Growing up in the same neighbourhoods that produced former world champions, Mike Tyson, and Riddick Bowe, was boxing a straightforward career choice for you?
Yes, I can suppose you can say that. I’m from Bedstuy, Brooklyn and I can tell you that growing up there wasn’t easy. The place has changed a whole lot from when I was a young kid just hanging around but back then that was a serious upbringing and you had to be alert at all times in case anything just went off. This one day I stole a bike from another kid and was just riding through the neighbourhood on it when I saw this beautiful blonde girl outside a gym and went over to take a look. Once I was inside then that was that. It was something I enjoyed doing and I quickly became good at it.
Are you aware that it was stolen bicycle that began the boxing career of Muhammad Ali?
(Laughs) Yes, but Ali was getting his bike stolen. I was actually stealing the bike.
Your first mainstream involvement in fighting was forged via kickboxing and you had a successful career that saw you make appearances in the highly regarded K1 Series. Can you tell me about that?
Kickboxing was something I enjoyed but it was always going to be boxing for me because that’s where the money is and I’m determined to reach the high end of the division. I was doing well on the local scene that it led to me being offered $25k to go into K1 and all of a sudden I was fighting guys with serious reputations. It was in Zagreb where I faced “Cro Cop” (Mirko Filipovic, legendary Kickboxer and MMA fighter) and I knew I needed a knockout to win. He was floored with a shot to the chest and they were saying it was a low blow and in the end he took a decision from me that I still laugh about today.
You combined boxing and kickboxing through several portions of your career and also made a big impression when sparring with the Klitschko brothers early on in your professional journey. How was that experience?
The Klitschkos are clever guys as they invite the young, hungry heavyweights over so they can detect who’s going to be strong in years to come. The thing that annoyed me is that I couldn’t spend a full camp with them and have plenty of chances to make an impression and also learn from them. Manny [Steward] would only have me over early in camp when I wasn’t really fit or he’d bring me in towards the end when Wladimir was close to the finished product. They were good hard spars but I definitely made a name for myself because I wobbled Wladimir with this right hand that sent his legs everywhere. It was only sparring but it gave me a ton of confidence to be doing well against the world champion at the time.
The current climate at heavyweight is dominated by Brits with Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua holding portions of the gold. What’s your assessment of both?
Tyson is the main man but I do think he’s a little clumsy and makes mistakes but he’s tough, can adjust and certainly knows how to fight. We’ve sparred together early in his career but nowhere near enough for me to make a full judgement on him. I’m convinced Joshua has no chin and I think it’s only a matter of time before the whole world sees that too. His hand speed is really good and he’s got a good look but I don’t think he’s a real person and everything he says or does seems forced and looks like he’s not being himself. I’m informed he’s a big deal in the UK at the moment but he isn’t himself. You’ve got to be real. Be a real model, not a role model.
With both Fury and Joshua in big fights is a scouting mission to the UK something you are planning?
That would be good and maybe it’s something me and the team could look into because the UK has a lot of appeal for me away from Joshua and Fury because I think me and Dereck Chisora would be one hell of a fight.
I would absolutely love it for Joshua to talk that talk to me because I would straight up get in his face and show him what I’m about. There’s not many more things dangerous than a m**********r from Brooklyn and you’ll see that whenever I get in the ring. This division is lacking real animals but that’s exactly what I am and if I ever do fail, I’ll make sure I gave everything before going down. There are not enough heavyweights prepared to do that.
This article was originally published in Boxing News magazine