First I want to thank Main Events and Donald Tremblay
for their help in setting up this interview. They are by far the
most timely and accommodating of the promotional companies
we at Boxing Wise have dealt with so far.
When Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis meet to unify the
heavyweight title March 13, boxing fans receive a long-deserved
blessing and will witness the restoration of the biggest title
in sport. In the future that champion will be confronted with a
long line of tough contenders and of course, Mike Tyson. But
with Evander Holyfield (36) and Lewis (33) this may well be the
last stretch in the road rather than the next stage of their
Enter Michael Grant. Trained by the red-hot Don Turner,
Grant is good friends with Holyfield and is improving with each
fight. Leading a pack of serious contenders and hot prospects
in the division, Grant emerged as a big-time possibility in
1998 with decisive knockouts of David Izon and Obed Sullivan.
Izon and Sullivan are both respected heavyweights, and were the
kind of quality opposition necessary for Grant to distinguish
himself from other young contenders like Ike Ibeabuchi, Chris
Byrd, and David Tua. Such recognition could prove critical as
Holyfield, Lewis, and Tyson retire, and the public looks to
new stars to carry boxing's flagship division.
Standing 6'7, 255 lbs, Grant was a three-sport star while
growing up on Chicago's South Side, was all-city basketball,
and his 90-mph fastball got him Major League looks. But the
spark that drove him to box flared November 13, 1992, watching
Riddick Bowe brawl to a decision win over Holyfield. Grant
threw himself into boxing, and after a brief amateur career,
he has built a record of 28-0 (20 knockouts). Powerful and
physically imposing, he displays a patient style, picking his
spots and stringing together good combinations, particularly
when finishing a hurt foe. In this interview with Boxing
Wise's Jason Probst, he eyes the final steps to the
heavyweight crown with a mixture of humility and frankness.
JP: With your win over Obed Sullivan, you put yourself in position to take the next step up in the heavyweight division. Afterward in your HBO interview you said that there's no rush for you. But your progress has been quicker than expected. Is your management team still going to take their time with you? Michael Grant: Well, my progress.....it helps out being an athletic person, which is my background. What can I say about that? Having one of the best trainers in the game that's willing to take time with you, early in the beginning stage of my career, which he was there. He came in right at the beginning and we've just been in the gym trying to get one thing at a time established. And what happens is that it all comes up at the end. Especially at important moments, as well as the David Izon fight and the Obed Sullivan fight. I always knew that I would not be defeated by these guys. I just basically was wondering how it was going to turn out. I knew I wasn't going to lose, but how was my performance going to develop in the ring? Can I transfer this technical work into the ring? Basically, under pressure I do well. I think smart, I learn to protect myself, and do what I can. A lot of that came through my lifestyle of living, coming up playing all sports. Being put on the spot by being the man on the team, and taking control. JP: So you were the go-to guy? Michael Grant: Right. Because when they looked at me in the other sports, they give it to the big man. In basketball, maybe because I was a dominant forward, so they look at me as far as "Mike can get it done for us." In baseball I used to get called in for relief pitching. Get us out of here. So basically handling pressure wasn't nothing for me. You could call me up today to sing on a microphone in front of a lot of people, I'll do it. I may be nervous, but at the time I'm doing it, it'll be done. JP: Boxing is unique from other sports in that there's physical punishment involved. David Izon is a pretty good puncher and hit you with good shots, but didn't budge you. Was there a time that, as a boxer, you wondered "Can I take this?" When did you find out you could? Michael Grant: I've got a few of those sessions that occurred in my amateur career and my professional career. In my professional career it would have to be in training. Because the actual fight, it's not such a big thing. It's the training that's the hardest. You go 8-10 rounds in sparring, and you come in there with new, fresh guys. So what you do is build the body up, in a form of protection, defending yourself and learning the new techniques your trainer taught you. Basically I pretty much knew I was concreting, but still learning. Concreting but still learning that I can do this, in my amateur career, and also