PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Forgive me if this strikes you as fake news or even a true form of divine providence, but 55 year-old, former four-time world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield is now officially retired from active participation in boxing. This ringside reporter unexpectedly broke the good news of Holyfield’s final goodbye just three short years ago in 2014.
That long overdue proclamation took place in downtown Portland, Maine where Holyfield told me before he told anyone else (at a local pro/am show where Holy was appearing) that he was “done fighting” and couldn’t find anyone willing to give him (i.e. promote) one last crack at the lineal crown. Unable to secure a much needed payday against then heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko, Holyfield has now thrown his pugilistic purpose into the ambitious world of promotion under the banner of Real Deal Boxing.
With a handful of small cards already under a newly minted promotional belt that includes twenty five fighters under contract, the two-time conqueror of Iron Mike Tyson was in downtown Providence, Rhode Island at The Strand ballroom on the first Friday in December of 2017 to support and promote his once-beaten, former can’t-miss featherweight prospect Toka Kahn, now known as Toka Kahn-Clary, having adopted his adoptive father’s surname.
“I come from the ghetto but when I heard his story,” said mama’s boy Evander of the Peter Manfredo trained 25- year-old southpaw, “I couldn’t believe that his life was harder than mine.”
That’s not fake news. It’s the real deal.
Toka never knew his African birth mother.
His Monrovian father brought him to America twenty years ago but was shot to death when Toka was just a young boy. Orphaned before he was a teenager but adopted by an American couple met through his training at Manfredo’s Gym in Providence, it’s a miracle Toka is where he is today with wife Devanni, their new daughter Adaline—and with a new purpose in his life.
“I’m fighting for my family now.”
Kahn-Clary is a Liberia-born United States citizen currently living in and training out of Providence, R.I. After a decorated amateur run where he won the 2010/11/12 National Golden Glove tournaments, Clary barnstormed to a 19-0 pro record before a 90 second first round KO loss in 2016 at the hands of Filipino Jhon Gemino.
A counter right hand from the journeyman Gemino put Clary down on his back and unable to recover before the count of ten in Kissimmee, Florida—in a Bob Arum promoted Top Rank main event no less. TR soon released Kahn-Clary. Critics immediately labelled Toka chinless.
Or even worse, heartless.
Evander Holyfield sees something else. A kid willing to work. Someone worth taking a risk on. “Toka is a very disciplined person who’s been through a lot in life. He could be our first world champion,” says Holyfield of his upstart fighter and promotional company Real Deal Boxing.
Promotion might seem like a strange fit for “The Real Deal” given that Evander was never one to talk very much during his illustrious Hall of Fame career; Holyfield always finding it better to let his fists do his talking. As a new promoter, Holyfield is willing to offer mentorship and his famous fighting name in exchange for the hard work he expects from the boxers he chooses to sign.
“A big part of me now being a promoter,” Evander says, “is how I can help boxing.” Holyfield sees a void between the wisdom of his ring experiences and the inexperience of those he hopes he can share them with. “The problem with millennials is there’s nobody there to teach them.”
Clary’s outspoken trainer Peter Manfredo Sr. is willing and able to pick up where Evander leaves off, telling me and the un-PC Providence sports media that his fighter wants to be a legend in boxing before he’s all done. Tough Toka talk but Manfredo also sees the big picture. “To make money and be a legend in this game, you have to be able to take people out,” he says. “You knock people out, people are gonna wanna come see you, they’re gonna fear you.”
“I want to be recognized just like Evander after I stop fighting,” eagerly insists Clary. At a Wednesday afternoon press conference during fight week for Clary’s homecoming against undefeated John Vincent Moralde, Holyfield outlined his promotional philosophy:
“I bring a lot to the table but I won’t say I’ll make my fighters champions. I will give them an opportunity to be a champion. I had opportunities and I never quit. If you correct your mistakes, set goals and never quit, you’ll reach that goal. I can give advice because I’ve done it. These fighters need to believe in me but more importantly they need to believe in themselves.”
