Oliver McCall Interview: ďI donít care if I lose, Iíll still fight Holyfield, Bowe, Tyson or Lewis. Just for the sake of boxing and the fans"
27.06.07 - By Izyaslav ďSlavaĒ Koza: Despite the fact that Oliver McCall is 42, and a grandpa of two wonderfully inspirational ankle biters, and is at an age when most fighters sell lean mean grilling machines, he still manages to fight on. Not for the sake of a measly club purse, because that is the best he can do, or for the sake of some deluded dream of a punch drunk, out of shape former, contender, but rather because he still finds pleasure in doing that which will be the signature summary of his life and because he still feels he has enough to give it one more title run.
Article posted on 28.06.2007
At an age when most American heavies regard boxing as more hobby than career, Oliver is still fit and in fighting form. He also has the ring knowledge of his younger days, and the punch and ďatomic whiskers,Ē to go with it.
He fights with no regrets, and even if he does happen to go down swinging, at the very least it will be knowing that it wasnít because he shirked on training, or let the ice cream man distract him on the way to the gym.
Who doesnít love dedication and attitude like that in a fighter? Who really cares about anything else?
ESB: Oliver congratulations on the victory and thanks for speaking with us. Since we already had an interview on our site conducted by James Slater, asking about the more recent issues regarding you, I want to focus more so on your past and a few things I was requested to ask specifically by fans on our forums. Ideally, you want to fight Vitali Klitschko and are guaranteed a WBC title shot. I know a lot of fighters say they will fight anybody, and while I donít doubt it to be sure, which of the other champs would you fight first if negotiating was not an obstacle and the choice was your own?
Oliver McCall: Iím not really looking for anyone specifically, and it will depend on which of the champs actually say, ďalright, let me fight Oliver.Ē I think that is a more realistic outlook because you can say, ďI want to fight this guy or that guy,Ē but in the end, it will depend on them, and negotiating, or what not. All I can do is stay in shape, and just say, ďletís do it,Ē if somebody does make an offer from the other organizations.
ESB: Ideally, if you were to unify the belts, have you considered how long you would keep fighting on?
Oliver McCall: Two to three years, hopefully. This 2007? So all being well, God willing, I would retire by 2010.
ESB: Which of the many great opponents you faced had the greatest punch?
Oliver McCall: In my past? I think one guy had a pretty good punch on him, and that was Buster Douglas. Thankfully, I didnít get hit with a lot of really big shots in that fight, but from what I recall, he had nice power, and leverage on them. So I would say Buster Douglas.
ESB:While I donít think you were close to ever being hurt seriously, who did come the closest to buzzing you?
Oliver McCall: I would say Bruno in the first round where he caught me with a nice little right hand and gave me a lump under my eye. It was kind of hard to get back into the fight after it, cause it was one of those punches that changes a fight. In retrospect, I might have started a little faster, instead of being a little lackadaisical, because it wasnít enough to come on in the later rounds cause he held out and got the victory.
ESB: Although I donít share this opinion some people, do believe the stoppage in the first Lewis fight was premature. How would you respond?
Oliver McCall: When it comes to stoppages of fights, many people have their own understanding of when a fight should be stopped. To go back and to look at the incident itself, where he wasnít able to stand up on his own, and leaned into the refereeís arms, to the point where the referee had to stabilize, and hold him up, with 31 seconds left in the round, I think it was a wise choice to stop the bout. If you are ready to fight on, and your opponent doesnít have his equilibrium, itís very dangerous in any fight, title or not. If in any bout, four rounds, exhibition, a referee gives an eight count and at the count of 8 the guy cannot stand on his own, I think itís a wise decision any referee will make and agree with.
ESB: Yes, I have to agree, that even if he wasnít hurt seriously, the image he presented to the referee was not of an unhurt fighter.
Oliver McCall: Exactly. If it would have went on then that is Godís will, and hopefully he would be fine to fight on, but if it got stopped like that we have to accept it.
ESB: Many have asked about the circumstance in the second Lewis fight. Did Emanuel Stewardís decision to train Lennox affect you negatively?
