One-on-One with Evander Holyfield Part I: Evander Holyfield and Bruce Lee

Zhenyu LiContributor IIIJuly 25, 2011

Evander Holyfield was being interviewed by the author in Beijing. (Photo by Zhenyu Li)
Evander Holyfield was being interviewed by the author in Beijing. (Photo by Zhenyu Li)

Father Time has been known as a merciless killer who diminishes the water supply to a fighter's fountain of talent with every tick of hand. Yet, when it comes to the "Real Deal", the edge of time has been only blunted.

The 48-year-old current WBF heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield was challenged recently by the former IBF champion Francois Botha, the man he beat for the WBF title more than a year earlier, to a championship fight slated for October 8, 2011, at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.

On April 10, 2010, at 47, Holyfield, the aging American warrior, proved himself to be an extraordinarily well-preserved ring legend and claimed his fifth heavyweight title by stopping the bigger and stronger South African "White Buffalo" Botha in Las Vegas.

The fight was televised live in China by CCTV, the nation's largest TV network, with well over a billion potential audiences.

As an independent Chinese sportswriter, I saw, with my bare eyes, the well-kept, "vintage" Holyfield finish Botha impressively for a 47-year-old, despite harsh criticism and sarcastic reports in respect to this fight coming out one after another, in and out of America. Fairly put, it was the referee who should be questioned for waving off the bout in an untimely manner.

With the identical eyes of a WBO China Zone certified ringside judge, I also saw the aging warrior come close to winning his fifth recognized heavyweight world title when he courageously fought against the much-bigger Russian giant and WBA reigning champion Nicolai Valuev in 2008.

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The 47-year-old Evander Holyfield stopped Francois Botha to claim the WBF heavyweight title in Las Vegas on April 10, 2010.
The 47-year-old Evander Holyfield stopped Francois Botha to claim the WBF heavyweight title in Las Vegas on April 10, 2010.Ethan Miller/Getty Images

I give him credit, for soldiering on, for still holding on to the dream, and still competing at a solid level.

I was privileged to sit down quietly with this only four-time heavyweight champion of the world and talk for half an hour with no interruption three years ago around this time in Beijing.

Although this interview was conducted right before the 2008 Summer Olympics, it spoke a mouthful for the newly-challenged WBF champion. From here in China, we will catch a glimpse of another chapter of the Real Deal's life — Holyfield: the man, the champion and the legend.

Episode I

"There's something special to be a man. I become the man who I am because I learned to work hard and not to quit." —— Evander Holyfield

In the first episode of this "One-on-One with Evander Holyfield" series, Holyfield talked with me about his seemingly endless reservoir of inspiration behind, his take on the pound for pound king Manny Pacquiao, his warrior mentality when facing tough oppositions like Mike Tyson, how he was influenced by the world-renowned Chinese Kung Fu master Bruce Lee and lots more.

Zhenyu Li: How are you, Evander?

Holyfield: Everything is just fine. Thank you, Mr. Li.

Holyfield has an outstanding, illustrious career, winning the world heavyweight championship belts four times.
Holyfield has an outstanding, illustrious career, winning the world heavyweight championship belts four times.Al Bello/Getty Images

Zhenyu Li: Alright, let's get started. Actually, I've been watching and writing about you since 1996. You've had an outstanding, illustrious career, winning the world heavyweight champion belts four times, becoming the first universally recognized world cruiserweight champion, dethroning the mighty Mike Tyson. You've already gotten nothing to prove. At an advanced age, why do you still keep punching?

Holyfield: Well, you know, I got to say it based on my own experiences. I'll say it because my story is to inspire people.

I came up poor. My mother only had a fourth-grade education. My dad didn't have any education at all. But they were very structured. They worked hard. You know, they didn't complain. They didn't murmur. And they believe in the Christ. My mother taught me, you know, in believing in the Christ, that you'd not be prejudice; you treat people the way they wanted to be treated; be honest, do a great work and not to quit.

My mother told me that there's something special to be a man. You got to work your whole life. When you work, you'll find yourself always happy. My mother said, if you are busy, you'll find yourself happy, you'll find yourself accomplished.

In that theory, I see that it separates people. Some people try to work as less as possible, and they find themselves unhappy. People who work a lot all the time find themselves always happier. You know, I become the man who I am because I learned to work and not to complain. Be willing to make adjustment.

The difference between me and somebody else could be just that I work a lot harder than that guy, not because he comes as if it is a choice he makes. People who make the choice to study, work hard or do whatever they endeavor is to give it the max on themselves to reach to the top level. And you have the people who get envy and jealous, yet are not willing to put that work in, and they want to get the same praise.

