Evander Holyfield: ďTyson used to fight very hard but once the reputation started beating the people before they got in the ring, he didnít have to fight that hardĒ
by Geoffrey Ciani - Last weekís 106th edition of On the Ropes Boxing Radio featured an exclusive interview with former undisputed cruiserweight and heavyweight champion Evander ĎThe Real Dealí Holyfield (43-10-2, 28 KOS), who is preparing to face Sherman Williams (34-11-2, 19 KOs) on January 22. In addition to his upcoming fight with Williams, Holyfield is also slated to take on Brian Nielson (64-2, 43 KOs) on March 5. Holyfield talked about his upcoming fights, reflected back on his Hall of Fame career, and provided opinions on the current boxing landscape. Here is a complete transcript of that interview.
JENNA J: Itís actually time for our third and final guest on this weekís show. He is the former undisputed cruiserweight and heavyweight champion of the world. We are joined by the legendary Evander ĎThe Real Dealí Holyfield. How is everything going tonight, Evander?
EVANDER HOLYFIELD: Everything is great.
JENNA: Alright you got a fight coming up this month on the 22nd against Sherman ĎThe Tankí Williams. How have your preparations been going?
HOLYFIELD: Everything is good. Everything is good.
JENNA: Now this fight has been on and off again quite a few times. Why after all of the setbacks has this match finally come together?
HOLYFIELD: Well we finally got a promoter to come and put the money up, and when the money is up the fight is a fight.
JENNA: Alright now you fought last April against Francoise Botha. Why has it taken you so long to get back into the ring after that bout?
HOLYFIELD: Unfortunately some bad things happened and no one was paid in that fight and the promoter didnít put the money up and pretty much thatís it now. Obviously people have the put the money up and had to put the money up front to make sure the fight was going to take place.
JENNA: Okay now Evander youíre trying to keep a pretty busy schedule because after this fight with Sherman Williams you have a fight coming March 5 against Brian Nielson. Why are you deciding to be so active?
HOLYFIELD: Well you know it just so happened to happen that way and I believe I can do it and take it one fight at a time. Still I believe that I can fight three or four times a year.
JENNA: Evander, youíre 48 years old. If you win these next two bouts where do you see yourself being in the heavyweight division?
HOLYFIELD: Well, I just want to show the people that I come to fight and I can do it really well and hopefully with the three different champions, they would see that this could be a good fight for themselves.
JENNA: Of all the champions that are out thereóyou have Wladimir Klitschko, you have Vitali Klitschko, and you have David Hayeówhich fight is the most appealing to you?
HOLYFIELD: Well all of them. Remember my goalís not to just be champion; my goal is to be undisputed. It wouldnít make a difference which one is first. If I had the opportunity to fight all three then that would be great.
JENNA: Besides yourself, there are two former cruiserweight champions that have made a name for themselves at heavyweight. What are your thoughts on what David Haye and Tomasz Adamek have done since moving up to this weight class.
HOLYFIELD: Well I havenít really seen him fight, but I did get a chance to see David Haye fight. Heís a good fighter, a very skillful fighter, and a fighter who has to prove himself a little bit more than he has. He won the title and now itís the peopleís heís going to face. If he chooses some people that the fans want to see him fight it could be good for him as well.
JENNA: Evander, weíre also joined by my Co-Host Geoff.
GEOFFREY CIANI: Hi Evander. Itís a pleasure to have you on the show.
HOLYFIELD: Thank you.
CIANI: A lot of people were wondering what keeps you going at this point in your career. You mentioned your desire to become the undisputed champion still and Iím wondering, a lot of observers thought you did very well in your last title fight against Nickolai Valuev. Can you tell us about that fight and whether you thought you did enough to win?
HOLYFIELD: Actually I felt that I did win the fight. Thereís no doubt. Basically judging the fight back when he fought David Haye, I did more than that and they gave him a unanimous decision. But one way or another, you give it your all and youíre hoping that people see that. When I fought this guy I felt that I won and I didnít get it, but it doesnít make me disappointed. It allows me to just get back in the line again and try again.
CIANI: Changing things up a tiny bit here, I wanted to go back a little bit. When we had Emanuel Steward on our program I had asked him what was the proudest moment of his career as a trainer, and the first fight he mentioned was when he worked with you in your rematch with Riddick Bowe and I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what those experiences were like?
HOLYFIELD: Well Emanuel Steward may be, out of all the coaches, heís very gifted as a strategist. He comes up with the fight plan that actually allows you to win if you can do it. If you look at his history as a trainer there are a lot of fighters that he worked with and his record shows that he knows strategy. Heís a guy who knows how to see the different styles and compare them and if you do what he asks you to do then your chances of winning are great.
CIANI: Now what was it like in that particular fight to avenge what was the first professional loss of your career when you beat Bowe in that rematch?
