Michael Moorer on Manny Steward’s death, fighting Cooper, Foreman and Holyfield and his legacy
By Michael J Jones
I recently had the great pleasure of speaking to former light-heavyweight and heavyweight champion Michael Moorer about his drama-packed career which spanned some twenty years.
Developed in the legendary Kronk gym alongside some legendary fighters, the young Pennsylvanian southpaw was matched tough from the off and within eight short months from turning pro, was the WBO light-heavyweight champion of the world. The young champion was a devastating puncher at the weight and, in just two years, had demolished nine title challengers via the short route.
After going a perfect 24-0 (24) at 175lbs, the weight-weakened fighter would then jump to heavyweight to start a fresh campaign. To emphasis Moorer’s previous struggles with making weight; his heavyweight debut saw him scale 38lbs heavier than his previous contest.
All went extremely well for the undefeated puncher as he claimed the WBO belt with an exciting stoppage of Bert Cooper before edging Evander Holyfield for the WBA and IBF titles two years later. The new champion made history that night, becoming the first southpaw to become world heavyweight champion. He was also only the third man ever to win both a version of the light-heavy and heavyweight titles.
At 26-years-old, undefeated and the heavyweight champion; the world seemed at Michael’s feet. Boxing is rarely that straight-forward though and, just seven months after dethroning Holyfield, Moorer was shockingly halted in ten rounds by 45-year-old Texan George Foreman.
The beaten fighter was never quite the same again, though did reclaim the IBF belt some two years after his first loss. After suffering his second reverse in a unification bout with in-form Evander Holyfield, Moorer fought sporadically for the remainder of his career. He retired in 2008 with a still-impressive 52-4-1 (40) record after winning his last six contests.
Michael Moorer was reputed to be a dark, moody figure in his younger days but he seems a much more laid-back character in recent years. With a successful private investigating/body-guarding business and also training young fighters, the former four-time champion is keeping busy in retirement from the ring. Michael is also a supporter to ‘Find a dream’; a charity organisation that helps troubled young people through boxing and training.
Here’s what the 45-year-old had to say-
LF) You’ve been retired for four years now; what have you been working on in that time?
MM) While I was still boxing I started my own private investigating company and also got qualified in security and carrying arms. I started a company in Florida but I’m hoping to start another in Pennsylvania soon. I also train some fighters.
LF) Your former trainer Emmanuel Steward has just sadly lost his battle with cancer. Had you kept in touch over the years?
MM) Yeah I spoke to him from time to time but, over the years, we’d both branched out into our own things. He did training and commentating and I was busy starting up my business so we never saw much of each other. I do believe that the sport has lost one of its icon’s, he was a legendary trainer who I always called ‘Pops’. He treated me like a son; he treated all of his fighters the same way. When I first turned pro I even lived in his basement we were very close then.
LF) You turned pro in March 88’ and in only eight months were fighting for your first world title. It’s amazing to think of a young fighter getting pushed to the title so soon into their career; did you feel ready to contest the WBO belt at that time?
MM) Manny had a great gift; he knew how good a fighter was and when to give them that push. Every fighter he touched he made into a champion. As for my fight with Ramzi Hassan, absolutely I felt ready for that. The Kronk gym was famous for the ring wars all of its fighters would have. Those wars made me into the fighter I was, into the man I was and Manny knew from those (tough sparring sessions) that I was ready at that time. I was a quiet, low-key young man but I did my talking in the ring. The gym was always packed with fighters, trainers, cleaners everybody; but, whenever I sparred, everybody would stop what they were doing and watch.
LF) Did you ever spar much with Tommy Hearns in those early years?
MM) I think I may have sparred him once but I really don’t remember. I know Manny never wanted us to spar as we were both big punchers and we would have hurt each other.
LF) You were an incredible 175lb fighter, demolishing all in your path and going 24-0 (24) but it was said you struggled badly making weight. What was it like making light-heavyweight for your last few fights there?
MM) Oh it was bad, big-time. I used to walk around at 206lbs, and then have to get down to 175. It was rough cause’ I could never eat. I remember one time I was around Emmanuel Steward’s house and (all of the Kronk fighters) were there, Tommy Hearns was there and everybody was having this big meal and I couldn’t have any. All I could eat was a boiled egg and water-based fruit like water melon.
