Interview with Virgil Hill
09.11.06 - By Jaroslaw Drozd: FOR WWW.BOKSER.ORG- JD: You were born in Clinton, MO, but throughout most of your life lived in Bismarck, North Dakota. Could you tell us a bit about your childhood and the first steps of your career?
Article posted on 09.11.2006
VH: I actually lived in Grand Forks, ND. When I was a boy about 8 years old, we lived on a farm in ND, I watched Golden Gloves boxing on television out of Chicago. I asked my dad if we ever moved to the city (which was Grand Forks - a total of 45,000 people), if I could box. When we did move to the "city", Grand Forks, my dad came home from work and he asked me if I still wanted to box. I told him I did and he took me to the gym.
JD: Why did you choose boxing instead of some other athletic pursuit?
VH: I've been an athlete all of my life. I boxed and I played basketball, wrestled, football, baseball and track. I wasn't that great of a student at the time and my family needed the money as well. They could have never paid for my college. My senior year of high school, I was on the US boxing team, so it just made sense to continue with boxing..
JD: During your amateur career you fought in 261 bouts, losing merely 11 of them. How was it possible to accumulate such a huge record, considering that you have turned professional at 20?
VH: My amateur record was 288-11. As a kid, boxing was very popular where I come from in the Midwest. It was just different in my time, we would fight every weekend, sometimes on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Also, being close to the Canadian border, they had boxing teams as well that we would have tournaments against. Far different now than it was back in my day.
JD: You first successes were the second place in 1982 US championships, and winning the Golden Gloves. Do you remember your opponents from these events?
VH: Golden Gloves, I do not recall but in the ABF, I lost to Michael Groven.
JD: In 1983 you won the US championships, winning with the awesome Cuban fighter Bernardo Comas. However in the same year you lost to an average Italian boxer Noe Cruciani in the World Cup semifinals. Was the loss due to the fact that the fight took place in Rome? What do you think nowadays of your first international successes?
VH: My very first International fight was in East German, where I won two fights. Then I fought the Russians and I pretty much fought in every major boxing country prior to getting to the World Cup. It was pretty amazing all the different countries that I was able to see being from North Dakota. The loss against Comas, I fought an Italian in Rome, need I say more.
JD: Then the struggle began for a place in the US Team for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. To get a place in the team you had to compete against many fighters, including Michael Nunn, who later went on to great things, including a pro world championship. How did that competition look like?
VH: I fought all the best international fighters out there including Comas. That year, I must have fought six international fighters, each one of them being at the training camp. I was always competing with the top level fighters even in sparring. Nunn, he couldn't beat anyone at 156 so he thought he could move up to 165 and beat me.
JD: Why didn't Virgil Hill become an Olympic gold medal winner?
VH: What happened was a couple Americans fought South Koreans and the decisions were a little shaky. It came out in the newspaper that the South Koreans were going to pull out of the 1988 Olympics, because of this. I was the next fighter to fight a South Korean after this happened and I won the fight 3-2. However, that was the first year they had a jury. The decision went to the jury and the decision got overturned 4-1.
JD: That US team was studded with stars. Besides you, it included Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker, Mark Breland, Steve McCrory, Henry Tillman, Tyrrell Biggs. Was there a true team spirit among you, or was each of you focused on individual performance?
VH: Boxing is an individual sport. Most of those guys had been around each other for years, the only new guys on the block were Tillman, Holyfield and me.
JD: Were you pals outside the ring?
VH: Mainly, Evander and I were friends and we still remain friends today.
JD: Do you think Mike Tyson would have a chance of winning the Olympic gold, if he were to participate in the Los Angeles Olympic Games?
VH: No, Henry Tillman beat him convincingly. Tillman beat Tyson in the trials and box offs.
JD: How did you motivate yourself to further effort after becoming the world's pro champion at the age of barely 23?
VH: I am very competitive and I always want to be the best at what I do.
JD: How much do you remember from your win over Leslie Stewart in the 1987 fight for WBA world championship?
VH: Quite a bit, he underestimated me. I remember him getting into the ring and he was almost laughing at me. I was infuriated. He thought I was just a young kid and no way could I beat him, but he got knocked out.
JD: Was that the crowning moment of your athletic career?
VH: I don't know what was my crowning moment because I'm still fighting, I don't' know if I had one yet. Anytime you win a world championship, it is a great feeling. I don't think I will know until I retire and I can sit back and reflect upon it all.
JD: There's lots of talk recently about your bout with the German legend Henry Maske, to take place in January. This is to be a rematch of your fight from ten years ago, when you achieved a remarkable feat of winning with the German on points, and on his home ground, too. How was that fight?
VH: It was a wonderful experience to beat Henry in Germany. Just to beat a German in Germany is a feat in itself, so to speak. The fight was a unificiation fight for his IBF and my WBA Title. I was surprised he even took the fight, they pretty much kept Henry safe before then. However, I just came off a bad win against the Honeyboy, so they probably thought it was good time to pick me and considering he was a southpaw, too.
JD: Maske's return to the ring is a surprise to me. He hasn't boxed since your memorable fight. You are of equal age, but you have spent those intervening years in training. Do you feel certain of victory in the forthcoming encounter?
VH: I never underestimate anybody ever. You have to remember even if he hasn't been boxing, he is an athlete and stays fit. He is under a lot of pressure, he has had to live with the loss to me for ten years. I am sure that is an incentive to him, too. If he loses again, it would be worse than it was before.
JD: It seemed that you would not be returning to pro boxing after losing twice to Jean-Marc Mormeck, but we're going to see you in January, and in a fight for the WBC championship belt, no less. What made you come back?