HOLYFIELD: For one thing, it was great in the sense that Riddick Bowe and me were friends and Riddick used to tell me a good big man is better than good small man. He used to say that to me a lot. He was my sparring partner at one point in time. When I fought him in that fight he won the fight, hands down. He was the better fighter that night. I wanted to prove that fighting doesnít have anything to do with size. It has something to do with the knowledge. In the second fight I was able to out-think him and I was able to do the things and stick to the game plan that Emanuel Steward gave me for that fight and I was able to get it back and it was one of my biggest proudest moments. If you minimize your mistakes then youíre chances of winning are always at their greatest and I was able to do that.
CIANI: Now Evander, those fights you had with Riddick Bowe produced two of the most exciting heavyweight fights in the past several decades, but these days it seems that most of the excitement is taking place in the lower divisions. What do you think of Manny Pacquiao and his rise to the top of the sport?
HOLYFIELD: I donít think itís that much different than when Sugar Ray Leonard was hot, when Tommy Hearns was hot, and Roberto Duran. You always had these smaller fighters who were very gifted and very polished. In the years when the heavyweights arenít doing really well, these little guys rise to the top and I just think itís one of those eras where these smaller guys are putting on better performances and the big guys are not fighting the best fighters. You look at the Klitschkos, theyíre at the top of their game but they are not fighting the most compelling fighters that the people want to see them fight. So sometimes itís kind of that way. Iím not so much just blaming Klitschkos. They just happen to be the champions of the time, but theyíre coming behind people like myself, and Mike Tyson, and Lennox Lewis. At that time the best were fighting the best. Now they pretty much are guys that are so much better than the other guys that it just pretty much looks one-sided. Itís pretty much just like when Larry Holmes was champion. There was nobody there to challenge him that much. At that time it was Sugar Ray Leonard, and Tommy Hearns, and Marvin Hagler. So many people will jump in and take that spot if you donít show you have the skills that are necessary to be in their position.
CIANI: What youíre mentioning is true. Usually throughout different periods in boxing history the most exciting fight that could potentially be made has been in the heavyweight division, but right now the fight that fans have wanted to see for the past two years that hasnít happened for whatever reason, is the fight between Pacquiao and Mayweather. Iím wondering (A) if you think we will ever get that fight and (B) if you think that type of excitement will ever return to the heavyweight division that Pacquiao brings now?
HOLYFIELD: Well of course, things will turn around I just hope it doesnít happen too late. I think the same thing at one time where there was Roy Jones and a couple of other fighters that people wanted to see, and eventually they got a chance to see them but it was so late, Hopkins and the Roy Jones fight. I think if Mayweather and Pacquiao become long maybe it may dry up. Then again it may not, like Tyson and myself. We were talking about doing it in 1990. It didnít happen, but six years later, bam! It happened and it was bigger than life. It could be this for Pacquiao and Mayweather. I think as long as both of the fighters are still active the chances of it happening are great.
JENNA: Evander now you mentioned Tyson a few moments ago. You had a lot of people doubting you before that first bout the way they sort of doubt you now. Can you tell us how you felt about facing Tyson back when everyone thought you were going to be an easy match for him?
HOLYFIELD: With Tyson, we had known each other since back in the amateurs. He was the best at heavyweight and I was the best at light-heavy and I knew eventually we would fight. Even in the beginning, the respect that I had for him, I watched each and every one of his professional fights. I knew that this guy was the guy that I was going to have to beat because he was just that good. I truly thought he was a lot better than people gave him credit for because people said he was just a brawler, but he fought the perfect fight for his style and his build. He had shorter arms, but he was short. If you have short arms you have to fight aggressive. You have to fight that type of fight to win and he was able to do that, but because I did my homework, I watched him, looking for where heíd be vulnerable and which area heíd be vulnerable in. As you can see when a person has that punching power and all of that and was aggressive, because Tyson used to fight very hard but once the reputation started beating the people before they got in the ring, he didnít have to fight that hard. I realized that when he fought me that I was going to be able to take those shots and could he fight like hard like he used to fight hard like that. Life is not about what youíve done, itís about what youíve done today, and he didnít have a lot of fights that made him have to be in great shape like that. When he fought me, we fought each and every round pretty hard. I won of course on a condition standpoint.
JENNA: When you did fight him it was actually the third time that fight had been set up. You had it set up for í91. It didnít happen obviously, and it had a chance of happening if he won a fight with Buster Douglas and you were at ringside for that. I was just curious what were your thoughts when you were sitting ringside for what some people say was the biggest upset in heavyweight history?