LF) Inevitably you moved up to heavyweight and probably your first big test was against dangerous Bert Cooper for the WBO heavyweight title. It was a war which you won after being dropped twice?
MM) Yeah those were the days. Bert was a fighter who did what he had to do, he was a tough cookie. When I went down the second time (in the third), I just thought ‘ok, now it’s my turn to knock him down’. I came back to get the win but it was a tough fight.
LF) A couple of years later you met Evander Holyfield for the WBA and IBF belts, winning a close decision. You were the first southpaw to win a heavyweight title and only the third to win one from light-heavyweight; did the historical significance dawn on you at the time?
MM) It did in the years after the fight. It’s a good accomplishment that I’m in the history books and my children can say their father did that but, at the time, it was just another fight for me.
LF) That fight is known just as much for the antics of your then-trainer Teddy Atlas than the fight itself?
MM) Yeah, I didn’t really notice during the fight but I’ve watched my fight with Evander hundreds of times since and it was a bit strange. I remember the time I got back to my corner and he was sitting in my stool! I just remember thinking “what the hell is he doing there?”
LF) Just seven months after that fight you lost both your titles to former champion George Foreman. You seemed to dominate every second of every round before the sudden ending. Had he hurt you at any other point in the previous nine rounds?
MM) He’d landed a good left hook a few seconds before the ending (from a big right-hand). That’s boxing there’s got to be a winner and a loser. I knew he was a big guy and very experienced and it could happen but I was still devastated afterwards. I was defending my titles and to lose like that was just the worst thing. I really felt bad for my son the most that his father should lose like that.
LF) You came back and won your IBF crown back with a decision over Axel Schulz in Germany. Did that feel like revenge for the Foreman loss as most thought Schulz had beaten Foreman the year before (though lost a controversial decision)?
MM) No I wasn’t the type of fighter who thought like that. I beat him in Germany and luckily they gave it to me as it was in the back of my mind they may rob me out there in a hometown decision.
LF) A year later you fought Holyfield in a unification rematch. He had just had those two famous fights with Mike Tyson; how confidant were you going into that contest?
MM) I wasn’t always a confident fighter. I heard many stories about Evander using performance-enhancing drugs which may have played on my mind. I always thought I was a better fighter than him though.
LF) You took three years out after the eight-round loss; what did you get up to in that period?
MM) I’d just got tired of boxing; the same thing over and over for so many years. I didn’t want to get burned out so I just took a break.
LF) You came back and after losses to David Tua (KO1) and Eliceo Castillo (PTS10) you scored a good win by knocking out former cruiserweight champion Vassily Jirov. You were quite far behind before tagging him with a big left in the ninth?
MM) I remember that fight I was jabbing and looking to score with the straight left but he kept on falling in which made it hard to land my punches. Later in the fight, I found room for my left hand and that was it fight over.
LF) You eventually retired for good in 2008; what was the deciding factor to walking away at that time?
MM) I’d just had surgery on my left hand, which was my fourth surgery on that hand. I was just done with boxing. I was still mentally sound and didn’t think I could accomplish anything more in my career. I didn’t want to fight for someone else I wanted to fight for me and if I couldn’t do that I’d rather not fight again.
LF) What was the proudest moment of your boxing career?
MM) I’d say beating Bert Cooper for the WBO title and the Holyfield victory.
LF) You were only ever stopped by big punchers in Foreman, Holyfield and Tua; does it make you angry when people suggest you had a weak chin?
MM) No it never bothers me, that’s part of the game; any one can win or lose.
LF) Does any part of you wish you’d either stayed longer at light-heavyweight or moved to cruiserweight instead of tackling the big boys?
MM) No not at all. I remember after I fought Danny Stonewalker (Michael’s last WBO light-heavyweight title defence) I said to Emmanuel “I’m tired of making weight”, I needed to move up and let my body mature.
LF) Were there any other fighters who you never got to face in your career that you wish you had?
MM) No I’m pretty pleased with all that I accomplished.
LF) Do you ever think about your standing in history when you look back on your career?
MM) I have the last few years. I’ve been away from the ring four years so I’m eligible for the Hall of Fame this next year. Next June I could get in with luck.
LF) Michael it’s been a pleasure talking to you.
MM) You're welcome thanks.