You knew the man was a lover outside the ring, and I'm not being flippant about his relationships and offspring, and you heard him talk about his faith, about being a Christian, and you knew he wasn't prone to smack talk, or degrading foes, or any of that…so you knew where Evander Holyfield stood, basically, as a human being outside the ring. But you also knew that when you stepped in their with him, or you paid your entry fee to watch him do his thing, especially when he was in his prime, he'd be looking to take your damned head off your shoulder.
Evander said as much on Thursday, at a midtown NYC restaurant, as he was introduced as the new advisor, more mental than technical, to the Chinese heavyweight Zhang Zhilei, who is promoted by Dynasty Boxing and debuts, in a four rounder, on Aug. 8, on ESPN. That card will be co-promoted by Lou DiBella, and unfold in Fallon, Nevada.
You knew I was coming to try and kick your tail, and you knew I'd hug ya afterwards, Evander told the assembled media, who grilled him on his work with Zhang, his recollections of that infamous “Bite Fight” against Mike Tyson on June 28, 1997, and his plans to glove up again himself…or not.
Holyfield sat next to the 6-6, 255 pound Zhilei, who sat next to his pal and interpreter, Curt, as Dynasty head Dino Duva oversaw the gathering, while Dynasty's Tommy Lane mostly listened as Evander, who turns 52 in October, talked about what he could bring to the table for Zhilei, a 31-year-old hitter trained by Joe Grier and Harold Knight in New Jersey.
They both posed for photos while biting into apples, symbolic of Holyfields' history of being bitten and their presence in the proverbial Big Apple.
Holyfield told me his career is over, he is done, he will not fight again. “No, no, I'm done.” For real, he insists…Yes, he said the same back in 1994, but, “I was a kid then,” he said, chuckling, and “I'm a senior citizen now.” He will be inducted into the Nevada State Boxing Hall of Fame on Aug. 9, so, he said, he better be retired.
Who knows, maybe he'd lace 'em up and spar a bit with Zhilei, he said, but he'd not be keen to take any licks. By the way, he said he decided to end his ring forays after Alexander Povetkin said he'd fight Holyfield, but then changed his mind. He got close to fighting a Klitschko, but the Ks asked him to beat a few decent foes first, and Holyfield said heck with that. He said so many of todays' heavies are wild cards, not terribly refined, and who really wants to go through that silliness, he said, maybe getting hit with a goofy punch from a novice type. He thought he had the inside game to bother a Klitschko, he said, but, the implication was clear that he'd done too much to be asked to re-climb a ladder to get another crack.
Holyfield, who last gloved up in May 2011 against Brian Nielsen, said that he was quite clear on the job when he signed for a bout, that his desire was to separate his foe from his senses. Then, when the final bell rang, it was over. The implication was clear, I thought, that Holyfield thinks the long, tall Chinese boxer needs to get into more a pro style mindset, with power punching being items A and B on the to do list for a pro who wants to go places.
So, Evander, you know a thing or two or ten about being a champion…is Zhilei champion material? “He can be, he could be. Life is about adjustments,” he said, noting that it will be up to the Chinese fighter to fulfill the dream. “We feel he does have the heart, that he has the size, everything that's necessary. But he got to want to be it. If he want to be it, he will be it.” He has a good jab and a good right hand, Evander said, and he will need to act like the big man he is, and not let the little foes do their thing on him.
Now, back to what I sensed Holy picked up on in Zhilei…I asked Duva to clarify on what I picked up on, and the dealmaker, who has been laying the ground work for this Asian invasion since 2007 or so, acknowledged that if there is one thing he wants Zhilei to master, to hone, is that mindset. And, he told me, he has seen improvement already, since he started training in the US in March. “I see it in his work in the gym, on his face, in his eyes when he's getting to work,” the promoter said.
Holyfield (44-10-2) said that if he had to choose one thing to hammer home to the newbie, it's “perseverance.” It's about doing the same thing over and over, till it becomes routine, he said. His trainers, Georgie Benton and Lou Duva, annoyed him by making him do the same thing over and over…but now he can look back and appreciate the intent. “You get accustomed to redundant things over and over, you become successful,” he said.
Duva told us that he introduced Holyfield to Zhang back when he ran a training camp for Chinese boxers in 2007, and that he hoped they'd have more dealings down the line. “We're very honored Evander has joined our team,” he said. The Aug. 8 debut, Duva said, will be a massive kick, because the fight will also run on Chinese TV, as well as ESPN. “This is the beginning of a historic career,” he said.
Big Zhang seems nothing but pleasant and humble, patiently taking questions always. He earned high marks from me, when I asked him a favorite line in English, which he's been working on. “Thank you for your coverage!” Zhilei said, with a grin.
The boxer said that he enjoyed watching Holyfield fights when he was younger, and he very much does comprehend the import of having such boxing royalty involved in his developement.
I must say, I'm happy that Holyfield's immense and useful reservoir of stubbornness has melted a bit, and has allowed him to consider this next vocational step. I'm also rooting for the Dynasty plan to reach fruition, because I like to see the sport as a whole grow and flourish. Duva said by the end of the year, it is likely Dynasty will do their own singular show, and show off their roster beyond Zhilei.
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