HOLYFIELD: That fight kind of reminded me when you take people for granted. Buster Douglas was a very good fighter. He wasnít a slouch and itís not like Tyson was fighting somebody that he was bigger than. He was fighting a guy who was bigger than him with a longer reach who usually knocked people down with good jabs. So everything that people just allowed him to believe, this just wasnít a match and I just remember people talking about how many seconds was going to last, and unfortunately this guy came to fight that night. He was very skillful and he was hitting Tyson with the jab, and combinations, and all of that, and he was able to win. So with me, it didnít bother me because I didnít lose my opportunity. My goal was always to be the heavyweight champion of the world. It wasnít built on beating Mike Tyson. If I fought Mike Tyson itís one thing, but if I didnít have to fight him my goal was to become heavyweight champion of the world.
JENNA: Evander, when you did have that fight scheduled with him originally in 1991, do you think it would have played out any differently than it did five years later if you fought him more towards his prime?
HOLYFIELD: I donít know, but Iím just thankful that it played out the way it did in í96. In í91 I was a good fighter. I was undefeated. I had never been beaten and I donít think my energy was any different. I probably would have fought a little bit more aggressively, but I was fortunate enough to fight him in 1996 and I was able to get the job done.
JENNA: You fought Buster Douglas, you won the title from him, and in your first title defense you fought the ageless wonder, George Foreman. Many people expected you to take him right out, and the fight was a lot more difficult than people expected. Could you tell us a little bit about your fight with ĎBigí George Foreman?
HOLYFIELD: The fight with George Foreman was quite different because they were calling it ĎThe Battle of the Ageí and it was kind of a shock because I remember everyone was saying and I agreed that he was old. I really didnít want to fight him because he was old and because I realized that when I beat him they were going to say, ĎYou beat an old man and you ought to be ashamed of yourselfí. So I didnít want to take that fight, but I heard everything that George said at the press conference because he was very good at expressing himself, and he was saying he wasnít too old to have a dream and itís sad that if more people his age had to stand up and show that they are ready to take on the challenge. He rallied everybody that was 40 and older and wow! All of these people were still with him and he fought a very competitive fight. I still won, but he won the peopleís hearts and from that point on George is pretty much where heís at because of things that heíd done. It was amazing! I fought a very good fight. He hit him with unanswered punches a lot of times, but he was able to take it and he showed he stood for what a lot of people probably wouldnít have done.
JENNA: Well now youíre in the position that Foreman was and youíre trying to become the oldest heavyweight champion in history. What do you think itís going to take for you to achieve that distinction?
HOLYFIELD: Well actually I am the oldest. The WBF, I won that title of course when I was 47 years old. George Foreman was 45, but itís not so much that. I keep telling people my goal is to be the undisputed, meaning Iíll have all of the belts. George, he won two belts, but I want to win all of the belts. So when you win all of the belts you are saying I was the best at that time. Out of all the belts, I won them all. I donít want just 1/3 of the champion or 2/3 of the champion, because they got four belts now. They got the WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO, WBF, so there is five belts or something like that which gives all the other people an opportunity to make money, but if one person could gather all of these things, that only thing that would make it significant for him is that at one time there was only one champion and I was the guy. There was nobody else claiming these because I fought everybody who thought they would be a champion. I fought them and I was the man at that time.
JENNA: You mentioned money before, and one of the biggest money bouts ever in boxing history for two guys getting paid was your rematch with Mike Tyson. Obviously it didnít go quite the way most people thought it would. Could you tell us about that second encounter with ĎIroní Mike?
HOLYFIELD: Well with the second encounter with Mike, it started off and everybody used the excuse that Mike thought Evander was sick so he didnít prepare himself as good as he probably would have if he knew Evander wasnít sick, because Evander had a bad heart, he had one foot in the grave, and like that. So when I won that fight he wanted another fight. So everybody said Mike is going to be in better shape and heís going to be ready. Okay! I said alright! Okay! Weíll do it again! When the fight started off I jumped right in on Mike in those first two rounds. Of course in the third round Mike wanted out so he bit me on the ear, which caused the fight to be over. There was a little mayhem and a little riot and people were very upset and disappointed and all of that and itís all because Mike lost his cool. He lost his cool and bit me twice. Unfortunately Mills Lane stopped the fight and it was in a way where the fight didnít end with him getting knocked out. In other words, he quit.
CIANI: If you had one major regret in your career that you could turn the clock back and change, what would it be?
HOLYFIELD: It would probably be nothing because I wouldnít be who I am if I had made any changes because it would have taken me in a new direction. There are a few things that youíre really not proud of. One thing that I wasnít proud about is I fought Riddick Bowe the third time when I was sick and that was the first time I ever got stopped in a fight. I had Hepatitis and the doctor told me not to, and I prayed Iíd be alright. I got in that fight and it was just a bad fight, but unfortunately that did happen. Then there was another fight that I fought when my shoulder wasnít healed properly and I thought I could still beat these three people who I fought and I lost. It was my first time losing three fights in a row, but it lets you know that my mentality was still the same. I didnít complain about it or make any excuses. I made a bad decision to go in there with my shoulder all jacked up thinking I could beat these three opponents that I fought, and I lost against all three of them. Thatís when they snatched my license. They took my license and said Evander we got to save you from yourself. But I brought it upon myself because I should never have went in there knowing that I wasnít prepared at my best, but I still thought I was better than them at that time but they proved me wrong when I fought them. That left shoulder was messed up. I was fighting one-handed and I wasnít better than those guys I thought I was better than.
