Evander Holyfield fought Mike Tyson twice, winning both times, culminating with the second fight (i.e. that time Mike Tyson bit part of Holyfield’s ear off) that became one of those “I will never forget exactly where I was when they happened” moments. Now, 18 years after that fight, I asked Holyfield if he considers Tyson a “friend.” After all, Tyson is a producer of the new documentary, “Champs,” which is why I find myself talking with Holyfield. As it turns out, that’s a complicated answer. (But he has for sure not played Mike Tyson’s Punch Out.)
Champs explores the lives of three former boxing champions — Tyson, Holyfield and Bernard Hopkins — and the similar inner city, low income backgrounds the three men share and what factor this played in becoming boxer sand then boxing champions.
Boxing isn’t as much a part of the cultural zeitgeist as it was when Tyson and Holyfield were champions, but there has been a bit of an uptick in boxing chatter recently after the announcement of the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight in early May. Here, Holyfield talks about how the sport of boxing can recover, shares his thoughts on MMA fighting, and gives his breakdown of what will happen during the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight.
This documentary is interesting because it feels in a way celebratory, yet also cautionary.
Well, I guess it’s which person you’re listening to.
It does explore what happens to boxers who aren’t prepared for a sudden windfall of money, which it compares to people winning the lottery. There’s no class for “what to do with your new money.”
Well, it’s the people’s background and where they come from. I was fortunate enough to have a good mother who would say, “These are the things in life,” and, “do unto others as you want them to do to you,” and stuff like that. And to be a winner and a good one, you just can’t be following everybody. You just be doing everything everybody else is doing.
Your 1984 Olympic fight is also explored, where you were disqualified on an extremely controversial decision. Now that it’s 31 years later, how do you look back on that? By pretty much all accounts, it was the wrong call, but your demeanor made you famous and set up your professional career.
Of course wishing is for when everything is over. I would have rather had the gold medal. I’m not a charity case. I just don’t like saying, “Oh, this happened to me and that’s the reason who I was.” That’s an excuse, too. So, we don’t even have to talk about that because I made the proper judgment. I became the first 84 boxer who won a world championship. It doesn’t make up for it – nope! – but that’s another thing that I did.
It’s still amazing the demeanor you had. I would have been going nuts.
Well, things like that have happened before. Of course you’re shocked if everything’s going right in your life. Everything wasn’t going right in my life, so I was constantly being shocked. And I just believe that God will never give you more than you can handle, so these are things that happen and somebody has to handle it right and I was the person who was able to handle it right that day.
Mike Tyson is a producer on this film, but what is your relationship with him today? Would you say “friends?”
I think “friend” is a big word. You know, even as a kid, you meet somebody and we talk for a second and we’re “friends.” Mike and I will talk for more than a second, we all became famous together and all that, we had our ups and downs, and I’ll still see Mike as Mike, and I understand Mike. When you call people “friend,” you know the good things and the bad things and you can still deal with them, so I would say that we are friends.
The second Holyfield-Tyson fight, that’s one of those “I’ll never forget where I was when that happened” moments.
One thing is, who doesn’t get angry or get mad at each other? How many brothers and sisters haven’t done wrong things to each other? Life is about forgiving and you have to forgive. If you don’t forgive, you can never move on yourself. More than two million people watched the fight, but just because it’s a big event doesn’t stop a person from forgiving. And I was just thankful that I was able to forgive.
You had your own Sega video game in the early ‘90s, but have you ever played Mike Tyson’s Punch Out?
No. I’m not good, and I don’t play things I’m not good at.
It’s funny that you’re not good at a boxing video game.
My fingers don’t move as fast as everybody else’s fingers move!
When Tyson and yourself were heavyweight champions, boxing was very popular. The Mayweather versus Pacquiao fight is getting a lot of attention, but overall, it’s not in the zeitgeist like it used to be. Can it get back there?
Yeah, it can. But we have to embrace and put boxing on free television for the young kids to start doing it at a young age. If you wait until you become a big guy, then learn how to try and box, you don’t have enough knowledge to do it right. Everything starts at a young age; you have to set the goals at a young age if you’re going to be a good fighter, because if you become a big guy first, you’re just going to go on strength and that’s it, and strength isn’t going to be enough, you’re going to have to have the knowledge.
What’s your opinion of UFC? Do you watch it?
Yeah, I do. I think it’s a whole totally different game. People who know boxing, they’re just not getting into it because the guy gets bruised up, they like the techniques. With MMA, somebody can get hurt but they can really get hurt, and you don’t know if it’s the truth or not because all a guy has to do is tap real quick and get out. So, you don’t know if he’s really hurt. In boxing, you know when a person gets knocked down and they get hurt, but it’s a forgiving game. [In UFC], a person has to tap before you break your arm or something like that.
Who do you think will win the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight?
[Laughs] The guy that they raise up his hand, that’s who’s going to win.
That’s a good dodge.
What I’m actually saying is, regardless of how a person looks and how a person performs that night at the fight, they’re so different. That it’s almost like saying if Pacquiao can’t corner Mayweather and make him fight, then he’s going to lose. But if he does corner him, what’s going to happen? It’s a proven point that every time somebody corners Mayweather, he shows you he can fight. So, how long will he fight will be a big difference. So, Mayweather’s been able to prove a point every time somebody’s trapped him. I saw him fight Sugar Shane, after Sugar Shane hurt him one time, after that he started running Sugar Shane. So the whole thing is, I understand Mayweather can do more than a lot of people think he can.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.