There was a ripple of excitement when the champ walked into the Said Airlines Club in Jeddah where this week’s open workout was held, but it was not Oleksandr Usyk or Anthony Joshua that were making people turn their heads, but Evander Holyfield.
The legendary former world cruiserweight and multiple heavyweight champion is a guest of the promotion and Joshua effectively ended his workout to greet him, while Eddie Hearn broke off from an interview to have a selfie with the former champion.
Usyk is the man following in Holyfield’s footsteps, having stepped up from cruiserweight to win the world heavyweight title, while Joshua is trying become a three-time heavyweight champion – Holyfield is the only four-time champion.
And Holyfield is far from certain who will win, although he believes Joshua needs to change his style from the first fight is he is to get his belts back.
“It may not be as simple as being more aggressive, but if they don’t do that, the chances are it ain’t going to happen for him,” Holyfield said.
“When I moved up to heavyweight, I knew I would get hit by bigger shots, but the art of the game is not to get hit. Every fighter should know the art of the game is not to get hit.
“There are two fights, there’s a little man’s fight and a big man’s fight and so which fight they fight will determine who wins.
“Each individual has to ask themselves to understand what they did wrong and can they correct it. If I lost a fight, I would ask myself what did I do wrong? I’m going to figure out what happened otherwise you won’t be able to change it.
“The truth is you are accountable for what you did and don’t blame it on something someone else made me do.
“[Joshua] has got to learn from his mistakes. Look at what he did wrong and fix it.”
But he also believes it is down to him to fix what went wrong and not rely on outside voices.
“All fights are hard, but you don’t forget what you did the first time to get there,” Holyfield said.
“He’s got to realize that anybody can say anything until they get in that ring. They will say ‘you should have done this or that’, but they don’t necessarily know.
“Is he conscious of that? The whole big thing is, he’s got to ask the people who know, who fight.
“I became real good as a boxer because my mama didn’t know about anything about boxing, but my mama knew which questions to ask, like what do you do under pressure?”
Joshua had a brief chat with Holyfield on Tuesday at the open workout in Jeddah but he says he has asked his advice before, when he beat Wladimir Klitschko.
“My whole thing is be quiet, and if they want to talk with me and ask me real questions, I’ll answer them, but I’m not going to say anything,” Holyfield said. “I remember when he fought Klitschko, he saw me and he came down and he asked me a question.
“He said ‘look man, give me something’ and I said ‘give you what?’ He said ‘look man, tell me something’.
“I said ‘be first’. He was first and won the fight. I’ve come to see a good fight, both the guys are good fighters, and someone is going to win. Everybody wants to know who do I think will win and I won’t know until the referee raises their hand.”
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 – covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.