News January 2013

Bobby Czyz interview "I still know Holyfield's trainer injured me"


Hard-hitting interview with Bobby Czyz

By Michael J Jones

Ahead of interviewing former three-weight world champion Bobby Czyz I honestly thought I knew a lot about the retired fighter. I recall the middleweight run ended by crafty Mustafa Hamsho, the subsequent IBF light-heavyweight title success, the brutal losses to Prince Charles Williams, the move to cruiserweight to capture his second world title. I also remember his venture into the heavyweight ranks and his controversial bout with Evander Holyfield.

A young Bobby

From the moment I begun my research however it was clear the story of Bobby Czyz was far from straight forward. Here was a tale of brutal upbringings and tragedy, from tough wars in the ring to a flourishing retirement; Czyz has had a tough life even aside from his 52-bout pro career.

It was the future champion’s father that taught his four-year-old son the basics of boxing. Robert Czyz senior was a man with a plan, he wanted his boys to grow up tough, smart and successful, but he took the lessons to brutal heights on his young family as Bobby recalls.

“A couple of years ago I was due to receive a special award for the courage I showed in the ring. I had a speech to say but I really struggled because, to be honest, I didn’t know if I could accept the award as the courage I showed in the ring had been beaten into me by my father” says Bobby almost matter-of-factly. “In a way, I’m grateful to him. Every day I got beat up but it made me strong but I feel the lesson my father taught me didn’t have to be that hard.”

The young Bobby was forced into boxing by his domineering father alongside his brothers Vincent and Tony. The boys were aged between seven and ten years-old, their father believing boxing would shape his boys’ character. After five years of training, Robert told his sons they were free to stop boxing if they so chose to. Only one of the siblings would decide to continue.

“The thing was I was 15-years-old and I was beating on guys who were 28 and world ranked as pros. The power I felt beating guys like that was like a drug to me and I wanted to carry on.”

Czyz would engage in a twenty-six bout amateur career and soon gained a reputation as a talented kid with a heavy dig. The youngster was due to compete in the 1980 Moscow Olympics but an automobile accident left the 18-year-old injured meaning he would miss his big chance. However, things would take a sinister turn as the US team never made it off the plane taking them to Poland.

“I remember that day like it was yesterday” says Bobby quietly. “My dad called me at home when I was off school. He said ‘remember that boxing trip in Poland you were supposed to go on?’ I got ready for him to go hard on me give me a fall, and then he said ‘everyone on the plane is dead’. People always joke about a chill going up their spine in certain situations but at that moment with me it literally did.”

All 87 passengers were killed in the crash caused by faulty landing equipment. Fourteen had been young American boxers.

Just a month after the tragedy, Bobby made his pro debut and in two short years was a perfect 20-0 (15). Fighting as a middleweight and with his “Matinee Idol” good looks, the New Jersey prospect looked like a star in the making until taking on grizzled contender Mustafa Hamsho.

The tough southpaw out-boxed and out-fought the young contender and won a clear and deserved unanimous decision over ten rounds. A mooted shot at middleweight kind Marvin Hagler was scuppered and it was Hamsho who fought Hagler a second time as the beaten prospect was forced to regroup.

“Things weren’t right for that fight with Hamsho” reveals Czyz(pronounced ‘Chez’). “First of all my manager gave me diet drugs to lose weight and they took a lot out of me, then in the second round I broke my hand which later needed surgery to rebuild it. There was also pressure on me in that fight to win. Hamsho was a good fighter; apart from Hagler he had beaten everyone out there. I lost but in that fight I learned a lot, he was far more experienced than me and like Ray Leonard once said after he lost to Roberto Duran; ‘I lost but in the fight I learned how I could beat him’.”

Was the defeat a blessing in disguise as the 20-year-old fighter was saved from facing a peak Marvin Hagler at his destructive best?

“No, I don’t look at it that way” says Bobby. “I could never have beaten Hagler don’t get me wrong, he was a superior fighting machine than I was but I also would have welcomed the fight as it would have been a good payday to feed my family.”

Just months after suffering his first pro loss, Bobby would have further heart-ache to endure as father Robert committed suicide.

“When I lost it wasn’t really a problem for me” the retired fighter reflects in his usual articulate manner. “I had surgery to rebuild my broken hand and I was ready to start over but before I did my father committed suicide. I’d grown up in a house that was nearly always in turmoil. Many times you’d know there was something wrong just by walking into the room. Nobody said life was easy and it can be damn hard sometimes. He had his demons…”

Forced to overcome the trauma, Czyz returned to his boxing career at a weight division higher. Bobby, who had fought as high as 165lbs even in his amateur days, moved to the 175lb class and began an assault on the world’s best. After whipping solid Murray Sutherland at super-middleweight, Czyz was matched with undefeated world champion Slobodan Kacar for the Serbian’s IBF light-heavyweight belt he had just won against Eddie Mustafa Muhammad.