Moralde didn’t need a famous promoter to make a name for himself in 2015 when he tragically killed Australian Braydon Smith in a ten round bout that saw Smith battered and Moralde leaving without a scratch. Brought in to lose the fight to the hometown Down Under fighter, the Filipino Moralde left the ring with a green WBC title belt while Smith lost his life two days later.
None of that made any difference to Kahn-Clary. In the Real Deal Boxing V main event, Toka stopped the formerly unbeaten Moralde after seven rounds of mostly one-way traffic. Toka started strong behind a busy southpaw jab, keeping most of his follow-up left hands home early. Moralde offered little in the way of resistance and was bruised around the right eye during the first round. Gradually Toka turned up the torque frequency to the body and by the fourth, Moralde was reeling around, missing more than landing but generally not punching at all. After three more rounds of that, Moralde was done on the stool, victim of a sustained body attack.
“Toka made the guy quit,” said Evander.
Kahn-Clary, who weighed in at 125, improved his record to 24-1 (16) while Moralde heads back to General Santos, Philippines with the first loss on his record, falling to 19-1 (10). After the homecoming victory for a minor WBC title, Toka talked about the future. “We ain’t stopping here. We got a new promoter and we’re bringing the world championship home to Providence. I’m ready for anyone at 126 or 130 pounds. Evander fought everybody. I wanna follow that road.”
If he does, it ends in Canastota.
REAL DEAL UNDERCARD RESULTS
Fighting for the first time outside of Italy, cruiserweight southpaw Fabio “Stone Crusher” Turchi, 200, Florence, 13-0 (11), stopped Detroit’s Demetrius Banks, 201, 9-4 (4) in the corner after four rounds. Turchi is one of Holyfield’s key signees. The plan is to ultimately move the cruiserweight bruiser up to heavyweight. “That’s where the money is at,” said Holyfield.
Undefeated featherweight prospect Irvin Gonzalez, 8-0 (7), Worcester, MA, fighting for the first time on live TV and looking to impress Evander Holyfield, scored a crowd pleasing third round knockout of Columbian Marlon Olea, 13-1 (12). Gonzalez trapped his opponent in a neutral corner, uncorked a straight right to the solar plexus—and Olea was down and out at 1:14.
Look for Holyfield to sign Gonzalez.
Popular local junior welterweight Nick DeLomba, 12-2 (2), Cranston, RI, and Luis Cruz, 12-4 (6), Bronx, NY, fought eight honest rounds at close quarters, exchanging hard body punches throughout. DeLomba’s face swelled up early from Cruz’s punches but “Cruz Control” couldn’t match the volume and variety of DeLomba who won a UBF title belt with a unanimous decision by scores of 79-72 and 78-73 twice. Cruz lost a point in the fourth for a borderline low blow.
Junior lightweight Timmy Ramos, 4-0-2 (4), Framingham, MA, drew with Phil Davis, 1-1-1, Worcester, MA, in a scrappy four rounder. Ramos used his size and range while Davis fought like a man looking for a contract with Real Deal Boxing. Scores: 39-37 Ramos and 38-38 twice.
Debuting welterweight Poindexter “Savage” Knight, 1-0 (1), Philadelphia, PA, won his first fight as a professional with Evander Holyfield watching at ringside, pummeling Samuel Forjoe, 0-2, Bronx, NY, with body punches. Referee Danny Schiavone stopped it at 1:03 of the first round.
Flashy junior middleweight Jeremy “J-Flash” Nichols, 8-1-1 (2) Las Vegas, Nevada, decisioned an uninspired Daniel Sostre, 13-16-1 (5) Vega Maja, Puerto Rico, over the six round distance by scores of 60-54 and 59-55 twice. Nichols teed off at will on the very defensively oriented Sostre.
Photo credit: Emily Harney
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