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INTERVIEW: Evan Holyfield going back to basics, won’t let first loss keep him down

Evan Holyfield suffered a big upset loss in May, but says he’ll get back to the grind and show who he really is.

Evan Holyfield won’t let a knockout loss keep him down
Evan Holyfield won’t let a knockout loss keep him down
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
Lewis Watson is a sports writer from London, UK, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He has been a contributor at Bad Left Hook since 2018.

Evan Holyfield still seems shell-shocked following his first professional defeat.

The 24-year-old was ticking along nicely building a winning record in the junior middleweight division, until the unheralded and unexpected right hand of journeyman Jurmain McDonald tore up the script in front of the Inglewood, Calif., crowd on May 14.

“It was a pretty humbling experience for me,” Holyfield, the middle child of Evander Holyfield, told Bad Left Hook following a fortnight of reflection. “There is a big lesson to be had, but the most important thing is what I do next.

“Nobody — including me — really expects this to happen to themselves. It’s not something that you ever want to plan for. But we know we need to tighten up now, you know? Every champion goes through challenges and I am no different.”

After running 9-0 as a professional since his November 2019 debut, “Yung Holy” (9-1, 6 KO) was progressing well in a competitive 154 lb division. Part-time electrician McDonald was never expected to be anything more than another steady notch on the belt of Holyfield, but as he knows all too well in boxing, one punch can change everything.

“It was just a mental lapse to be honest with you, such a simple mistake to make. There is no time to switch off in this sport and I found that out in the worst possible way. You need to be 100 percent focused as to not be found out by a simple A-B-C, 1-2-3 punch like this.

“Keeping your guard up is one of the first things you learn in boxing and that’s where I failed. You’ve got to keep your eye on the ball for the full three minutes or something like this is always going to happen. It’s so basic.”

A blended cocktail of regret and determination seeps from every pore of an emotional Holyfield. His ability to step back from his defeat and judge himself objectively is commendable, but he is also willing to cast doubts over his preparation for his 10th fight.

Training alongside his coach Mike Stafford, Holyfield traveled to the high altitude of Colorado for his latest camp alongside the seasoned Adrien Broner and Rau’shee Warren, playing second fiddle to the training schedules of the former world champions.

He is admirably reluctant to pin-point this as an excuse for his loss inside the Kia Forum, but alludes to the difference in his preparation whilst training alongside such esteemed company for a lengthy camp.

“Listen, it was my first time out in Colorado but I am not going to blame anyone else; I dropped the ball myself,” he explained. “It was a real honor to train alongside someone like Broner, but he is preparing hard for his upcoming date and the schedule was kind of centered around him. You know how it is. Next time I need to concentrate 100 percent on myself.

“But it was great to be alongside Broner and see how hard he trains. I have never seen anyone so dedicated or work so hard, besides my dad. You always want to push through the pain when you’re working hard in camp. You see other fighters hit the wall and you’re still struggling through the pain trying to push out those last few reps. There were times that I struggled to complete the reps and I would look to my left and Adrien is smashing it every single time.

“He would tell me, ‘If you were fighting for millions of dollars and fighting the best of the best, you’d find a way to push through it, too,’ and I knew how valuable that was to learn to always train like everything is on the line.”

“But the first few weeks out in camp were really tough,” he added. “After the first two or three rounds of sparring I was finding it really hard to catch my breath in the altitude. It was really tough to adjust at the start, but by the end of the camp I had acclimatized completely.”

As expected, the shadow of Evan’s father looms large over his life and career. Evan’s face lights up whenever he is able to speak about “Real Deal,” and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the 24-year-old idolizes what his dad was able to achieve inside the ring.

Evan briefly spoke to his dad after the fight, but it wasn’t until a couple of weeks that they could properly go over the defeat in detail once the dust had settled.

“He just wanted to check I was OK, mainly,” he explained. “But after that it was a good conversation. It was real. He told me that losing ain’t nothing bad and it’s now about how I react to this loss, about training harder and smarter next time around. He also told me that a loss can be good in hindsight, as people will now know more about me and who I am.”

It’s a lesson that Evander knows all too well. The elder Holyfield controversially missed out on a shot at the gold medal at the 1984 Olympic Games, following referee Gligorije Novičić’s decision to disqualify him in the semi-final against Kevin Barry.

“If dad hadn’t lost so controversially, then people may not have ever known who he was. That notoriety made him famous. Who knows if he would have been given the same opportunities if that didn’t happen?”

Evan and his team are targeting the rematch with McDonald sometime this summer in an attempt to avenge this solitary loss, and he is confident in his ability to bounce back in style. And the dream of accompanying his dad in the International Boxing Hall of Fame is still his ultimate career goal that keeps burning inside him.

But for now it’s back to basics. Evander may well have solved Evan’s issues growing up with a weighty and respected surname, but now, “Yung Holy” understands that when he enters the ring, he is just another man with two hands and two feet, no matter who graces his corner.

“This will make me so much stronger,” he concludes. “I’m going to walk my own path and see where that takes me.”

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