when I was pro, during the training as pro. Because I had tough sparring guys. JP: Who were some of those guys they threw you in against and who did you learn a lot from? Michael Grant: It was one puncher that I was thinking about. He was a puncher and just had me thinkin' a lot and I was taking a lot of his shots. His name was Gerald Nobles. He hasn't hit the marketability side yet on boxing, but as a matter of fact, he's going to sign on with us. He's looking to get moved right now. He's like 15-0 with 14 knockouts. He's a good puncher and he takes a good punch, too. JP: In the Obed Sullivan fight you abandoned your jab, yet won impressively. What are you doing in the gym so it will be working for you the next time out? Michael Grant: If you look at the difference, my jab in the Izon fight was dominant. Also, comparing it to my jab in the Obed fight, you would think it was just a little bit lackluster. Basically (during) the camp of Obed Sullivan I was learning other techniques. I had it in my head to try and transmit that over to the ring in training. I was doing special tactics, moves. Like basic boxing, doing the natural turning, pivots, spin the guy, stepping to the side. I did it in some of my earlier fights in my career, but this was natural. This wasn't out of training. I was turning and pivoting because I'd seen the opposition there and it felt good to me at that time so I did it. But now my trainer is coming to me (saying) "we need to get back on to this" because it's part of boxing. Heavyweights don't do it! Let's do what heavyweights don't do. Let's take it to that level. Everybody sees you as a big guy, they expect big right hands and a powerful person. But let's show them the other side the flexibility, the movement. The fast jab, the turning to the side, the pivoting. JP: You could see how Holyfield used that against Tyson, by walking him down, using angles to move Tyson around without getting hit. Michael Grant: Right. JP: Joe Louis and Billy Conn were good friends and fought twice. Joe Frazier and Ken Norton were friends that worked together in the gym, as you and Evander do, but they never fought. Is that a subject you can talk about with him? Michael Grant: I set my mind a while back that it'll never happen between Evander and I. And pretty much Evander said he didn't mind that it would never happen. It's something he don't want and it's something that I don't want either. It came up a number of times, and Evander and I, we just try and put it past us. The word is out that, basically, people are saying that there's no doubt that I should be the next guy in line to challenge after Lewis-Holyfield. You know who told me that? Harold Lederman. He said I should be the next in line for the winner. JP: How did you feel about him telling you that? Michael Grant: I wasn't shocked, but I was maybe a little receptive to what he said. And I was like, "Hmmm"? I never really thought about it, me being the runner-up to that. I always looked to somebody else being the runner-up to that. But when Harold said I should be the runner-up, it was like, "Yeah!" JP: Boxing fans on Internet chat rooms feel you're next too, after Lewis-Holyfield. After them there might be Tyson, but who knows how long that will last. Would that be a situation where you'll wait another year, or year and a half, fight more guys like Obed Sullivan, and get added experience? Michael Grant: No, I don't want to stretch it that long. Everybody has a timetable in this sport. You could be 28 years old in this sport and be old. JP: Mike Tyson. Michael Grant: Exactly. It may just come to the point where Evander maybe has to say, "We're gonna have to call it quits." If it comes to that, I'll fly out and meet with Evander and say, "Listen, this is what we've gotta do." Something will be done in that regards. It'd be a fork in my career. And the thing about this game is to make the money while you can, and get out of the sport. Don't live in this sport, be in this sport. That's the trick to it. It's probably the other side compared to Evander, because he's been living in the sport. He's been there forever. My whole thing is, I don't want to live in this sport. I want to be in this sport, win at boxing. JP: Ideally, if everything goes right for you, what happens in the next 3-4 years? Michael Grant: I'm signing a contract. I haven't signed yet, but it'll probably be cut within a week, week and a half. A five-fight deal with HBO. And that' going to stretch for about a year and a half. A year and a half from now, I don't know what network will pick me up. I may just be a pay-per-view person. But right now I can speak in terms of a year and a half. As far as the network, it's going to be with HBO, a five-fight deal. A championship bout may come about in my third fight. We're