African business, politics and lifestyle
“So, how’s that ear coming along?”
Journalists covering African countries rarely get involved in the sort of celebrity circus so common for those working elsewhere. But the Ethiopian presspack got a window into a different world when boxing legend Evander Holyfield rolled into Addis Ababa.
Decked out in a green safari suit and propping up the bar in one of the city’s plusher hotels the four-time heavyweight world champion happily posed for photos with locals and was the focus of attention for a gaggle of Ethiopia’s famously beautiful women.
The 46-year-old – who recently came out of retirement amid rumours of financial trouble – says he’s in Africa to fight a benefit bout to raise money for HIV/AIDS charities.
“If we don’t find a cure to this, we’ll be extinct,” he said.
Holyfield — remembered for having part of his ear bitten off in a 1997 fight with Mike Tyson — also told us he was planning yet another shot at the world title in September.
His opponent, little-known Ethiopian-born American Sammy Retta, stayed silent for most of the press conference but compared the fight to the famous 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.
The comparison seems a bit of a stretch. This match won’t even be on television and instead will only be available online.
Africa’s second most populous country has more than 1.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS and, as one of the world’s poorest countries, certainly needs the help.
But the financial details remain sketchy. Neither the American nor the Ethiopian organisers said they knew how much it was going to cost, exactly how much was going to be raised for chaity or even how much the boxers were going to be paid.
“We’ll raise five million dollars,” said one organiser. Then, after a pause: “Ten million.”
“As it’s for charity, will you be fighting for free?” I asked.
Holyfield’s gaze remained steady as promoter Everton Boland — flamoboyantly dressed in an electric blue suit and wraparound shades — took it upon himself to answer.
“Ain’t no boxer fighting for free,” he said and then collapsed into chuckles.
One Ethiopian journalist then asked the question that scared everyone else.
“So,” he asked, standing perilously within arm’s reach of the champ.
“How’s that ear coming along?”
Holyfield considered him silently, his left eyebrow beginning to raise ever so slightly.
“Well he heard your question, didn’t he!” shouted Boland and fell about laughing again.
The fight takes place on July 26.