I AM proud to be a boxer. I am proud of my vocation and the way I was brought up to conduct myself. Even with all of the tragedy that sometimes comes with it, boxing is still the truest sport where you can witness the extent of what human beings can do. In order to beat Nigel Benn I had to be meticulous in every single thing I did. Every step I took on my ascent to the top was a meticulous one. I wasn’t trying to get under Nigel Benn’s skin in the build-up, I was just being what I was supposed to be. I was behaving like a gentleman and to understand that, you must look at the word gentleman, as it is profoundly deep. Maybe I was not behaving as you’d expect a fighter to behave in those situations. Unlike so many, I am not governed by the opinions of others.
I was not trying to antagonise for the sake of impressing. Always be true to yourself. You should always be polite and well-mannered, but at the same time be objective to how others are talking to you and treating you. If you’re telling me that I’m fake, then I have to respond.
I didn’t get and I still don’t get why people don’t understand me and call me ‘fake’. If you go back and look at everything that I did, and what that achieved, wouldn’t you go back and do it the same way? Even when I had people threatening me and telling me I was behaving like a clown, I behaved correctly at all times.
Nigel wasn’t just threatening, he was terrifying. He is the most terrifying man I have ever met. How do you hold your dignity in that situation? How do you retain your poise when you’re confronted with a person whose spirit is so ferocious? I dealt with it the best way I could without damaging the person that I was, that I still am, and have always been. If I failed to do that, well, no one is perfect. But I was always trying to be the gentleman. As a man, you should never lose that essence of decency.
I was terrified before the fight. I was petrified. I was always in fear. When boxers speak of this fearlessness, I don’t get that. Because that means you don’t have a human being inside of you. Without that terror, I couldn’t have won. I was supposed to be terrified. I was fighting Nigel Benn! If you’re not terrified of that then you’re an idiot. I trusted in the craft and the art. I trusted in integrity and justice. It was not about being tough, it was about learning the game. It’s not about being ‘hard’. I didn’t have to be hard to beat Nigel Benn, I had to be a better craftsman.
Nigel was a demon; I could clearly see that and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. I mean that he was bringing that level of force into battle. It was real, it was cold, it was cruel and unforgiving, and he would use it to crush you. But you can’t beat me simply because you’re angry. To win this fight, I had to be a gentleman as anger clouds one’s judgement. I was duty-bound to be chivalrous.
I did not sense Nigel weakening in the fight. I am in battle. When you’re in battle you’re intoxicated by it. After three rounds I went into automatic pilot because the pressure he used during those opening nine minutes was too intense. I said to myself after three rounds, ‘If he keeps up this pace, he is going to stop me.’ In the fourth round I caught him but it was all instinct at that point. Instinct is your spirit. It’s your core. It is no longer a case of planning and thinking about each punch. It comes automatically in order to survive. Nigel says he was fighting at that point not to lose, but I was fighting not to get stopped.
I had to hold on. I had to persevere. I had to win the hearts of the people. It looks like we’re fighting for the belt because with that belt comes money, but before all that, you’re fighting to win the hearts of the people. Because what we do is extraordinary, and especially when executed like a gentleman.