Holyfield becomes the man who he is because he learned to work hard.
Holyfield becomes the man who he is because he learned to work hard.Al Bello/Getty Images

Zhenyu Li: You've put on a string of epic battles that would long be remembered, your trilogy with Riddick Bowe, your two fights against Lewis, your trilogy with John Ruiz. I saw that you were a man of will. Some say that you are loved because of your pure grit. You really experienced difficulties during those fights, but you weathered the storms. How did you make that happen? Who's your mentality at that time?

Holyfield: In a time when somebody does something that you do not expect, he kills you mentally. When a person hit you hard, bang, one or two shots, he wants to get you out of there, and you got to tell that man, nope! You have to get up and make the adjustment.

When you get hit, there'll be a reaction of your body, and the first thing on your mind is that I am hurt, so what do we do? Recover, your hands come up, and it becomes of a sight game.

A sight game is that I am hurt, but I am to make you believe I am not even hurt, and with this confidence appearing on my face, I don't panic, otherwise your opponent will know that you are hurt. That's the whole art game in boxing. You gotta have the ability to properly show your emotions. If your opponent knows much about your thinking, he'll control you. So the whole big thing is that not to put yourself in a position where your opponent can control you.

The whole thing is about, can you concentrate, can you focus, can you medicate, can you handle the atmosphere, and not cut it out; it's all this concentration thing that takes to be successful.

I am hurt, who knows it, but me, unless I'll let you know. If I let you know that I am hurt, you'll hurt me a lot harder; if not, you gotta think I am not going to waste a lot of those energy. Like my fight with Mike Tyson, he hit really hard. He wanted to get me knocked out. You know, it's a mind game, about concentration; it's about your mind of what it takes to win. I have to use what I have to the best of my ability.

Holyfield's fight against Tyson is a good example of a sight game.
Holyfield's fight against Tyson is a good example of a sight game.Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Zhenyu Li: Talking about concentration and mind game, you know, Sugar Ray Leonard once commented about Bruce Lee that he respected Bruce Lee, firstly because of his mental stability. Have you heard of Bruce Lee, the Chinese Kung Fu master?

Holyfield: Oh, of course, he was... he was pretty much the star, ALL poor people, at least, LOVE Bruce Lee.

Zhenyu Li: Have you seen any of his movies?

Holyfield: Oh, enter the dragon and all that, you know, that's our favorite. It allows everybody want to do that; it was just so fascinating.

The main thing about Bruce Lee is that, he was a little guy. And you know, his quickness, his aggressiveness, his explosive power, you have to be a great athlete to have all these, his body, his look, you know, all these things have to do with discipline and structure. He was able to go against the biggest guy, regardless of who he was. He can do so because of his confidence; his confidence is bigger than the stature, the size of the person; he makes you believe that size doesn't make a difference; what really matter are the confidence and your ability to make adjustment.

It works not only for Kung Fu; that is life is all about. Life is not about size, or the skin color, it is about how good and how well-prepared you are to pass the test. Bruce Lee showed these to us.

There were a lot of karate people, but Bruce Lee stood high above everybody.

Zhenyu Li: Speaking of Asian fighters, what is your impression about them?

Bruce Lee's Enter The Dragon is Holyfield's favorite.
Bruce Lee's Enter The Dragon is Holyfield's favorite.

Holyfield: You know what, Thailand has some good fighters. There's a kid who is a champion now, Pacquiao (actually Pacquiao is from the Philippine). Oh, boy, he is big in America now. It thrills me that boxing has become what it is as a world sport. Once, you got world champions all from America, now you got them from all around the globe. You got some Russians, you got some Germans, you got one guy from Africa, and this Pacquiao. You got all these personalities coming in, and much possibly, future champions from China. The sport is going global.

Zhenyu Li: From your fighter's perspective, what do you think are the reasons that Pacquiao stand far taller than the rest of the Asian pro boxers?

Holyfield: Well, you know, he had what is called determination.

Zhenyu Li: You just mentioned world champions from Russia, take Wladimir Klitschko for example, he is recognized as the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, a position that you once took. But unlike you who always come forward, have an iron will and are tough to be stopped, Klitschko won his matches all because of dominant varieties. He has never weathered a storm, like you. Some say that he has a glass chin. Why there's such a big difference?

Holyfield: You know, what you believe is what you fight for. And what you believe is what you die for too. I die for what I believe. Some would say that this person is genetically better than another one. I don't think much of it. I think it's all about what you believe and what you've been trained to do.

In Part II of the "One-on-One with Evander Holyfield" series, the legend shared with us his impression about the world's most populous country and the fastest growing force in the ring — China.


(This is a reprint from, a worldwide leader in boxing.)