By Przemek Garczarczyk
Photo: Chris Cozzone
Evander Holyfield, only five time heavyweight champion in boxing history, who will defend his World Boxing Federation title against Sherman “The Tank” Williams on Saturday, spoke with Fightnews.com about what still drives him to be a champion. “The Real Deal” also talks about his amateur coach’s words which still guide him to this day, his biggest challenge and gives some advice to the often compared to him “small” heavyweight contender Tomasz Adamek before his expected September fight with WBO/IBO/IBF champion Wladimir Klitschko.
For the last 10 years you are reading and listening to the people who are saying that you should retire.
More than ten years. At least since 1994, when I lost to Michael Moorer and doctors misdiagnosed my heart problems and forced me into retirement. When they finally decided that there’s nothing wrong with me, I had to prove myself in the ring. And I did, beating Mike Tyson twice, fighting Lennox Lewis, winning the championship belt. I wanted another title so bad that I offered Lennox five million from a guaranteed $20 million purse to fight me. How many fighters will do this today?
What happen in the Larry Donald fight, when your license was revoked?
My pride happened. I was just after two shoulder surgeries. Doctors told me to have at least one, maybe even a two year break. Of course, I thought that this rule applies for a common mortal, not a superman like me. I was wrong – I could not throw my left hook, put any combinations together versus a skilled, quick fighter like Donald. I didn’t get discouraged for long and I will try to get my title shot. I want to finish my 26-year career as a champion. Everybody knows this.
You came very close when fighting Nikolai Valuev for the WBA title, losing a controversial decision in Switzerland. Down time from injuries, questionable decisions – are those lost chances haunting you at 48?
Not really. Nobody guarantees you in life anything. Boxing is no exception. I lost some fights I shouldn’t have and I won some when the luck was on my side. I never had a problem with the opposing fighter after losing. There are no cheaters in ring. We’re all fighters, brave men. You asked me what I remember the most from my 26 years as a professional and another 13 as an amateur, what defines my career. Maybe the words of one of my first coaches, just when I started to fight in the tournaments. It was in the South, not easy for guys like me to get a decision, so my coach said the words that I always applied to all my fights: not worry about losing, just learn from every fight, from every minute you spend in the ring. You can get better in the long run – even when you lose one fight.
You ruled the cruiserweight division and then became a heavyweight champion. There’s a Polish fighter, Tomasz Adamek, who is trying to do the same. You had to fight big guys like Lewis and Valuev, not paying too much attention being called “not a natural heavyweight.” He does the same. In addition, both of you are also very religious. Is faith a natural advantage?
Faith lets you just smile when people are saying that you cannot do something, that you have no chance of being heavyweight champion of the world when you are just a light heavyweight, like I was in 1984, when I made the US Olympic team. I know Adamek’s career. I know he will step into ring without fear. There’s only one way to assure your longevity in the ring. You have to be smart and not get hit. When you fight big guys, like the Klitschkos, you have to outsmart them with your footwork, with your combinations. Just hit them cleanly, you don’t have to knock them down – just clean hits will make them uneasy, uncomfortable because they are not used to getting hit at all. Also they are very good when you let them put punches together, but not so when they have to react to your attacks. People like me or Adamek, with our size have movement, speed – this is not their comfort zone. This is how I would fight them.