Oliver McCall: No, it didnít affect me negatively. Emanuel Steward and I have always had a good rapport, and him not being with me after the title fight, is something I think is more my fault, because itís not like he said, ď I donít want to train Oliver no more.Ē It was little things and different manipulations, regarding promoters, and other managers concerning Emanuel Steward, in particular.
I really admire Emanuel Steward, and I think heís one of the greatest trainers in the history of boxing, and I was honored to have him with me when I became heavyweight champion of the world. I have nothing but love for him.
ESB: I know there are some statements regarding how your eye socket was busted and that prevented you from really putting forth your best in that fight. Is that accurate?
Oliver McCall: No, nothing of the sort.
ESB: What happened in the second fight in your mind?
Oliver McCall: Well, the same thing I have said for the past 10 years. I just wasnít mentally strong enough to be in there, you know going through the things I went through outside the ring as well as in preparation for the fight. Things that I wasnít ready to handle at the time, it got to the point where I just broke down and said to myself, ďthere is just something wrong with this and I canít go through with it.Ē
I wish I could do it over again but obviously you canít change that, so I have to live with it and move on, and hopefully it will be an experience that will help me grow. If I am faced with some similar situations as then, I can say to myself ďthis is something I donít want to do because I know the consequence.Ē I just canít change the past, but I can learn from it and try to do things differently. Sometimes itís hard, sometimes itís easy.
ESB: Personally, the reason I regard you so highly as a fighter, is that image of you, crying, and even though you are in tears, and you obviously canít go on, you are still not saying I want to quit. Do you think that the greater boxing public forgets how much emotional stress fighters go through before and during a bout?
Oliver McCall: Yeah, I really think that, and I also think it is a natural part of the sport where fans donít look at the emotional part of it. Certain things, and situations in life, that fighters have to carry with them into a fight, and a lot of times fighters lost big fights because of family problems, or things that fans donít really understand, because they just want to see a good fight. It really is a handicap to a fighter if there are some things he doesnít take care of outside the ring, and a lot of times where it can affect his performance.
ESB: At the same time of course itís also the fighterís job to minimize that?
Oliver McCall: Yes, yes, of course, you canít put that on the trainers, or the managers, or promoters, and you have to keep your mind in a stable state. After all, you get paid lots of money, especially the bigger prize fighters who get millions of dollars, and part of your job is to stay focused, and not deviate from your main goals, and try to handle things that can ultimately hurt you in the ring.
ESB: I spoke to my friend Yuri Foreman last week and he mentioned that in the lead up to his recent bout he thought about his opponent day and night before the actual fight. Is that something you as well as all fighters went and still go through?
Oliver McCall: Well, yes, for this specific fight, yes, I basically thought about Samil Sam, as often as I could for this particular fight. I was also enjoying the strategic part of contemplating what I had to do if certain situations present themselves in the ring. I was able to really focus a lot on that, especially from the tapes we saw, particularly against Oleg Maskaev, and Lawrence Clay Bey. For instance, one day I thought, ďwhat if Samil Sam starts to really box me and move,Ē which I have never really seen him do. Then in the ring he actually tried that, and right away I remembered thinking about this case, and that allowed me to do certain things to not allow him to gain momentum or even win certain rounds.
So I did think about him day and night, and, yeah, it did pay off.
ESB: Would you have continued if Mills Lane had not stepped in?
Oliver McCall: Yeah, I think I would, but even so, I think Mills Lane did a great job, and I studied the tape a lot, too. I remember him telling me, ďOliver you want me stop the fight?Ē or ďIf you donít fight Iíll stop it.Ē I think he did a great job in giving me the opportunity to step out of it and fight, and I almost did at one instance, but I donít know I couldnít sustain it, and went back into that zone, of thinking about all the burdens, I was focusing on instead of focusing on Lennox Lewis.
Still, I think Mills Lane did a great job, and if he wouldnít have I donít know maybe I would keep going, but at the same time, for real, I could have gotten seriously hurt, and that was more or less his reasoning for it. Basically, he said, ďlet me stop this before you get hurt, and not risk it on the off chance you will start to fight back.Ē So, I think he made the right decision in spite of what may or may not have happened, so I praise him for that and thank him.
