I was able to spend three days with Evander Holyfield earlier this year in Tampa during the Super Bowl. I was amazed at all of the stories he had to tell, and all of the many variables in his personal brand. Later, we sat down so I could get the full details on how he has been so successful and how he has managed his brand along the way. His faith, perseverance, and up-bringing helped shape his brand and provide guidance through a rollercoaster of a professional career, and the following interview shares some great insight on the life of Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield.
What does the ‘Evander Holyfield’ brand represent?
I would say personally my brand represents something that’s strong and everlasting. That’s what life is all about. It’s strong, and it’s consistent.
How did your personal brand transform as a result of the fight with Mike Tyson, A.K.A. the Bite Fight?
It’s proven the fact when I went into the fight people tend to look at a person with integrity and somehow people think integrity is really weak when it’s tested. The bad person always wins cause he does something bad, meaning he cheats or takes advantage or something like that.
But in the Bite Fight even though people looked at the point that I got my ear bit and it was a kind of savage situation, they forget the point is that I forgave him. I forgave him and was able to move on because I didn’t have hatred within me and I didn’t feel like I had to get him back because he bit my ear off. I didn’t feel embarrassed about the situation.
On a consistent basis I was always letting everybody know that I forgave him and I moved on. And in my life, it actually kind of got better for me. I had a group of people come to New York and I just happened to be there that time. They were Muslim and they asked me “how can you forgive someone who just rightly just bit you ear and bit it on purpose?” I said that’s what forgiveness is all about because if you forgive then you save the world.
Different races of people have taken advantage of each other at some point in time. If nobody forgives then this world will be over because everybody would kill everybody. Everyone has some reason why somebody did something wrong to them at some point in time.
What does a four-time heavyweight champion do to get to the next level? What is the next level?
The next level is to be the heavy weight champion of the world again. What makes it incredible is that people think that everybody at a point in time has a limit to where they can go to the next level. Somehow people make it seem like it’s a sentence to get older. But I believe in the word of God and the word of God says the older you get that means the wiser you’ve got to be. So you have to do something right.
I take care of my body, because I believe this will allow me to have a great chance at becoming a five-time heavyweight champ of the world. Then, people will start listening to you – they’ll realize that it’s not like somebody invented but that knowledge is power. But when people say knowledge is power they get the wrong concept. They think it means what you know, when really it’s how you apply what you know. That is the power.
If you don’t apply it then it’s not power. To apply is always a more difficult challenge than just to possess that knowledge.
You are named The Real Deal – what does it take to be the real deal and how do you maintain that image of one of the strongest fighters in history?
You’ve got to always forgive, that’s one thing, and you’ve always got to make adjustments. To actually be the “real deal” means that you have to understand the people you’re going to meet during your career. You’re going be tried and tested by people and what people say and what people think and what people do. This is something that a lot of times people kind of fail in the test.
In becoming the very best boxer, I didn’t sign for a package to put up with this but these are the things that come with being successful. You’re popular, everybody wants a piece of you, and everybody has an opinion. Nobody has to give you anything – people just have to give you credit for being the very best. Once you become the very best, all of a sudden you’ve got people coming up to you for whatever reason they want. You’ve got a thousand people and everybody asks the same questions they’ve heard the answer to, but they still ask. What makes them think you’re going give them a different answer?
But this is what happens, and you’re not supposed to get frustrated. It’s a whole totally different world in being able to deal with people and you’ve got to be a people person. Being the “real deal” is being a people person, being able to deal with people for who they are not who you want them to be.
Name three things every Pro athlete should be doing to shape their personal brand to help increase their chances of success in the future.
I think that’s a loaded question. You’ve got to ask yourself what do you have faith in. People become who they are because they have faith in something. The whole thing is with me, personally, that I have faith in what the word of God says. Now that works for me and there’s a lot of other people who have faith in something else and its gotten them to a certain point.
But what I know is that you’ve got to have something more important than you. You are only human and at some point you’re going to hit the wall. So when you hit the wall, what do you do? When I turned pro I went eight years undefeated. The first time I lost, it was a shock. I didn’t think anybody in the world, no other human being, could whip me. But that was proven wrong to me and for me it took prayer. And the only thing that the prayer did was to help me get over the fear, the fear of this happening again.
Good and bad is going to happen to everyone. Regardless of whatever your skin color is, how tall you are how short you are, who your mommy is, who your daddy is, whatever community you came from, something bad is going to happen to everybody at some point. Whoever is able to deal with that reality, to overcome it and say, “You know what? I will not quit, I have set a goal and every goal I have ever set in my life I have reached because I didn’t quit.” And that’s it. You don’t quit, you make adjustments.
And for me, the most important thing I’ve realized there’s nothing on this earth that hasn’t been done before so I’m not the only person it happened to. I’m just one of the many that’s got to go through this trial to get to the next level. And this is how it works for successful people.
Major corporations like Coca Cola have endorsed you. What types of people get to be endorsed by large companies like that?
The difference is corporations are only looking at their image and they know their image is people. Some of the little basic things is that you have to be on time. There’s a lot of athletes thinking that cause they’re some big athlete they don’t have to be on time. Some people let you slide by but then all of a sudden when it comes down to it, there are times when it’s important.