VH: The fact that the 2nd fight with Mormeck was a close fight even though my team thought we won. The WBA thought the decision was too close and they kept me at #2 and that is why I was granted another title shot. In addition, I wanted to prove to myself and the naysayers that I could still fight at the top level of my sport.
JD: In your fight with Valery Brudov you have utterly neutralized your opponent, who until that time was on an uninterrupted streak of 30 straight wins. Was he too weak for you, or were you simply unbeatable on that day?
VH: I think they underestimated me. They watched my last couple fights and they saw me as a stationary target not moving like I used to eventhough that was due to injuries. Supposedly, a 42 year old fighter is not suppose to move that way, even if I have done it my whole career.
JD: Who's currently the best cruiserweight boxer in the world?
VH: Well you have to give the nod to Bell since he beat Mormeck. I don't think Bell is that much personally, but he beat the man, whether you like it or not, he is the man right now.
JD: How about Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, a young fellow countryman of mine?
VH: I don't have a lot to base off of him, because I haven't seen him fight.
JD: How do you rate his chances against Steve Cunningham?
VH: I think Steve has got the raw deal because a lot of fighters have dodged him. Cunningham is a seasoned cruiserweight and he has already proved himself. However, anything can happen. That is the beauty about boxing, you are only one punch away from success or disaster.
JD: How would you feel about facing Wlodarczyk in the ring?
VH: For me at this stage in my career, it has to make sense. I have accomplished all the things in boxing that I wanted to. Now, it has to make monetary sense. If they are interested in making this fight happen, after Maske, I would be more than willing to fight. Since, Michalczewski isn't willing to give me a chance to redeem my loss against him, like I am giving to Henry. But I do get self gratification from the fact that Tiozzo knocked out Michalczewski and I knocked out Tiozzo in the first round.
JD: You lost to Mormeck twice. Would you like yet another rematch with the guy?
VH: No matter what, a loss is a loss. It is never going to go away, you can redeem the loss, but the mark will always be there. The fight has to make sense monetarily and I would definitely fight him again. I think I have his number now.
JD: All Polish boxing fans remember your awesome fight against Dariusz Michalczewski for the WBA, WBO and IBF belts in 1997. How do you see that fight in hindsight?
VH: I was injured. I had an injury called plantar fasciitis. Anybody who knows what this, knows what I am talking about. If I had been able to move on him, the outcome would have been different. Eventhough I was injured, I took the fight, I made a lot of money, and I have no complaints.
JD: Did you try to get a rematch against Michalczewski?
VH: Oh yes, we did and no way would he do it.
JD: Do you think there was a chance for Michalczewski to start a career in the States at that time?
VH: Look at the Klitchko's and all the Russian heavyweights. Where are they all fighting at?
JD: Would he be able to win against Roy Jones Jr.?
VH: I think it would have been a defining moment for both of them. Now, their careers are what they are. Neither of them had a defining moment.
JD: Some words about the sadder moments in your sporting career. Which loss was the bitterest pill to swallow, the one with Michalczewski, with Hearns, Roy Jones jr. or Mormeck?
VH: Hearns. For the simple fact, it was my first loss. I actually thought I won but he was the icon which is understandable. However, what happened thereafter, you are a young guy and you find out who your friends are when they leave you. You hear the stories about this, but you don't understand it till it happens to you.
JD: You've won 24 world championship bouts. Which one was the hardest for you?
VH: It is hard to say which one. They were each hard in their own right. When they are fighting the champion, they fight the hardest they have ever fought. Preparation before the fights is always difficult, one way or another getting over hurdles and obstacles at that elite level.
JD: The best boxer you've ever fought against?
VH: Roy, he broke my rib. It was exciting to match wits and speed. I wouldn't change it for the world except for the outcome.
JD: Which of your opponents aimed best, and who hit the hardest?
VH: Obviously, Roy's punch to my body was hard. But I have had sparring matches where I had my bell rung so it is hard to say.
JD: How do you manage at age 42 to still dazzle with impeccable technique, indefatigable stamina and a perfect athlete's shape?
VH: Thank you for the compliment. I am very fortunate that with competing at my level, I am able to understand why things happen the way they happen and why you do this or do that. It is a lot of hard work and I do really enjoy working out.
JD: How would you describe the Virgil Hill fighting style?
VH: It just depends on what my opponent is doing. I am a consemate boxer. I tend to be a a counter puncher at times but I am always a consemate boxer.
JD: Do you feel a sense of accomplishment as a boxer? Is there anything you'd still want to achieve in your career?
VH: I think we all strive for financial security and reaching our accomplishments and goals as well Hopefully, they come hand in hand. But in the boxing business, it is not always so.
JD: How long will we still be able to admire your ringside performance?
VH: Right now, we are looking at fights, we are not looking at years. The Maske fight is a big fight and I would like to fight the older Poland. So now it is not time, but who.
JD: Any plans on what to do when you retire from pro boxing?
VH: I have thrown around a few things, but I am not sure yet. I am open to all opportunities.
JD: In 2000, before the title fight against Fabrice Tiozzo in Villeurbanne, you went to the ring in an Indian warrior's headdress. Was that a nod to your heritage?
VH: Part of my heritage is Native American but I am also Irish, German, Norwegian and French Canadian. I wear the Native American Headdress into the ring to bring awareness to Native American kids. If I can inspire at least one kid to follow in my footsteps in life to succeed. Not necessarily to become a World Champion fighter but to be an inspiration to them.
JD: How did the nickname Quicksilver come about?
VH: My father nicknamed me this after the Olympics. He said because I was "quick" and won a "silver".
JD: Many thanks again, also on the behalf of the www.bokser.org readers. We wish you success in the forthcoming fight, and I hope there'll be another chance to talk to you in the future.
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