ESB: Who was the toughest opponent of your career?
Oliver McCall: I would have to say Buster Douglas, again.
ESB: Ah, I thought maybe he was the toughest puncher and the opponent would be different.
Oliver McCall: No, he was the toughest based on experience. At the same time, that I say that, it was at a certain point in my career, where I had only 14 fights, and thatís what made the biggest difference for me. If I had the experience I have now, I donít think Douglas would be as tough for me as an opponent. If I had about 30 fights and the experience I have now, I might have knocked him out.
ESB: Absolutely, and, in fact, I have heard that from guys that the toughest fights come early when they are not as experienced to handle them better.
Oliver McCall: Exactly, it was a part of my experience, and learning to fight at a world class level, in 10 round fights, and being able to maintain the lead in the fight.
ESB: A famous story regarding you is that you knocked down Mike Tyson in sparring. Do you remember the circumstance and can you give a brief play by play?
Oliver McCall: Yeah, I remember. We were in the gym sparring, helping him get ready for Michael Spinks, and about three weeks before the fight took place, I hit him with a right and he went down on his back, and Angelo Dundee, saw it, cause he was there with a lot of guys. I think he brought it to the attention of the media, and they came and asked me about it, and I said that, ďyeah, it was true what Angelo said.Ē That was the last time I sparred with Mike for the Spinks fight, and I donít know what it done to him but it was that 91 second knockout, so obviously it did something for him where he buckled down the last few weeks and really focused on the task at hand.
ESB: Absolutely! I think it affected him positively. Were you both on good terms with him even after that?
Oliver McCall: Yes, we were on good terms, and really we were always on good terms pretty much, and never had any problems. I think the people around him had the power to do things that didnít get back to Mike or what not, but other than that, we never had issues.
ESB: So you guys were fine. Other than that, did he get up and did you continue sparring?
Oliver McCall: Yes, yes he did.
ESB: Who do you regret not fighting that you might have in the past?
Oliver McCall: The two fights that I really wanted to fight was Tyson and Holyfield. I really did want to fight both of them, and even though I sort of knew where I stood with Lewis and Holyfield, I still never had a real fight with Evander, and if I had two fights, I would take Holyfield and Tyson. I donít care what order, they can flip a coin, and then say to the third guy, ďyou next.Ē I donít care if I would lose cause I would just love to see how the fights would have turned out.
ESB: You know, even at this point, and I know you guys donít have titles or anything, I believe fights between yourself, and Holyfield, and Bowe, Tyson, Lewis, would still be interesting for the boxing public.
Oliver McCall: Yeah, I think it would be nice to put something together like that, and I think it would be more interesting, then when they put Witherspoon, George Foreman, and Larry Holmes and all them. It was alright back then, but I think it would be interesting, and Iím game either way, and you can put me in there, cause Iíd love to fight Holyfield, Tyson, Riddick Bowe, and all of them. Even Lennox Lewis can come on out of there and I can fight him again (laughing). We can do a round robin and see who the best of the bunch is, and, yeah, that would be something.
ESB: (Laughing) That would be great, and I think somebody even asked Evander, concerning a Tyson rematch, why those fights arenít being made, and I think he made a good point at the time regarding how you guys need to be winning. However, you and him are winning fights now.
Oliver McCall: Right, we are winning, and I would love to fight Holyfield, we could start off with that one. I would love to fight Holyfield right now and I think he is even in the top 10 now, ainít he? and Iím the # 1 contender, so, of course, it would be for a high ranking, cause I have the ranking, so I would love to do that.
We are getting on now but I donít think itís too late, and I can see him fighting me and I would love to fight him, so letís do it. I donít care if I lose cause it would be for the sport of boxing, for the wondering fans who say, ďwho you think will win?Ē So I say letís do it.
ESB: Is it harder to train at this age then it was when you were younger?
