Skip to main content
Original Issue

Tuning Up for Tyson

Heavyweight-to-be Evander Holyfield paused in his new-wave training to defend his 190-pound title against Dwight Qawi

For those who Relish symbolism, the IBF cruiserweight championship fight on Saturday made a night to remember. At 2:30 of the fourth round, challenger Dwight Muhammad Qawi went down, the victim of a stunning overhand right from WBA and IBF champion Evander Holyfield. It was only the second time in the 34-fight career of the durable Qawi (who's 34 and used to be Dwight Braxton) that he had been decked—in fact, the first such occasion had come only 50 seconds earlier. But the beauty of the moment, the sweetness of the symbolism, was in the way Qawi came to rest directly in front of heavyweight champ Mike Tyson, who was there at ringside at the Convention Hall in Atlantic City.

How can you give a man a broader hint than that? With almost contemptuous ease, Holyfield, 25, had not only destroyed Qawi, from whom he had won the WBA junior heavyweight title in 1986, but he had also served notice that, sometime within the next 12 months, depending on how long his transition to the heavyweight division takes, he expects to emerge as the No. 1 contender for Tyson's undisputed title. Should that come about, it might change forever the way boxers prepare for fights.

That is because Holyfield's victory Saturday, which ran his record to 17-0, was largely orchestrated by Tim Hallmark, a 32-year-old fitness specialist from Texas. Through Hallmark, a swimmer as an undergraduate at the University of Houston and a former competitive triathlete, Holyfield has glimpsed the future of fight training and found it full of a new sort of pain—of the kind he felt, for instance, on a recent evening in Houston, when his face was clenched in a rictus of sweaty agony as his deltoids strained against an unforgiving machine that was putting 121 pounds of pressure on them. And that moment of intense pain was just one of the elements that have already replaced miles of roadwork and hours of sparring in Holyfield's conditioning regimen.

There's nothing new, of course, about machines like this one, a rotary deltoid exerciser from Finland. They can be found all over the nation in yuppie-oriented fitness centers that may charge you $100 for an hour's one-on-one workout. It is doubtful, though, that anyone at Workout Etc., a gleaming gym off Houston's Southwest Freeway, gets his money's worth the way Holyfield does. There's a touch of irony here. Yuppies in search of fitness have invaded boxing gyms all over the country. Now Holyfield has reversed the trend.

Like a great cat oblivious to the lesser creatures of the jungle—in this case the women in leotards, the men with a thousand business lunches to work off—Holyfield pounded Workout Etc.'s indoor running track last month as cardiovascular exercise between sessions of resistance weight training. And his heart rate was monitored by Hallmark, who constantly checked the pulse at the carotid artery.

"Two-twenty," said an obviously pleased Hallmark a few minutes later, after Holyfield had finished a session of box jumping—feet together from a standing position onto a 2½-foot-high block. "He's done more jumping in 12 minutes than a player does in a whole hour of basketball. That 220 rate is the fastest his heart will get in 15 rounds of a fight. Now I'm conditioning him to back down from that high-paced boxing movement into a very relaxed recovery mode so that he can drop down as low as 130 in his one minute of rest between rounds. When he first came to me he could only fall back to 175, 180. Now, every round he goes out 66% more recovered than he used to be."

Applying modern conditioning techniques to boxing isn't entirely new. Mackie Shilstone was first in the field when he worked on Michael Spinks before Spinks's first fight against Larry Holmes in 1985, but Hallmark is now its most committed proponent. And the coming together of Hallmark and Holyfield, an intelligent young fighter of equal commitment, is the stuff of which revolutions are made.

Although he also works with WBA junior middleweight champion Mike McCallum, IBF lightweight champ Vinny Pazienza and IBF junior lightweight champion Rocky Lockridge, Hallmark is closest to Holyfield. "We are both strong believers in God," says Hallmark, "and we both believe that if a man has done everything in his power, then he can get on his hands and knees and ask God to be with him."

Which is why last weekend, only hours before Holyfield would enter the ring against Qawi, both he and Hallmark were unself-consciously on their knees in prayer in the unlikely setting of Room 434 at Caesars Atlantic City. A Bible—not a Gideon's but Holyfield's own much-thumbed copy—lay open to Proverbs 3:18. "Wisdom is a tree of life to those who eat her fruit...."