CIANI: Now looking at things from the other side, if you had to name one performance where everything came together for you and you were working on all cylinders, which performance in your career say best represented that ideal performance for you?
HOLYFIELD: It is hard to say just one. There are maybe about four fights that I fought where I was just really tuned in. There was the night I fought Dwight Muhammad Qawi. It was July 12, 1986 when I became the cruiser weight champion. There was that fight, and I would say the fight that I fought with Riddick Bowe in 1993 and won the title back, and the fight that I fought with Mike Tyson in 1996 and became the champion, and the fight that I fought with Michael Moorer in 1997. I stopped Michael Moore. Those are fights where I got it together. Then again I would say when I fought Lennox Lewis the second time in 1999. That was a very good classic fight where I just wanted to prove to Lennox Lewis that the first night he fought me I was sick. But in the second fight even though they gave him the decision, I think I won the respect that I wasnít that guy that night when they called the fight a draw. Those five fights there are the fights that kind of stand out and allows me to know when things are clicking I can put on a great fight.
CIANI: Evander, when your career is all said and done, whether or not you succeed in your goal of becoming undisputed champion, you are definitely destined for a date with the Hall of Fame. When it is all done, how do you ultimately want to be remembered by the fans?
HOLYFIELD: I think with all of the things that I accomplished, my mother told me when I was a kid youíre not going to be a classroom clown. If you donít get attention youíre going to get it in the right way. So pretty much my career kind of exemplifies that. I was a little guy where people said you canít do this, you canít do this, but my mother said if you donít quit you can. Iíve done that and Iíve made mistakes in the course of doing it, but I overcame mistakes and my career exemplifies that if you donít quit you will get to that destination that you want.
JENNA: Well Evander, we have just a couple of more questions before we let you off the line. You said you wanted to fight all of the champions, all three of them, but the two main guys are the Klitschko brothers. What are your opinions of both of them and what theyíve done as champions?
HOLYFIELD: I think they have done well. There is nothing that I have seen that shows me, I remember before Emanuel Steward started training them, these guys would fight hard and they would stop guys in the process but both of them got stopped that way. I think Emanuel Steward came in and made some adjustments and these guys have fought smart good fights and they fought better than anybody in this era. Unfortunately there hasnít been anybody to challenge them in a way that allows them to show more, but you canít take anything from them. The guys have been at the top of their game and thatís it. Until somebody can prove that they are better other than just talking, my hatís off to them.
JENNA: If you were to face one of the Klitschko brothers, who do you think would be the more difficult challenge?
HOLYFIELD: Both of the fighters are good fighters. Of course the younger one is a little bit more aggressive which I think would be a little easier for me. With the older brother his defensive style would make it a little more difficult for me because his arms, both of them have longer arms, but itís a little different when a guy is reserved more so than when he is aggressive. The guy whoís aggressive he tends to give up his reach a little bit because heís trying to get you. But Iíve fought people who were aggressive and Iíve fought people who are not aggressive. So part of life is making adjustments.
JENNA: Now back to your fight with Sherman Williams, what do you expect from him and what are we going to see from you?
HOLYFIELD: Heís got short arms and heís aggressive so heís got to bring it to me. So I think it will be a great fight while it lasts. I think he said heís going to bring it, and if he said heís going to bring it Iím not going anywhere. So you know we wonít be trying to chase each other. We will both stand our ground and it should be a great fight.
JENNA: Alright and then a month and a half later youíre fighting Brian Nielson. What do you expect from him?
HOLYFIELD: Well itís pretty much the same things. Heís the type of fighter who brings it. With me I just think that because both of these fighters bring it that Iíll bring it myself. I just know the fans are the ones who are going to get the treat.
JENNA: Great, now speaking of the fans is there anything you want to say to them and all y our supporters around the world?
HOLYFIELD: Well just that Iíll be there and I hope that they will be there.
JENNA: Well Evander, itís been an absolute pleasure having you on the radio program. We thank you for your time and we wish you all the best of luck in your upcoming bouts.
HOLYFIELD: Thank you.
CIANI: Thanks Evander. Good luck.
HOLYFIELD: Alright, thank you. Bye bye!
For those interested in listening to the Evander Holyfield interview in its entirety, it begins approximately one hour and twenty minutes into the program.
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Article posted on 07.01.2011
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