Oliver McCall: No, not really, and actually in some areas itís becoming easier, because once I really get myself into a certain condition, my body does not have to adjust to soreness in the morning, or any of the other ailments that plague a fighter. Iím blessed, thank God, that I donít have to go through the old syndrome, where after boxing for 20 years, I get little aches and pains, which happens as you age. I havenít been getting a lot of them, and if I do one day then I might say, ďawww no, training is becoming a little too tedious now.Ē (laughing) Itís coming along, though.
My last training camp was the best I ever had. Ran the most miles I ever ran, my eating habits were good, and my system was in good overall shape, period.
ESB: Why do you think, guys like you and Evander Holyfield can keep in shape in their 40ís and guys like ShannonBriggs and Hasim Rahman canít do it in their 30ís? Are they not as dedicated?
Oliver McCall: I really donít know, but Iíve learned from my experience, as a heavyweight, from observing other fighters, and my own body, that for older fighters in the heavyweight division to be affective, they have to keep their weight somewhere near to the one where they were at their best.
ESB: Wow! You will not believe that I have 3 specific questions regarding that particular issue.
Oliver McCall: At least 5-10 pounds from when you were champion. An old heavyweight must stay within that range of their best weight if he is really serious about his condition and trying to actually accomplish something again. Even with their experience, they canít keep all that extra weight, because they are already at a disadvantage from being older, and it becomes even harder for them to throw the punches they need to throw.
ESB: I have maintained, and I donít know if I am the only one, but that since the heavies donít have a limit, and you canít really do that because of the size differences on some guys, they have free reign to be out of shape. With the cruisers, say, since they have a limit they must train in order to get down there.
Oliver McCall: Exactly, and because they have no limit, guys come in at 260, even though they would be great fighters at 240, but now you make the fight look sloppy because of it. Yeah, you say you can do it, but we see you just have too much weight on you, and obviously are nowhere near your best.
Thatís why our titles are over there in Russia, because if nothing else the Russians come in shape. Thatís a BIG DIFFERENCE. Look at Wladimir Klitschko, even Oleg Maskaev, is in hard rockin shape, you know. They donít come in with their bellies hanging out over their trunks do they? American fighters are going to have to be in shape, to step up to the plate, and dedicate themselves, because if not they will get beat down by these Europeans, and not just Europeans, but guys all over the world who are really dedicating themselves.
ESB: One of the ideas I considered was perhaps some sort of height to weight limit? Maybe something with body mass index? Would something like that work?
Oliver McCall: Well, it would be something to consider but you donít want to go height to weight because there are different elements to it, too. As far as obesity, though, these guys have to be told, ďyou have to limit your weight, even within whatever weight you are at, to some range that is acceptable.Ē
ESB: Absolutely, because if you remember with Corrales and Castillo, they were threatened that if they were not going to be in shape their purses were going to be withheld, and that is a motivator, too.
Oliver McCall: There you go, there you go!
ESB: I was asked to hear your opinion on Nikolai Valuev?
Oliver McCall: The giant? The 7-foot guy? What about him? I looked at a bio on him as a man and it seemed like he is a big giant with a giant heart. From the bio, I have seen, you know, with him and his wife, and his situation, I think he has a big heart. I think he has the one loss, and there are some things he has to work on, and you know when you are the champ, guys study you and what they need to do to overcome your strengths, and that is what this guy who beat him did. I think it could have been a more exciting fight but at the same time I saw him get hit with some shots I never saw him get hit with which shows he has a good chin.
I think he needs to go back to the drawing board, modify and fine tune some things, work out his mistakes, especially his style against southpaws, but I think Nikolai can be champ again. Itís a possibility that Nikolai Valuev can be champ again, so donít count him out.
ESB: Out of the four current titleholders who do you see as the strongest if they fought each other?
Oliver McCall: I got to say Klitschko. The reason why I say Klitschko is because he has fought the more experienced fighters, and to me, he has the most devastating arsenal of all the heavies out there. I wonít say he has the strongest chin, but his offense and the way he wins, nice jab, nice right hand, tall, uses the ring, and I have to throw Emanuel Steward in there, cause that puts another notch to what he is about. He gets the information from his corner that he needs to get to win.
