A BASN Interview With Evander Holyfield

By Francis Walker
Updated: October 9, 2007

NEW YORK — Evander Holyfield is the only fighter in boxing history to win both the undisputed cruiserweight and world heavyweight championships.

Seventeen years removed from the beginning of his first heavyweight title reign, Holyfield (42-8-2, 27 KOs), at age 44, will attempt to become boxing’s first five-time heavyweight champion when he challenges unbeaten Sultan Ibragimov (21-0-1, 17 KOs) for the WBO title on Saturday night.

“You can’t stop what God wants to happen,” Holyfield said during an exclusive interview with BASN. Holyfield-Ibragimov will be televised live from the Khodynka Ice Palace in Moscow, Russia, and can be seen exclusively on pay-per-view here in the United States at a suggested retail of $34.95.

The one question that everyone asks Holyfield is the one question that even he himself has not been able to dodge for more than one decade. Why does Holyfield continue to fight?

The answer is simple. Holyfield continues to sell tickets. People continue to purchase newspapers, magazines, and log onto various websites to read up on Holyfield’s historic career.

It doesn’t matter if Holyfield fights on HBO, Showtime, or on pay-per-view. People continue to pay money to watch him fight. Holyfield continues to fascinate the boxing public and the sports world.

“I think ever since back in the amateur days in the Olympics, ABC TV, Showtime, HBO, and pay-per-view people got a chance to see the adjustments that I’ve had to make,” Holyfield said in retrospect. “They see me when I’m up, down, and had chances to me comeback again.”

Holyfield hopes to lift the WBO heavyweight championship away from Ibragimov, a 32-year-old southpaw from Russia. Ibragimov has decent hand speed and uses his right hand well. Ibragimov won the WBO title in June following a 12-round decision against Shannon Briggs.

Holyfield is no stranger to southpaws, as he’s fought former IBF heavyweight champions Michael Moorer and Chris Byrd. Holyfield hasn’t seen Ibragimov fight a lot, but acknowledges that he has fast hands and can fight.

“You know, in my career I’ve fought a lot of great boxers,” Hoyfield said. “I don’t fight people that can’t fight.”

Holyfield is one of the greatest heavyweights in boxing history. Holyfield has twice defeated Mike Tyson. His trilogy with Riddick Bowe is one of the greatest heavyweight boxing trilogies behind Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier.

Holyfield was the undisputed WBC/WBA, and IBF heavyweight champion when he fought Bowe, an unbeaten No. 1-ranked heavyweight title contender. In November 1992, Holyfield suffered the first defeat of his professional career in what was one of the toughest fights in his career.

“In the [first] fight with Riddick Bowe, I was so thankful the fight was over,” Holyfield said. “You were so careful, you don’t want to quit. You want to give it your all and I made it through.”

Holyfield strongly believes that his first fight with Bowe and his first world title fight with Dwight Muhammad Qawi for the WBA cruiserweight title in July 1986 were the two toughest fights he’s ever had.

“Those two fights pushed me to the limit,” Holyfield said. “In my first championship fight with Dwight Muhammad Qawi, I was really pushed to the limit. I felt I was about to die in that ring.”

Holyfield has fought everyone: George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Lennox Lewis, Michael Moorer, Ray Mercer, and Alex Stewart. Although Holyfield is one of the oldest and most accomplished heavyweight champions in history, he continues to prove that he still has the skills and determination to compete at the highest level in the sport.

“It’s a good feeling when people say he’s too old to stay here in boxing,” Holyfield said. “My career has been an open book toward speaking the truth once again.”

Holyfield’s Recent Comeback & NYSAC

During Holyfield’s recent comeback which began in August 2006, Holyfield has won all four of his fights in decisive fashion. Jeremy Bates (TKO 2), Fres Oquendo (W 12), Vinny Maddalone (TKO 3) and Lou Savarese (W 10) were unable to derail Holyfield’s recent quest toward becoming the undisputed world heavyweight champion once again.

“I’m not really amazed,” Holyfield said of the outcome of his successful comeback. “I’m happy that everything has been what I thought it would be. I got the proper fights and I’m very happy with how things went.”