Successful people are going to be on time cause they don’t want to miss out and they’re not going to have to wait until somebody else tells them what happens because they weren’t there. These were things that I was taught as a kid, that you be on time, you look people in the eye, you are respectful to people and their opinions, you don’t just open your mouth and blurt your opinion without thinking.
If someone asks you your opinion you can give them your opinion but you just don’t blurt out because you feel like saying something. These are the things that I would call common sense. You don’t just say everything that you feel. You’ve got to understand what’s you position in this thing, is it your company, of course if its your company you say what you want to say but its not your company. So you look to the leader, let the leader be the leader. If he allows you to chime in to say something, you know this is just a big part of life. You’ve got to say, “you know I’m the man of my own house and I say what I want to say”. But even then I’ve got to put the governor on my steps because I don’t know everything.
You know as a leader you’re always the last one to speak so you let everyone speak first and then you know how to touch the whole situation. Because it’s my house I can say what I want to say, when I want to say it.
At the same time, you want to have all the information that’s necessary to run that house properly. It’s the same thing as being with a big company, when they bring you in, you sit here and you just listen. Then when they ask you to talk and they see how well versed that you are to be able to meet the needs of people, then you become an asset to the company. All of a sudden, you don’t have to ask them if you come to an event.
Other people get to talking and say, “WOW, man I really miss that Holyfield, oh he takes pictures with everybody, that’s a nice guy”, and all this and all of a sudden, you’re back again. You’re back again. You start making money because the fact is you’ve carried yourself real well in front of these people and they realize you know when to speak and when not to speak.
Do you try to portray a particular message to fans? Or do you just perform as an athlete and let that speak for itself?
I go out and perform and try to articulate afterwards. When I first started boxing I was just so much better than my opponents, sometimes I didn’t even get touched. And as I become the champion then all of a sudden they became more difficult.
When I first started boxing I looked bigger than my opponent, then all of a sudden my opponent became bigger than me and all of a sudden after that they became very large. At first I wasn’t getting hit, then all of a sudden I got hit with the big boys. If it wasn’t tough then why would you have to do it because you’re not going to do nothing anyways. A big part of life is the suffering and the things that you have to go through. It’s easy to have faith in something that you can do but do you have faith that’s going to something that everybody is telling you that you’re not going to win.
Like with the Mike Tyson fight, I had so many people overwhelming me saying Mike Tyson was going to hurt me. This is what faith is all about. It’s a mountain, but can you move that mountain? A person has to have faith to move the mountain to get to that other side that he needs to get through. We live in an incredible society, all the things that people said couldn’t happen we Americans are people who have done it because of faith! If you don’t quit you have reached your destination through my ability to perform and the different challenges I’ve had.
When I got out of the Olympics at 21 I couldn’t believe that I was going to lose a match. Then one day, I was going to appreciate all the setbacks that I had because I didn’t understand that setbacks really do pave the way for a comeback. It shows you how good you are because you were able to get knocked off the throne, realize how you got knocked off, how to get back on and to win it again.
Like today, I’m the only guy in the world that’s ever been heavyweight champion of the world four times. It may not mean anything to other people, but when people get to understanding to do that four times you have to go back to the drawing board and make a lot of different choices, and its not like you’ve gotten younger but you got wiser.
When a person becomes wiser and smarter and makes good choices, they can see and do the things they used to do when they were young with all the natural energy, force, and power.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of my mother because with her circumstances she was able to raise a man like me. You become who you are because of somebody else, not based on what you’ve done.
As a kid being raised in the neighborhood that I was raised in, being the skin color that I was, and my size, it was overwhelming hearing people say that I wasn’t going be anything. You aren’t the right color, you aren’t the right size, you aren’t coming from the right family, your family’s not educated and all this. I had all these strikes against me. My mother didn’t quit, even when she had me at the age of 35 and I was the youngest at 9. She had seen success in none of them but she didn’t quit on me when she could have. She said eight of them didn’t work what makes you think the ninth will? But she applied to work and she led me down that field of life.
There wasn’t no hope and it came out all the hope and I became who I am. So it would be foolish of me to say how great I am when I know that I had a mother who instilled the word of God and said this is how you go regardless of what you go through. You always believe in this and this is what’s going to set you free. You’ve got to remember you will get free if you don’t forget about everyone else and not tell them how you got there.
My testimony is I had a mother who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and told me to not ever forget this because I’m not the only one. Everybody can’t choose their start but they can choose their ending. What you want to do is end up with the man who made everything. So that’s my glorious moment in time. I would at one point in time say that I had a mother that was so great.
Despite a 6th grade education, having nine kids from five different men, she didn’t quit. My success is built upon somebody else – my mother. During the past road she didn’t quit, so because she didn’t quit she had a son like me, and she didn’t quit on me.
Do you have a role model? Who is it?
My mother passed in 1996 but I use her as my role model. I continue to look up to her today as the word of God. I continue to pray and continue to try to get to walk in the way that the lord says I need to walk. You have a lifetime to try to do that. As long as I continue to do that I know that peace is going to always be there with me.
Evander is one of the biggest names in the sports industry. His story is unique and is the reason why he’s able to craft his own personal brand. He works with our featured writer Ben Sturner at Leverage Agency .
Image by EvanderHolyfield.com