MY daughter, Naieya, has spina bifida. Once I knew I made the [Olympic] team that was just the start of giving her a better life.
Once I knew I had medalled, I knew that I might have a good chance of making things better. But even if I hadn’t won the medal, being a heavyweight means you’re going to be one of the better-paid guys. My daughter’s my motivation. She always will be.
We found out about it before she was born. I was a 19-year-old, in college, playing ball and some people say that when you have kids and they’re not planned, they’re mistakes, but mine was no mistake. Overall, mine was a blessing because I wouldn’t be here talking to you if it weren’t for my little girl.
Every time I fight, when I’m running and training, I think of her because I want her to have a better life than I had. I think about her growing up, paying for school and college so she can be the best she can be.
In the Olympics I carried her picture with me everywhere I went and I looked at it and smiled. Now I have a chain with her name on my chest, so it’s always with me.
So the best fight of my career so far was the first one at the Olympics, believe it or not, when I beat the Algerian [Abdelaziz Touilbini]. Because coming into Beijing I had a specific person – he was well- known but I’m not going to say his name – who said I wasn’t going to do well. I didn’t know if it was because I was from the South or he didn’t like me or whatever. Every time he saw me he had something negative to say about me and he did not think I would do well at all. Even coming up in my journey, making the team, he didn’t think I would make it. So that first fight was like a statement that ‘I am here no matter what you say. I’m not going nowhere.’
I made the team in a year-and-a-half and after just 21 bouts. No one had ever done that, but I tell people to this day I don’t fight from experience or from how many bouts I have had.
I fight from my heart. When you get a man who fights from the heart, great things happen.
I did not feel the more experienced fighters had an edge over me at all because, as I would tell my trainers, they may have had more fights but they had never fought me. They might be champions but they have not experienced a guy that was going to keep coming with power.
It was great in Beijing. I loved every part of it. I was ready, just because of the simple fact I like to prove people wrong. I was pumped. There was TV, this was the Olympics, my people are watching, my country’s watching, all the people are watching, it’s a great opportunity. I thought this could be a great start to my pro career.
When I get nervous before a fight, it’s not because I’m scared – because if I got scared I would not be in this business. When I get nervous it’s because I want to do the right thing. I don’t want to mess up. But once I’ve got through those ropes all that shuts off and I’m a whole different person. I turn into a beast.
I had two emotions when I was on the rostrum. The first was, ‘Man I did it with the least amount of experience and although people dissed me I was the only one of the guys to medal on our great team.’ The second emotion was I wish I had seen that American flag go up more than one time and there were more of my team-mates on the rostrum.