 10 minutes on hand, feel free to skip through but please do so to see once every Round. Holyfield truly planned out every Round. He has 29 wins by knockout but only 14 wins by judgement, so he knows how to knock you out into victory but here is why I am certain that he never has in his plan a 'need' to knockout. Ali was equally difficult to knockout and on paper has a much better record, even in modern times you get people who intentionally pick fights where they have an edge and can have a 50-2 record even as a heavyweight but this is about opponents and quality of the fights too.

Holyfield drove Tyson to be knocked out in their first fight and then to get him disqualified, he knows how to make someone who normally feels completely in control and is a legend to boxing (Tyson, Foreman) at least panic quite a bit and break out of their usual strategy. Here is a loss he has to a 50-2 boxer who indeed is fantastic in a different way and picked easy opponents usually, Holyfield being an exception.

Highlights of Holyfield vs Valuev:

Valuev is usually a type who arranges a fight with a clearly inferior opponent and in exchange for beating them nice and easy, he gives them 'fame' and a 'boost' in their career for having been vs him on camera. Holyfield managed to arrange this as one of his final fights as Valuev had a stigma of being a 'career' fighter. It's important to note that this fight was towards the end of both men's careers, neither at their physical peak. What I want you to do is watch how Holyfield is doing his typical 'bait out shots' 'go in when the other has somewhat tired themselves'. Since his opponent is also patient and passive (very unusual for Valuev, who usually is like this: as Valuev knew that it's the safest way to handle Holyfield, it went on and on and in the end the judges gave the slight win to Valuev (as very disputed decision amongst fans, including me). 

So, the point I'm trying to make is Holyfield only generally loses against opponents who abuse the fact that Holyfield came from a Light Heavyweight beginning, soon pushign to become Cruiserweight ('medium heavyweight') and then to 'heavyweight'. He was a champion in both Cruiserweight and Heavyweight and while his record only makes him a 4.4:1 ratio fighter, you need to analyse the quality of opponents he was against and how close his losses were too. This guy was nearly never in a fair fight physically towards the end of his career. Tyson was an absolute monster in physical comparison yet Holyfield held his own because he is extremely analytical to the tiny edges to gain and how to tire an opponent out. He never ever takes the bait, whether in the arena or outside. He knows how to be a calm fighter in all areas of life and in a way this is why he didn't end up being so notorious or famous despite having the potential to milk the 'Tyson bit my ear' thing and become a well known face.

If both were at their prime, but maintained their older-year wisdom, I believe Ali would lose to Holyfield simply because Ali's entire style needed, and I mean absolutely relied on, the opponent getting desperate and/or angry. Holyfield consistently is neither, he is a calm and strategic fighter who simply focuses on winning by well-timed strikes and well-placed not just well-timed, hits at crucial moments that give him 29 knockouts against opponents, 14 wins by judgement and 1 disqualification as Tyson was a maniac.

Ali has the personality traits that would indeed result in him thinking 'omg I gotta DO SOMETHING' and as the fight went on, Ali would either get desperate or lose by judgement because his specialty was dodging and baiting and Holyfield doesn't fall for either but is still 'going even' into such a style as his style is about analysing the opponent's spacing and style of punching and consistently blocking it to hit back or dodging a powerful one to simply tire them when needed.

I will leave you with this video and come in much stronger next Round, as Holyfield would, where I take on my opponent's reasoning.

Many thanks to RationalMadman for instigating this debate.


Evander Holyfield (born October 19, 1962) is  "an American former professional boxer who competed from 1984 to 2011. He reigned as the undisputed champion at cruiserweight in the late 1980s and at heavyweight in the early 1990s, and remains the only boxer in history to win the undisputed championship in two weight classes. Nicknamed "The Real Deal", Holyfield is the only four-time world heavyweight champion, having held the unified WBA, WBC, and IBF titles from 1990 to 1992; the WBA and IBF titles again from 1993 to 1994 and between 1996 and 1999; and the WBA title for a fourth time from 2000 to 2001.  Holyfield retired in 2014, and is ranked number 77 on The Ring's list of 100 greatest punchers of all time and in 2002 named him the 22nd greatest fighter of the past 80 years.  He currently ranks No. 9 in BoxRec's ranking of the greatest pound for pound boxers of all time.  BoxingScene also ranked him the greatest cruiserweight of all time."

Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.; January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016) was "an American professional boxer, activist, and philanthropist. He is nicknamed "The Greatest" and is widely regarded as one of the most significant and celebrated sports figures of the 20th century and as one of the greatest boxers of all time."

defeat is "to overcome in battle or contest." 

In boxing, an opponent's defeat my be achieved by knockout (down for the count), technical knockout (too beat to continue), or by the decision of three ringside judges at the end of the match.

The peak of a process or an activity is "the point at which it is at its strongest, most successful, or most fully developed."

  • For the purposes of this debate, let's set Holyfield's peak performance at 1990.
  • Theoretically, Ali's peak performance should have been around 1968 or 69 but Ali was prevented from boxing for more than 3 years by Federal charges for refusing to be drafted to fight in the Vietnam War.  Those charges were overturned by the US Supreme Court in an unanimous decision but those lost years ought to have been his best based on the traditional career arc of heavyweight fighters.    For the purposes of this debate, let's set Ali's peak performance at 1967, just before Ali's conviction.


  • PROBLEM: Burden of Proof- Pro never established respective burdens for proof.  CON will consent to shared burden of proof if PRO acknowledges the weightier onus given instigation and refutation of the conventional wisdom regarding this topic.

  • PROBLEM: PEAK ALI - As stated just above, boxing aficionados can't say with confidence that we ever saw Muhammad Ali's true peak potential because of his three year absence at the top of his game due to his religious observance and that observance's political consequence. 

  • PROBLEM: DOPING-  Holyfield has been the subject of persistent rumors of cheating by use of steroids ever since his surprising super bulk up in the late 1980's and the development of heart problems commonly associated with taking human growth hormones.  Although Holyfield has always denied cheating, strong evidence that the boxer was supplied illegal steroids arose out of two independent police investigations in 2007, raising the strong likelihood that Holyfield was juicing at his peak in 1990.

"In June 2004 a patient named Evan Fields picked up three vials of testosterone and related injection supplies from a Columbus, Ga., doctor, traced through Applied. Later that month Fields also obtained five vials of Saizen and three months later returned for treatment of hypo-gonadism, a condition whereby sex glands produce little or no hormones. Investigators noted that Fields shares both the birth date and home address of former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield. What's more, when SI called a phone number on a Post-It note attached to the Fields patient file, Holyfield answered."
       Ali's career was over before the availability of HGH as a performance enhancer.  His adherence to Muslim proscriptions against non-medicinal drugs 
      probably rule out any similarly unfair enhancement on Ali's side of the ledger.  We have to conclude that any entirely fair evaluation of peak Holyfield sets his weight and strength at somewhat below any authentic heavyweight fighter's capacity.

PROBLEM: The UNCERTAINTIES of HYPOTHETICAL SPECULATION-  We should acknowledge that neither position is particularly knowable. 

Any true match-up would bring with it a range of conditions and circumstances that might factor into the outcome but are impossible to predict.  Neither PRO nor CON can genuinely offer a high degree of certainty here, only likelihoods based on past performance.



Therefore, PRO has to demonstrate that a 1990 non-HGH Evander Holyfield would likely overcome the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali,  at the peak of his career.  If CON can demonstrate that few if any boxing experts would support the likelihood of such an outcome, then CON wins this debate.

Ultimately,  PRO's R1 argument boils to one person's comparative analysis of both fighters' ability.  For evidence, PRO relies on footage of Holyfield fights to argue that Holyfield's endurance matched with strategic intelligence make Holyfield the favorite, if only in PRO's opinion.  PRO has offered no credentials as an expert in the sport of boxing or relevant experience to support that opinion as expert, however well-informed that opinion may be.

By way of refutation and contrast, CON will rely on the opinion of established experts. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, all of the experts reviewed by CON rank Ali as the superior boxer.