looking for a positioning right now. That's basically how that's gonna go. But my timetable is 30. I'm 26 now. JP: You want to get out by 30? Michael Grant: Yeah. JP: Do you ever consider fighting one of the other top contenders, like Ike Ibeabuchi or David Tua, to speed up getting a title shot? Michael Grant: I never really thought about those options. I never thought about Izon or Obed Sullivan. My whole thing is that I fight. I'm a fighter, this is who I am. I'm gonna fight no matter who it is. A lot of times there's not enough budget to supply the fighters. I'm probably at a set standard fee, being an HBO fighter, for a certain number. The opponent will probably want the same. Which is not there for 'em. So what ends up happening? The fights don't happen because the money is not there. JP: Fans have divided opinions over Chris Byrd. What do make of him, as a boxer and as a future opponent? Michael Grant: To be heavyweight, in those terms, I think Chris doing pretty well. He's basically not an attracting fighter. To talk about his style, he's a southpaw, so he definitely can box. He's a technician and I think he's smart fighter. JP: At 255 pounds, how are you going to make your size work for you? Michael Grant: My height and my size, it's an effective thing working. I'm moving forward, 255 pounds, and throwing big punches, that's a lot of weight coming. With the height differences their punches are going to be reaching punches. That takes a lot out of them. They're trying to hit you which is an extra effort coming up there. JP: What's sparring with Holyfield like? Michael Grant: It's been the same. I feel as confident sparring with Evander as sparring with any other heavyweight. I didn't go in with expectations, just with the simple mind to get the best out of my workout and learn. Like I learn with every other one. JP: Let's look to 1999. If Evander beats Lewis and unifies the titles in March, he'll have a mandatory defense and probably a match against Tyson. This means you have at least a year to wait for a title shot. Is your management team going to try and get you in the public eye and build the hype around you? Michael Grant: I think it's going to be built a lot around marketing and advertising. But if I wanted to pick out specific fighters, it'd be Lennox. I've wanted to fight Lennox since '97. I had a dream that I was going to fight Lennox, and that's the fight I want to have. JP: How do you fight a Lennox Lewis? Michael Grant: You take it to him. He's an experienced guy, but he doesn't use it. I don't know what's going on with that, but he doesn't use his experience. JP: Do you think he depends on his punch too much? Michael Grant: I think he does depend on his punch. He doesn't try and set a guy up. He's trying to knock guys out with one punch and stuff instead of jabbing a guy and opening up the stomach. JP: How do you see Holyfield-Lewis? Michael Grant: I pretty much figure that Evander will probably beat him. The only thing I can say that's an advantage that Lennox has in this fight is the problem Evander has. It's tough for Evander to fight big guys. It's very difficult and leads to frustration. JP: You take part in church activities, particularly music. Tell us about that. Michael Grant: I played drums, piano, and sung in the choir. I was raised in the church, back home in Chicago. I always the kept the ivories in my head and the piano thing going in my life. I play by ear and do what I can. JP: Chicago is a great music town, especially with the South Side giving people great bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Little Walter. What kind of music do you like? Michael Grant: I like blues, R&B, gospel. A little classical now and then, if I can feel it. JP: After you're done with boxing what do you want to set your mind to? Michael Grant: I've said a number of times that I'd like go to play another sport, just to get it done. Accomplished. JP: Which one? Michael Grant: I've been thinking about football. But it could be baseball, or basketball. I guess the reason I was thinking about the NBA it that they're getting kind of desperate! (laughs) JP: When it's all said and done, what do want them to say about you? MG: I want them to feel confident about Michael Grant. You know how you feel about Bill Cosby? That's how I want them to feel about Michael Grant. Basically that he's a God-fearing person and that his heart was always in right place for the right things. That he helped out where he'd been. I don't want to be put on a pedestal when I don't think I should be. I don't people to have a false image. And I like to bring the best out in kids. I like to see them form and progress. I want the best to happen for every individual with what they have. To see more of Jason Probst work please visit The Judges section.