During Evander 'The Real Deal' Holyfield's promotional tour of the UK, I was able to meet up with him for dinner and a chat about his future plans and some of the key moments from his life - it proved to be a truly enjoyable and entertaining evening in the company of a boxing legend.
I had initially been a little worried about interviewing Holyfield. Reports of him appearing punch drunk with slurred speech were widespread. No-one wants to see a great champion suffering from the after-effects of a long career.
Thankfully, these stories had been exaggerated, and although a little slurring was evident, when he spoke at length it seemed to disappear almost completely. Financial burdens in part had forced him to fight late into his forties. I get the impression that were it not for the aforementioned financial problems, he may not be doing his after dinner speaking tour of the UK at all.
Now aged 50, Holyfield hasn't boxed since he beat Brian Nielsen in 2011 in a fight which many of us hoped and thought was his last. I was keen to find out what his plans for retirement were, but Holyfield surprised me a little with his answer: “No, no I haven't retired yet.”
Boxing has far too many stories of great champions fighting on for too long or coming out of retirement, and Holyfield certainly should have retired a long time ago. I pressed further:
“Well, I get a lot of offers [to fight again]. It's just the fact that if I fight for a championship then I fight for a championship, but I'm not going to fight just to fight.” So that came as a little relief.
So if he did get a championship fight and win the title one more time, then, as champion, could he finally call it a day?
“Well yeah, pretty much that would be the end. I just want to fight for a championship fight and then retire. But if it don't happen this year then I'm going to go ahead and move on.”
That came as even more of a relief, as current world champions Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko have stated they will not fight Holyfield - and both will be champions for the remainder of this year.
When Holyfield said he would 'move on' it seems he is planning to follow in the footsteps of Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and now Mike Tyson:
“I'll probably get into the promotional business, promoting a fight. I think a manager be a little too rough, and training be a little too rough. I think I really [want to] give people the opportunity to reach their goals. I think being a promoter you have more opportunity to get people opportunities to reach their goals.”
I will watch out for 'Holyfield Promotions' with great interest. Should Evander go ahead with it next year, he may find that being a promoter can also be rough.
In boxing folklore, everyone believes Holyfield was disappointed that James 'Buster' Douglas beat Mike Tyson in 1990 when Holyfield had been waiting for a shot at 'Iron Mike', thus taking away the opportunity to become the first man to beat Tyson (not to mention the mega pay day that would have gone along with that fight), but Evander was quick to dispel that myth:
“I beat Tyson...eventually. You know, so really I never ever chased individuals. Whoever had the title that's who I wanted to fight, so I won the undisputed [championship] from Buster Douglas because he beat Tyson.
So, you know, of course I eventually fought Tyson in 1997 and I beat him- in 1996 and '97. So, you know, that's really behind me.”
Talk of Tyson inevitably led a fellow diner to ask how he felt when Mike had bitten his ear. Amusingly Holyfield responded: “I wanted to turn round and kick him in the balls!” which brought much laughter from everyone in ear-shot.
He went on to explain that he had been furious after the fight, but a member of Team Holyfield calmed him down by pointing out that he had just earned $35 million for nine minutes of boxing! Furthermore, all Holyfield would have to do is forgive Tyson- something which he did go on to do.
Another humorous story he told me was when he narrowly lost a game of golf to Tiger Woods by just one stroke. I was impressed until he elaborated.
It turns out that the first hole had been a par 3 which Holyfield duly completed on par, with Woods taking only two shots. At which point Holyfield said he wanted to end the game there and then, and so did only lose by one stroke to Tiger Woods. Magic.
Throughout the evening, Holyfield was funny and down to earth with his self-depreciating manner. He spoke a lot about his childhood and his mother - who he loved but also feared, as that was the one bout he says he knew he could never win.
I truly hope he is never tempted to step between the ropes again. As a record four time Heavyweight champion and former undisputed Cruiserweight champion, he has nothing left to prove.
Evander, thanks for a great evening, I hope your promotional company will bring you as much success as you achieved in the ring.
Mark Wilson Smith | BoxRec News