The other champions just donít have the type of attributes that he has, and Wladimir is just a little bit greater than Oleg Maskaev and the other two champions. After that, I would HAVE TO SAY the WBO champ Sultan Ibragimov, cause I have seen Ibragimov, and I have studied him, really studied him, and I believe he will be a close second to Klitschko, followed by Maskaev, and then the least one is the one that beat Nikolai, personally. That is the order I would put them in.
ESB: I think the problem with Chagaev is that Ruslan is pretty good but he hasnít been seen as much.
Oliver McCall: Thatís it, there you go (laughing), that is why. Itís open for debate because he has to show us what he can do in there against a real nice heavyweight. Weíll see.
ESB: Any plans on staging a homecoming bout in Chicago?
Oliver McCall: Hopefully, God willing, and that is where I am now is in Chicago, but I hope to do another big fight in Chicago, after my next fight, if it ainít for the title. God willing, though, if I get the title my first title defense will be in Chicago, and I think it is way overdue, and I am going to be excited, cause I will have my first title defense, or unification title defense right here in Chicago. At the United Center (laughing). GOT TO BE AT THE UNITED CENTER.
ESB: (Laughing) Alright. Since you are a veteran of two eras, what differences do you see between todayís era of fighters and the Oliver McCall, Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe era?
Oliver McCall: The differences is that in this era the division is based more on conditioning and basics. If you are in condition and know your basics, like putting combinations together, and can give a punch as well as take it, you have a great shot at becoming heavyweight champion of the world.
Back in my younger age, 94, 90, 89, around there, it was more, the fighters were in condition, like Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, Razor Ruddock, who got into good shape a couple of times, but the skill level was a little sharper, even compared to the Europeans. It seemed like they had a little bit more skill and talent, like the boxing of Evander, the quickness and power of Mike Tyson, and myself, or the awesome jab of a Larry Holmes, and that will to win that George Foreman had. Back then, in the 80ís and 90ís when Foreman was blessed to regain the title, in comparison these guys are in better condition. So it's possible that if you have one of us come up and say, ďI already have the ring knowledge, and if I get into the right condition, I can take a title because these guys donít really have the same skill.Ē
The conditioning is the reason the titles are over there.
ESB: Do you think boxing and boxers would gain more popularity if it made its return to none-subscription TV?
Oliver McCall: Yeah, and yes I think they should have that too, because right now, lets get back to a couple of Saturday morning fights on CBS or NBC, or the three major channels. For the public, and for the kids to see, instead of having to pay all this money, with everybody wanting to put out a PPV for every fight. Come on, letís go ahead and show love for the fans that donít have cable.
There might be some American champions now, if they had that TV to watch and see some of these guys but you know they didnít have the money for it. See what Iím saying?
ESB: Absolutely. I mean, if people saw some of their heroes on TV they would be inspired to get into the gyms and train and develop boxing.
Oliver McCall: Exactly, and that is what made them go to Football and Basketball because even those sports, get the regular TV, you know, that ainít all cut out, so the kids at least get a chance to see those sports.
ESB: This interview will be seen on the Russian language internet as well. I cannot guarantee that any of the fighters you want to fight will actually see it but I am sure some of their team reps will. Do you have anything to say to Vitali, his brother, Oleg Maskaev, and the rest of the heavyweights?
Oliver McCall: The only thing I want to say is, ďThe Atomic Bull is back,Ē and donít count us out. Yaíll just got them for a little while, but somebody will step up, and I believe its me, but somebody will step up and bring those titles back to America so yaíll better not hold on to them too tight (laughing).
ESB: (laughing) Alright. Well anytime you are discussed people always mention your family and how much love you have for them. Since that is such a big part of your life, I want to ask you to give the names of your loved ones and tell us a little about them and why you love them so much?
Oliver McCall: (laughing) Well, I do, I do love my children.
My oldest daughter, Tawana, 25, graduated from Fern college year before last, had my first little grandson Jalen. Proud of her, sheís doing great. Shirley McCall graduated from JMU, and hopefully God wiling she will play professional basketball soon.