"You have wisdom, you have security," Hallmark told Holyfield over and over again, hypnotically. "And you have paid your dues."

Indeed Holyfield has, the most notable payment of all coming on Aug. 9, 1984, at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Fighting Kevin Barry of New Zealand in the semifinals of the Olympic light heavyweight competition, Holyfield knocked Barry out but was then disqualified by a Yugoslav referee for throwing the knockout punch on a break. (Another Yugoslav, Anton Josipovic, was awarded the gold because under amateur rules Barry was not permitted to fight again after having been KO'd.) Holyfield accepted that verdict with dignity, though bitterness still gnaws at him.

In Houston, at the start of his training for the Qawi fight in September, Holyfield had said: "I would have liked to have worn that medal. The history book won't say that Holyfield was the best boxer except that he got disqualified. It will say that he won a bronze medal, a loser's medal."

Holyfield was quite alone in Houston, except in his sessions with Hallmark, and that was how he wanted it. "I can think to myself, gather my thoughts," he said. "Sometimes you get steered away from your past, what got you here. You find yourself drifting away from your base. But on my own here, I have to take the initiative, be responsible for myself. I don't need anybody to call me to say, 'You got to get up.' George [Benton, his ring trainer] will only show up here four weeks before the fight."

Holyfield thinks little of the traditional champion's entourage but much about his past, his beloved hometown, Atlanta, and his heroes, like that city's mayor, Andrew Young. Holyfield is so serious, so gentlemanly, that if you wanted to be cynical you could say he lacks some of the essential qualifications of a champ. He didn't run with street gangs. He didn't qualify for reform school, though his upbringing was not the easiest. He was the youngest of eight, raised by his mother, Annie. When he's in town, Holyfield and his wife, Paulette, and their two children, Evander Jr., 3, and Ashley, 2, go to the same church as Annie does. The family has Sunday dinner together. And in the tone of one who mentions the exclusive school to which his family has sent him, he says proudly, "I never lacked for bus fare to the Warren Boys' Club."

That was where he developed into an Olympic fighter, though he almost didn't make it. Ironically Holyfield and Tyson trained together after losing matches in the Olympic trials. "He'd lost out to Henry Tillman, and I'd lost against Ricky Womack," Holyfield says. "But we had this one more chance to fight the winners. Both of us were trying to regain confidence, and we talked a lot. We spent a lot of time together, and he was a nice, very affectionate person, a warm person who loved to hug and all this. But if you don't really know him, I guess, if you just look at him, he's got this kind of aura about him, like he doesn't want to be bothered, that he's arrogant, that he might even rough you up. But he's a nice guy who sticks up for his friends."

Holyfield ponders for a moment, then says, "I guess he could be different now. I don't know him as well as I did a few years back." Tyson never made it to the Olympics; Holyfield beat Womack, only to fall to that questionable ruling. "It did put me on a special kind of plateau," he says of the disqualification. "People started to say, 'This guy deserved better than he got. He handled himself well.' So I got a kind of push towards proving myself again."

Less than two years after the Olympics, Holyfield had moved up from the light heavyweight division and, with an 11-0 record, was challenging for the WBA junior heavyweight title. But there were doubts about his stamina. His cornerman, Lou Duva, tells how he and Benton tried to psych Holyfield out of his self-doubts as far back as his first six-round pro fight. They faked him out, says Duva, training him on two-minute rounds and telling him that he was going three.

Holyfield says, "My first pro fight [against Lionel Byarm of Philadelphia] was for six rounds, but it felt as if I'd had six fights in one day." And, "When I fought for the title against Qawi, a lot of people said I wasn't ready for a 15-round championship fight, and I really didn't know myself whether to accept the bout or not. But I wanted to be the first [of the 1984 Olympians] to win that belt, even though it was only my 12th fight. And this is what this guy Hallmark did for me. He put me into that Qawi fight so good that I could work 15 rounds and throw 1,290 punches."