  • The Ring magazine polled 30 electors from the boxing establishment- trainers, matchmakers, historian, reporters, and boxers and asked them to rank the 20 top heavyweights.  Of these 30, 22 placed Ali at the number one spot, 8 placed Ali placed second after Joe Louis, making Ali number one in the final rankings.  (Holyfield tied with Lennox Lewis for 11th place.)
In fact, Ali is consistently ranked not just as superior to Holyfield but superior to all other heavyweights of all time.

  • ESPN ranks Ali as the all-time greatest heavyweight (Holyfield ranks 40th)

  • The Associated Press ranks Ali as the top heavyweight of the 20th century.  (Holyfield did not make the list)

  • Sports Illustrated went even further by naming Ali the greatest athlete of the 20th Centur

A couple of years ago, the Irish Examiner asked two boxing experts how various later heavyweights might have fared against Ali.

  • Phil Barnett gave the match to Ali in a unanimous decision:
"Holyfield’s ring nous and wily intelligence gives him some success against the naturally bigger Ali. However, Ali is a level above and as the fight becomes increasingly one-sided, Holyfield’s face is left a mess from the constant peppering of jabs and right hands."

  • Mark Staniforth agreed:

"Arguably the modern fighter against whom Ali would have most trouble. Just as he struggled to figure out Ken Norton, Ali would be discomfited by Holyfield’s head-first persistence, and take some time to figure out his opponent in a fight unlikely to be easy on the eye. Ali, bulked up for extra strength, would likely slug his way to an unconvincing points win."

  • Kelsey McCarson, in a similar article for the Bleacher Report, agreed Ali would win but thought a majority decision more likely:

"Evander Holyfield had everything he would need to give Ali fits. He was a sound boxer, a rough brawler and fought with an adaptable style. Ali would not want to be lured into a slugfest with Holyfield. While both men had tremendous heart and iron chins, it’s difficult to envision Ali being able to out-tough Holyfield.

Still, Holyfield did have numerous flaws. He was a much better fighter as a heavyweight when his opponent would seek to engage him first. Fighters like Lennox Lewis, who chose to box carefully from a distance over the course of their two fights, posed problems for Holyfield. Moreover, Holyfield would sometimes try to prove his courage over winning a fight.

Ali would use his legs versus Holyfield to make it more of a track meet than a street fight. Holyfield would have his moments. The two would stagger each other here and there, and Ali would get the worst of it more often than not. But Ali’s overall punches and sheer theatrics would give him the nod on two of the judges' scorecards. The other would have the bout as a draw."

So, on the one hand we have PRO's confident assurances that Holyfield could outlast Ali in his prime, and on the other hand we have the experts of boxing, indeed practically the whole of professional sports media preferring the Greatest in such a match-up against virtually any heavyweight opponent, Holyfield included.

We'll take a closer look at PRO's specific arguments and offer some counters in R2 but until then, voters should ask themselves: which set of opinions carries more weight and which would more likely prove out if our fantasy bout were ever realized.

I look forward to PRO's replies in R2.


Round 2
And he’s down!



Round 3


Round 4


Round 5
This debate is false but I can genuinely not be bothered with going into every detail of fighting for Ramshutu to say 'but you should have done it this way and therefore you are right for the wrong reasons'.

Also, I have had a toxic mentality towards debating and time to reflect on it. I am going to take my time with debates from now on and put full effort in. This is something I don't personally care about. Holyfield is an absolute monster at eroding his opponent and Ali is a monster of getting under the opponent's skin and making them waste energy. Holyfield's weaknesses are that he doesn't hit very hard and that he trades shots; which is weak against a hard-hitter who also understands trading well. Ali's weaknesses are that he has only trained against people who evolved with boxing and that since his opponent pool's 'very hard' is basically Holyfield's average... Well I hope you get my point.

I concede officially though and from now on won't take debates I don't think I can both make a very entertaining and enthralling case for. If I can get Ramshutu to smirk while reading it and feel and urge to admit I did well and didn't troll my opponent, I think I can crack the code of how to get to the top of this website's food chain in terms of debate Rating.
Thanks for the concession, RationalMadman

My research show that most experts agree with your assessment that Holyfield would have been a much tougher contender than his ranking would suggest all experts seem to agree that Ali was nevertheless a better bet.

PRO has conceded this debate, please vote CON.

My thanks in advance to voters for their kind consideration.