Natasha, Natasha is my third daughter and sheís 21, and she lives in Chicago, has one child, my youngest granddaughter Janeen. Then we have Elijah McCall my oldest son he goes to JMU also, plays football, and is doing great. He was there with his sister, but she graduated, so I am looking to see how he will handle college now with big sister gone, but everything going alright there. Then I have my daughter, Janeva, who came down here and broke all the records in High School for girls and boys for throwing the discuss. I donít know how that happened, but it really thrilled me. She threw the discuss further then any boy since the school been built. Iím wondering when that school got built (laughing)? I ask her when that school got built, cause that is something. Come on now?
ESB: (Laughing) I would imagine it to be a real motivator. Also I donít know of too many boxers who are still boxing and are Grandpas.
Oliver McCall: Yes, Iím a grandfather and, in fact, I have my grandsonís and granddaughterís picture in my dressing room and that really keeps me motivated in seeing them now. Being a grandfather and seeing them and saying, ďIím still on the fight scene, and itís still something that I do, so I canít let them down, you know?Ē That makes me really tougher, and inspires me to do it so they can say, ďoh, look at my granddaddy?Ē (laughing).
I got two more kids after that. Mikael is going to graduate and go to high school this year. I think Mikael is going to be the strongest of the McCalls, as far as sports, and athleticism, once he gets to the point of peaking. He will have a little more of that McCall character in him. 14-years old, 6 feet, and heís big and tall. He plays football, basketball, and track and heís going to be lifting weights and getting ready so I think he will really be a natural.
After Mikael, there is little Oliver. Little Oliver is nine-years old and he is undecided, but he thinks he can do it all (laughing). At nine-years, I guess you think you can do it all so he will dabble in a little of everything, Football, Basketball.
ESB: What about boxing?
Oliver McCall: Ah, if itís something they wanna do, I will support them and give them advice, but it is not something I am too thrilled about. I let them choose what they really want to do, and I am supportive, but I ainít trying to push them in the ring either.
ESB: Ok, well, I have a question and I donít want to put you on the spotÖ.
Oliver McCall: (interrupting) Put me on the spot.
ESB: Ok, well I know youíve had problems with drugs in your past, and unfortunately that is a common occurrence for many fighters. That also includes performance enhancing drugs that some use. Why do you think this is so and can the boxing community do anything to help protect the people who they cheer for?
Oliver McCall: Unfortunately, itís a problem for all addicts, and basically I think itís more a preventive thing that we as a society in the United States need to handle. When the kids first come to the gym, or learn to play basketball, or football, they should have like a little prep, or class, or speech, by the coaches, where they start to enforce not getting started with it. The important thing is not even starting it, because once you start indulging in those things, you have a bigger fight on you then things you think are harder. Prevention and not indulging I think is the best way to handle it.
I think itís for all sports, not just boxing, and before the kid laces up his gloves, you have to get to him and say, ďhey, once you take these gloves off you still in the fight. You still in a fight when somebody come up and offer you something you donít need to be having.Ē That I think is the best start, to speak to them beforehand, and while you teach them how to do the different things necessary for athletes, you must teach them discipline and self control outside the ring as well.
A lot of things our kids get tempted with, we find out too late, and we sometimes even contribute to it. From my experience, I think starting and targeting kids before they have that choice put in front of them is the best idea. Before the kids step in the shoes of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Dick Butkus they are already tutored in the way they need to act, and they say to themselves after they are there, ďalright I am in these shoes now, how will I act in that regard?Ē
ESB: Yup, even in our High School, they discussed it and explained it but there was no real honesty and it didnít click for people. Maybe athletes can make some videos where they speak from the heart regarding their experiences.
Oliver McCall: Exactly, honesty about is the best way to explain the problem to people. There are a lot of things that can make you stray, and I know cause I lived it.
ESB: Anything to add in closing?
Oliver McCall: I wish everybody to prosper, and aspire to the things they try to aspire, and also be blessed.
ESB: Oliver thank you very much for your time and we wish you the best.
Oliver McCall: Alright, no problem, good talking to you man.
I want to thank Oliver for his time, his manager, and brother Frank, for his politeness and promptness and willingness to set up the interview, as well as Lourdes Carrero at Warriorís boxing, who always provides the necessary contact information, no questions asked.
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