One on One with Evander Holyfield
World heavyweight champion a record four times, a title fight with Riddick Bowe in 1993 was interrupted when 'Fan Man' parachuted into the ring.
Another title fight in 1997 ended bizarrely after 'Iron' Mike Tyson made a meal out of Holyfield's right ear.
He now has ambitions to become world heavyweight champion for a fifth time, but first he had to overcome The Sun's own slugger, Jim Munro.
Let's start with that Tyson fight, Las Vegas, 1997. We know what happened to your right ear, but is it true you got paid $34m for what, three rounds?
Thirty-five million dollars.
Thirty-five million dollars for three rounds?!
For nine minutes. Nine minutes! This is what people don't understand. Every time people talk about my ear. They say 'Tyson bit you'. They never say 'hey, you made $35m dollars'. They look at the negative part and say 'you got bit on the ear, that's gotta hurt'.
Well I was saying to myself, 'he can bite this one for $35m too'. You get bit on the ear and people say, 'You must still be mad. You must be angry'. But I prayed straight after and God reminded me, 'You won, you had a good attitude and you made $35m and the whole world loves you and says you're so respectful.' Even Muslims were shocked that I, a Christian, forgave him. But that's what life's all about. If you don't forgive you're going to be angry or afraid you whole life. If we meet again it's no problem. Tyson's son can play with my son, we move on.
So you earned the biggest purse ever for an individual sportsman - yet I've heard you say that if it hadn't been for your Mum you could have given up completely. What happened?
It was Cecil Collins, when we were 11. He was better than me and kept beating me. At that age, when things don't go your way, you think: 'I don't wanna do it no more.' But my mother said, 'You can't quit,' and beat me up. So I tried to quit quietly. But then I thought maybe I wouldn't have to fight Collins again. So I went to the next weigh in and I couldn't see him there and I thought great, I can fight at my regular weight.
But he was there and I had to fight him. That's when I had to pray and I finally beat him. It took that third fight for me to win and it actually showed me what life is all about. At some point of time in your life, when there's something that you feel that you can't do, you just hope to go around it instead of going through it. But whatever the outcome is, is a testament to who you are. You run into roadblocks and you have to go through them. It was a big lesson.
What you're saying then is a whack from your Mum now and again helped you forge this great career?
To get where you're at you have to overcome something. You come into this world and it's not like you get to choose your parents. I didn't choose my mother, I didn't choose my father, I didn't choose my skin colour, I didn't choose my DNA to say what size I'm gonna be. This is what it is. I didn't choose the neighbourhood I was brought up in but your surroundings have something to do with how you turn out too. People say, if you could go back, would you switch to do something else other than boxing and I say 'No.' Unless I could switch my momma and my daddy and my neighbourhood, then yeah, I probably would be something different. But because my momma raised me with the 'I'm gonna whop you' attitude for my own good, it made me a tough person.
Were there any of the guys who grew up in your neighbourhood who made it to even a decent standard of boxing?
It was just me. The guys who boxed at that time were actually better than me, but when they turned 14 or 15 they got girlfriends. My momma wouldn't let me date. I couldn't date so I wasn't distracted. My momma told us that women were like kryptonite. They'll weaken you, distract you. I know you're laughing but I'm an adult now and I'm saying the same to my son. I'm warning him: 'You don't wanna start that man. I don't care how strong you think you are, you don't wanna put yourself in that situation. Do what you need to do first, then you'll have some time to talk to women. It works.
I take it he's not in training to be a world heavyweight boxer though?
You know, I was looking at my son the other day, and talking to a friend and wondering why he wasn't like me. Then my friend said: 'He hasn't had a life like yours. He hasn't had to worry about people beating him up, he hasn't had to worry about anything. He's a totally different person.' And I thought: 'You're right. My son is 23 and he's never been in a fight before. And I asked him, 'do you think you'd know how to fight?' and he said: 'I don't know. Ain't nobody ever hit me and I ain't never hit nobody.'
But among your 11 children you do have a couple of potential Holyfield juniors who enjoy boxing, don't you?
I got two boys that box. Even though they came from a good household, they are still rough because they got older brothers that played with them. So yeah, they get in a fight at home with each other and if somebody bumped into them they'd stand up. My oldest son, because he's never had a fight, he doesn't like all that stuff. But my two 10-year-olds, they get into it, with each other or they get in a fight at school. When there's two of you the same age, wanting to be the best, of course you're gonna get the frustration that there's somebody trying to be better than you. When you are the only boy, everything is cool and fine.
Tell us about Fan Man in the Riddick Bowe fight. What do you think when you're halfway through a fight and glance up to see somebody falling from the sky under a parachute. Bizarre.
Yeah it was. You catch something like that out of the corner of your eye but you still gotta be focused until the referee steps in. But in that fight, if I had stopped Riddick Bowe in the seventh round, Vegas would have lost a lot of money. A lot of people in the audience had bet on me winning in the seventh. That guy came in the ring in that seventh round and the fight was delayed. I told Riddick Bowe: 'You were getting ready to be knocked out.' I started tagging him and he was bleeding, he wasn't in his shape, he was breathing hard. He was ready to go. That's the whole big thing with some big guys, they can never recover. If you ever get their mind turned this way [turns his head to the left] they ain't never gonna recover. So I just felt I had him. But after a 20-minute lay off, all of a sudden he ain't bleeding no more and it was like a second half of the fight. But I still won.
In your book you say you had to develop a knockout strategy because of the racism you encountered in your early days from some of the judges. How bad was it?
I couldn't depend on anyone but myself. And if this is the last chapter of my journey then I may have to go back and do what I used to do back then. If it goes to a decision, they ain't gonna want me to win on a decision. When people are against you, they want to prove you're wrong, that you can't do it. I know I'm gonna have to knock the guy out. So I have to be on my game, not so much technical wise but I have to put together combinations, bap-bap-a, bap-bap-a. You do the knockout, they can't take that away from you. So when I train, I train that I gotta be twice as good as my opponent. I gotta be busy. If I'm just walking in the park hoping then it ain't never gonna happen for me.
You talk about that mental toughness and you can tell when you've beaten someone. Is that mental toughness what's given you the edge over the years?
That's how I win. I read the bible and the bible tells you that the difference between people is what they believe. Your belief is what makes you do what you do. Some people can get so mad that you can't hold them down. Now what happened to them to give them that strength? It was a belief in something.
When I'm in that ring, I see the big old guys and I'm human too. I've gotta think of something to give myself courage enough to even step in there and do something. But I can't be hanging back and think 'am I gonna get hurt?' I'm gonna get hurt just while I'm thinking about whether I'm gonna get hurt. So I gotta do all I can do to make him think: 'You ain't gonna hurt me, I'm gonna get you.' I gotta switch it. 'I'm tired but I know you're more tired than me.' This is the way I think.
So that's the Holyfield way, even outside of boxing? Think positive and anything's possible?
If you and I go for a run now, and you ain't a runner and I'm not a runner, we're on the same level. But I'm thinking: 'You're more tired than me'. I just believe that I'm gonna beat you when it comes down to desire. If we were boxing, you're the same size as me and you could hit harder than me, ok, but I'm thinking you're gonna get tired. And when we're both tired, you are gonna be more tired than me, that's how I think. You may hit me hard and it'll hurt, but I can take it. And I don't believe you can take all I'm gonna hit you with. It's just me believing that.
And I believed that too.