I was privileged to sit down quietly with the only four-time heavyweight champion of the world and talk for half an hour with no interruption during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
Although this interview was conducted over a year ago, it spoke a mouthful for the newly-crowned WBF champion, and the material has never been published elsewhere, only on TheSweetScience.com.
In the first episode of this interview, Holyfield talked with me about his seemingly endless inspiration, his take on the pound for pound king Manny Pacquiao and how he was influenced by the world-renowned Chinese Kung Fu master Bruce Lee. In the second chapter, the legend continued his China Journey by sharing with us his unique perspective on the oriental nation, his untold stories in between and his colorful bond with this exotic ancient nation.
Zhenyu Li: Youve been to China, to be more specific, Beijing several times. Whats your impression about this country and the city?
Holyfield: You know, when I came here for the first time, I was SO impressed, from the country being Communist to what people have said and stuff like that. When I got here, everybody looked so peaceful, everything looked good — the infrastructures, the highways, the hospitality of the people I met. And I was like, Wow, I think this is a different kind of world.
I was thinking that, back in our country, the things that you hear when you talk about Communism are about controlling you and how you dont have rights. But when I got here, the majority of people I saw were having a good time, so Im going to judge by what Ive seen. The fact is that everything I saw was good.
Zhenyu Li: You just said in the car ride over that you love China. Why?
Holyfield: You know, I respect this country, because all the things it went through all these years, the country didnt quit.
Its amazing that this country has been in working for so many years. If you look back in history, everything comes from China. Even when I was a kid, China, China, China, everything that I got, came from China, and all of a sudden, you realized that, you know, oh, shoot, everything with good quality comes from China, people love to get thing from China, because its cheaper and with quality.
Like this, when I came here, Id like to ask for some CDs. Its better than America at home! I came back and I brought two cases of so much stuff. Man! I could make a living by coming to China, taking something from China and selling them at home!
Thats because the quality is good. People do great quality work and stuff like that. And thats the most important thing.
In America, people kinda take me for granted, for that, I am the only four-time heavyweight champion of the world, but people in America like Muhammad Ali, they almost dont like me to break his record, they like the sport of boxing to stay in the same way.
But when I came here, first thing, people talked about me. Id never lived in a world that had ever done this. You know, I was thrilled about the hospitality of the Chinese people.
In fact, I am so thrilled that I went home and told my kids about it. I said, look, we all should take Chinese classes. I told my kids that you gotta learn to celebrate the people who celebrate you. And I said: Because they know me and know about me and my future. You know what, these people celebrated me; we need to learn their language. So my kids, they took Chinese (classes).
Zhenyu Li: Are there any stories worth mentioning in regard to you and China?
Holyfield: I am not supposed to offend you or make fun of you. But in America, therere not a lot of Chinese people. When I grew up, I only had one Chinese person around, a Chinese girl, you know. She looked different from everybody else. But I just think shes pretty, wow, I think shes beautiful, you know, shes different.
When I came in 2000, with a friend, he was seven years older than me. When we got here, and the Chinese people were laughing at him, because of his eyes. Theres a girl who kept doing like this (making a posture). Then I said to him, be honest and be truthful to me, when you were a kid, did you mess with Chinese people? He said yeah; I said that you never thought youd be in China, he went like, wow, man, that happened!
Everybody in life got to reap what he sow. So, if you treat people bad, youll get treated bad; what ever you do, it circles back around. We are minorities at some point wherever we go. You go to school, you are minority; you go to work, you are minority. You got to ask yourself, why did you be treated bad, perhaps in a given place you go, you may be trapped around with somebody that make you look different.
With me, I was always around with a lot of people. I came from a poor neighborhood, but because my mother brought me up right, I get along well with the people around me. I became a humble man because my mother always went against showing people up, and I was always quiet and I was always embarrassed. But being embarrassed allows me to, when I go around people, I make sure to treat people fair all the time, and not to discriminate, because I know how they feel.
You cannot take the skin color or race, and say its better than another. You know, if you give them the flexible and proper structure, then chances are they can be very productive people.
Unlike China, America is a place where you can be born poor and get rich. If you have the capability, America wont stop you from being what you want to be. They may tell you what you cannot (do), but they wont stop you from being the very best you could be.
Zhenyu Li: It seems that you do know something about China, are attached to it, to a degree, and traveled several times to this ancient country. So whats the purpose of your trip this time?
Holyfield: Actually, I came down here to choose some fighters. I got a promotion company. I want to start my promotion club. So I look into of all the fighters and stuff. Hope it can give me 10 to 12 fighters, someone who can become the champion in four years.
I havent seen anybody yet, but I talked with a person in the Shaolin Temple, he said they didnt start a boxing program, but they had Kung Fu, and they want the Holyfield boxing thing.
You know, the strongest amateur boxers the world has ever had are always in Cuba, because they were trained in a certain program. And the Chinese kids here do what the Cubans do, you know, great supervision and all that. All these little kids have been trained in such a strict program. So, if they learn boxing, after four years, theyll be able to win four or five gold medals, because these kids are very structured. This is what theyve been doing and they do it in a different method (in comparison with the American prospects).
Cubans do it; they eat well and their family is ok. And all of a sudden, they give it up, because they do it not because they love to, but because they have to. So every time they make money, because of somebody else, they lose concentration. But for the people here, they train and do it for a proper reason. And if people who do the things for the proper reason, theyll stay longer. I am a good example. I do boxing for a good reason, I love boxing; Ive been boxing for 37 years. I didnt break up with anything. Its because I do the thing for the right reason, not for the ego, you know; you do it because you love it, thats it, you dont do it for other motives. I didnt get into boxing for money. I got into boxing because I realized I found something I love and could do well too.
When I was a kid, I liked to do physical things, you know, like, look how fast he run, or, hey, hes tough, stuff like that. That inspired me. But when I was in the classroom, I was always mad because I couldnt compete (with the other students). They were a lot better than me. My mother told me that wherever you go, theres always somebody who know something you dont know, and youll know something that they dont know either. So thats the trade off of life. You can do this really well, and I can do this really well.
For example, if you do a good story, itll make you look good, and make me look good too. Everybody plays his part. I came over here and I saw, wow, all the people love me. I cant speak Chinese good enough to do anything, but I can have somebody who can speak both Chinese and English do it for me. I got to find somebody who understands them better than I do. We can be partners. Life is about communication. No one person is able to do everything.
Of course, if I get a lot of attention, therell be a lot of people who get envious and jealous, but it can be balanced through (classification and cooperation). This is what the life is all about. Its not about the ego. To make no one get envious and jealous, you got to let everybody play his part. If everybody is the best in his part, no one will get jealous and envious, (and there will be) enough money for everybody.
Putting the final stroke on The Real Deals China Journey of the TSS Exclusive: One On One With Evander Holyfield series in Part III, the ring legend reveals his training regimen, what he took from the legendary Chinese Shaolin training program, and his take on the connection between Kung Fu and boxing.