And, of course, be the winner over a notably tough opponent. Hallmark himself is not reticent about his contribution. "When Duva first brought him down here, I hadn't really worked with a boxer," Hallmark says. "Evander was a bit leery. He was looking at the biggest fight of his life. He was a good fighter, but it was no big secret that after about four rounds his skills went out the window. When he came to me, he was shaky and flat in the first few weeks, not sparring well, getting beat up. I had to tear him down. I worked him very hard, so I told George Benton to back off the boxing a bit, back off the hard sparring days. If you want to get to a high point, first you have to go into a slump. When Evander came down here, he was eating a lot of hamburgers, a lot of fried food. He was way short of body fluids."

If pain and prayer are of the greatest importance in the Hallmark-Holyfield plan, then not far behind comes a strict diet. And while Holyfield takes the toughest aerobic workouts without complaint, he can turn a touch rebellious when it comes to grease deprivation. On Saturday morning, before the weighin, Holyfield showed up clutching a quart bottle of Exceed, a fluid rich in vitamins, pink in color and tasting like something found in the automotive section of a K Mart. Upon seeing it, welterweight Mark Breland, Holyfield's most famous Olympic teammate, who was fighting on the undercard, asked to try it. "Have the bottle," said Holyfield. "I've got a bathroom full."

And at breakfast, having had his order of home fries and the butter on his pancakes vetoed, Holyfield told Hallmark, "You'd better take out some stock in Burger King, because when I get back to Atlanta, I'm going to spend a whole week on burgers."

For Qawi I, Hallmark's goal was simply to get Holyfield through 15 rounds. For Qawi II, he had gone much further, developing an entirely new plan he calls Sensation Training, a re-creation in the gym, he says, of the intensity of a title fight. "I don't think anybody else is doing this," Hallmark says. "I don't think that you will find this in any book. I've put in a circuit weight-training program so that Evander is stronger, can get off with more power. He'll throw a hard uppercut or a jab, the same jab as he had before, but it will have much more pressure through the maximum muscular contractions.

"Also, through the way he is being conditioned now, Evander is learning psychologically to deal with the pain he is going to meet. Every sport involves an aerobic threshold of pain. If an athlete has never been there, then it's very hard to expect him to pass it in actual competition. I am trying to simulate both the physical and emotional sides of what Evander has to go through, so that if he's hung up in a corner and he's fatigued, he knows how to concentrate on getting out. He knows what to expect; he's been there before. If he's tired in the eighth, he knows he can snap back. He knows how to go into a complete recovery between rounds through breathing techniques."

Holyfield defeated Qawi so handily on Saturday—Qawi sent word to the postfight press conference that the fight was likely his last—that it was difficult to judge the success of the Hallmark technique. But the new target is, of course, Holyfield versus Tyson before the end of 1988.

"This I can do," says Hallmark. "It may take eight months, 10 months, even a year. But I can have him in top shape at his optimum weight, which is 210 or 215 pounds. Heavier than that, we would be sacrificing speed and agility. We'll get there by basic conditioning plus a strength program—the putting on of muscle mass—and by diet, which does not mean the massive ingestion of steaks and pasta."

That sort of stuff has gone out the window with the heavy bag and the dawn roadwork. Hallmark is talking broiled fish and skinless chicken, one to three cans a day (at 360 calories a can) of Exceed, plus 920 calories daily of fluid carbohydrates—altogether up to twice as much as Holyfield's usual caloric intake. And there will be a whole pharmacy of capsules: amino acids for protein, vitamins, minerals, capsules for tendons, ligaments, cartilage.

Hallmark's eyes gleam. "This is a fierce program," he says. "It isn't just a weight gain, it's a body transition. I'm responsible for 80% of his progress from now on. He'll spend virtually the whole year in Houston. Six weeks with me, four days home leave, that sort of thing."

Praise the Lord and pass the carbohydrates. Tyson had better lose no time in finding his own yuppie gym.



Punches like this third-round Holyfield uppercut helped to hasten Qawi's retirement.



Holyfield is building this house for his only entourage: Evander, Ashley and Paulette.



Hallmark's training methods are designed to make fighting 15 rounds seem a lot easier.



Holyfield's bizarre loss to Barry in the Olympics fueled his desire to succeed as a pro.