Things weren’t too peachy for Holyfield in recent years. Controversy erupted after his fight with Larry Donald at Madison Square Garden in November 2004.

The New York State Athletic Commission was skeptical about Holyfield’s healthy and his ability to box after he lost a lackluster twelve-round decision to the lesser-skilled Donald.

Holyfield, without having a conference or hearing with the New York State Athletic Commission, was upset after he was placed on medical suspension.

“I was disappointed at how they handled it,” Holyfield commented. “All the years that I put into professional boxing, they took the wrong way of going about it. They should have had a conference and allowed me to be part of the conference. Allow me to be part of the conference and decision-process.”

“At least they should have asked me if I had any kind of problem,” Holyfield continued. “I can see where they might think there’s something wrong with me. The way I was getting hit, I was getting hit with punches I normally don’t get hit with.”

“At least they could have asked me what’s wrong, but it was easier for them to put it in the paper and hope that I’d go away.”

Holyfield didn’t go away, as he earned a license to fight in the state of Texas. His belief is that everyone has an off night and should be given an opportunity to redeem themselves.

“Everybody has a bad performance in life. You don’t do well all the time. You allow yourself to make adjustments. The New York State Commission told me you can fight anywhere else, but not here.”

Holyfield’s comeback prompted the New York State Athletic Commission to issue a letter of apology and an invitation.

“After my last three fights they sent me a letter of apology saying that I can fight anywhere I want”, Holyfield said. “Including New York.”

Olympic Dreams & Heavyweight Title Quests

Holyfield’s disagreement with NYSAC was just one of countless times when he proved people wrong. In 1995, Holyfield publicly stated that he wanted to win the world heavyweight championship and carry the Olympic torch at the 1996 Olympic Games in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia.

“I told everyone that in 1996 my goal was to carry the Olympic Torch and I’d be heavyweight champion of the world,” Holyfield said. “I still carried the Olympic torch and still became heavyweight champion of the world.”

Holyfield fulfilling his dream of carrying the Olympic torch and winning the world heavyweight championship were remarkable feats. His dreams appeared to be hopeless after he suffered an eighth-round TKO loss to Bowe in their third fight in November 1995.

“They laughed at me even though I said what I was going to do in 1996 back in 1995,” Holyfield added. “What people don’t realize was that was the first time I had been stopped in a match,” Holyfield said of his loss to Bowe. “I was sick and Bowe won.”

Holyfield did exactly what he said he would do. Hecarried the Olympic Torch in his hometown at the 1996 Olympic Games with the legendary Muhammad Ali before he TKO’d Tyson to win the WBA heavyweight championship in November 1996.

“I carried the Olympic torch and Ali lit the torch,” Holyfield said. “Ali was the most recognized Olympian in the world. HBO showed everything negative things about boxing and why a boxer would never carry the Olympic torch.”

“But the Olympics showed and discussed the greatest Olympian in history lighting the torch. The Olympics mentioned all the great things Ali did.”

Holyfield on Wladimir Klitschko

One of the amateur boxers that stood out at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics was Wladimir Klitschko. The 6-foot-7, 245-pounder from Ukraine won the gold medal as a super heavyweight. More than eleven years later, there is a possibility that Wladimir, the IBF heavyweight champion could fight Holyfield if he beats Ibragimov for the WBO title.

“He’s a good fighter,” Holyfield said of Klitschko’s skill level. “He’s one of the more tested and most talented heavyweights out there. He’s had the most defenses. He’s fought the best.”

Holyfield believes that Klitschko can be a great heavyweight if he fights and defeats the fighters of his time.

“He has to fight great fighters and be in an era that fighters are equal to you and make great noise,” Holyfield said. “Ali wouldn’t be Ali without Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, or George Foreman.”

“These guys were great fighters in their era. I fought each of the guys I had to fight — Bowe, Moorer, Tyson, and Lewis. I was fortunate to have fought guys who were dominant. I didn’t pick them out. They were there.”

“Klitschko, Peter and the rest of them need to start fighting each other,” Holyfield added. “Then they’d know how good they really are instead of fighting people that they can beat. You don’t know how good you are until you fight the best.”

Holyfield will test himself against one of today’s best heavyweights in Ibragimov.