Evander Holyfield didn’t pull any punches while talking to the students at Mansfield’s Alternative Education Center on April 14.
The five-time world champion heavyweight boxer shared his mother’s hard-hitting words of wisdom.
“My mama taught me three things: listen, follow direction and don’t quit,” Holyfield said.
“I am who I am because of my mother,” he said. “My mother didn’t even like boxing. She just didn’t want me to quit. Because my mama didn’t give me excuses, I became successful. I had to do everything. She said the second time will always be harder, so do it right the first time.”
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Holyfield, who was the youngest of nine children, started going to the Boys Club in Atlanta when he was 6, walking two miles each way. When he was 8 years old, he saw his first punching bag and liked the way it sounded when it was hit, he said.
Still, he had to ask the coach five times before he was allowed to box on the Boys Club team. When he finally got to hit the heavy body bag, his hands started to bleed, but he wouldn’t stop.
His coach noticed and told him he was tough, maybe as tough as Muhammed Ali.
“All my life, people told me I couldn’t be nothing, I couldn’t go anywhere, that I would be a statistic," he said. “I didn’t know what a statistic was. Here was this white man telling me I can be like Muhammed Ali, it was almost like he was trying to fool me.”
Holyfield went home to ask his mom if he could grow up to be like Ali. His mother didn’t know heavyweight champ.
“What does he do?” she asked. “I said ‘he’s the champ.’ She said there’s a price you have to pay. I said ‘Aw, man, I don’t have no money.’ She said, ‘No, you’re going to have to get hit.’
“That was OK, I got three whoopings a day,” Holyfield said.
He went back to the Boys Club and told his coach that he was going to be the heavyweight champion of the world.
“Is this a goal or a fantasy?” his coach asked. “A goal is when you want something and you work for it. A fantasy is when you want to do something and not work for it.”
In his Holyfield’s first fight, the coach told him to run out and hit the other boy on the nose. The other boy’s coach told him the same thing, but the other boy closed his eyes right before he swung, and Holyfield popped him in the nose. He won that fight and all that followed for the next three years, he said. He went on to amass a 165-11 record, take the National Gold Gloves title, win a bronze medal at the 1984 Olympic games and earn the world champion belt five times.
“Life is not going to let you win,” his mother told him. “I care what kind of man you will be, not what kind of child. They will put you in jail if you don’t have self-discipline.”
Charles Caldwell mentors at the high school for students with behavior problems or students who need an alternative schedule to earn a high school degree, and asked Holyfield to speak at the school.
“I guarantee he will influence a lot of kids’ lives,” Caldwell said. “The reason they call him The Real Deal is because he’s sincere about what he’s saying. Him being here shows that he is real.”
The teens sat quietly and listened to Holyfield’s 20-minute speech.
“I think more important than the fame is the humility that he portrays,” said Eric Petry, president of the Mansfield Minority Chamber. “I hope that comes across.”
AEC Principal Regina Crane says it’s important for the students to know they are important.
“I believe in speaking life into our kids,” Crane said. “They can see someone who has been in a place he’s been, uplift them and let them know they have worth. Academics will come, first they need to know their worth.”
Holyfield, who retired from the ring in 2014, did have some insight into the next big fight, the welterweight champion battle between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao on May 2.
“Mayweather is going to have to knock him out,” Holyfield said. “They don’t like to let the champ walk away. I wanted to retire as the undisputed champion. But no, I fought Lennox Lewis. Everybody knows I won that fight.”
And Holyfield also shared what really happened in his most infamous fight, when Mike Tyson bit his right ear in 1996.
“Mike knew he was fixing to lose,” said Holyfield, who had beaten Tyson in their first meeting. “He bit me the first time and they told him, ‘if you bite him again, you’re out of here.’ He bit me again.”
Holyfield and Tyson are on good terms now, he said.
Amanda Rogers, 817-473-4451