“Before I fought Kacar I was very focused and exuded confidence. I’d flown to Italy to see Kacar’s fight with Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and could see he had no power at all. I knew if I went to the body and kept backing him up I’d eventually get to him and knock him out. The body attack worked well and when I brought the punches up to the head it was fight over.”

The new champion kept busy and within a year had retained three times via stoppage. His progress was halted by murderous punching Prince Charles Williams and soon Czyz had hit patchy form. After losing his title, Bobby was edged out by former champion Dennis Andries and, after easing past Leslie Stewart by a split decision, suffered further defeats in title shots against Virgil Hill and Williams again.

With his career dwindling, the former champion retired in the summer of 1989 as it looked like the Bobby Czyz story may be drawing to a frustrating close.

“The Andries fight I was sick but I went through with it as it was a $75,000 fight and I needed to feed my family” reasons Bobby who dropped a close decision. “Prince Charles Williams just had my number. It was a frustrating time but I thought one day I still have something left and I wasn’t done just yet. I was out only from summer 89’ until early 1990.”

The come-backing contender outscored tough Uriah Grant before being thrown in with 12-0 (10) Olympic gold medallist Andrew Maynard. Czyz was the underdog against the big-punching former Olympic champion. Bobby picks up the story.

“My career was very much on the line in that fight. Maynard had fought one of my main sparring partners a little earlier named Arthur Hall. Now, I’d sparred Arthur for years and I’d never hurt him seriously but Maynard knocked him clean out with a right hand so I knew he had power” explains Czyz.

“One thing I’ve always been able to rely on though was my chin. I sat down with my trainer Tommy Parks and we set out a game-plan of just keeping the pressure on Maynard all night. We knew if I did that at some point we’d get him and that’s exactly how it played out in the fight” says Bobby, who knocked Maynard out in seven rounds to revitalise his career.

Controversial; Czyz vs Holyfield

A world title shot at light-heavyweight failed to materialise so the in-form Czyz decided to move up in weight to contest a world cruiserweight title. “I asked who was the best at the weight” remembers the Wanaque native. “They said Robert Daniels who had just dethroned Dwight Muhammad Qawi so I said OK I’ll fight him” he chuckles.

The two men met with the WBA version of the title on the line and the fight proved to be a difficult night for Czyz after sustaining an unusual injury in the later rounds.

“I’d never fought at the weight before, I took no tune up in the new division I just went straight into that title fight. I misjudged Daniels by watching some of his fights; he is a lot stronger than he looked in the films. I had to fight differently in that fight, box like Muhammad Ali on the outside, step around and box smart. I came back to my corner after the ninth and my trainer pointed out my feet were bleeding outside of my shoes” reveals Czyz.

“I said ‘I know’. It was because I wasn’t used to moving so much in fights. My trainer asked what I wanted to do and I just said ‘I wanna fight if it kills me it kills me’, then I went out in the tenth and had probably my best round of the whole fight. My feet didn’t hurt at the end with that belt around my waist” laughs Bobby who won his second world title by split decision.

The new champion followed up with impressive defences versus Bash Ali and former light-heavyweight champion Donny Lalonde before being forced out of the ring for two years following a freak accident outside a friend’s house. A visiting relative lost control of their car on the ice and it struck the reigning champion who sustained serious injuries to his back. The stricken fighter was forced to vacate his cherished title as the injuries, including a herniated disc, proved hard to recover from.

“I was in hospital for a long time” sighs the 50-year-old. “I had needles in my spine, I had injections of Botox, which is basically poison, I had a clip on my quadratus muscle to try and train again….I shouldn’t have done that but I decided to take that chance” says Bobby about a traumatic period of his life. “Even when I came back against David Izeqwire it wasn’t right. I easily won the first three rounds but then in the fourth my back went and I could barely stand!”

Eventually the struggling fighter sought help from a recommended specialist and regained some semblance of recovery. The veteran fighter would surprise many with his next move however. Just 5’10” in height, the stocky fighter rose in weight to compete as a heavyweight. After two victories, the former two-weight world champion fought 19-0 Richard Jackson for the WBU super-cruiserweight title.

“He disrespected me, he said I was old and too slow and that he’d kill me” recalls the former champion. “He said all of these things but, in the fight, he didn’t do any of the things he said he would” laughs Bobby who took his third world title via six-round stoppage.

Many laughed when Czyz then called out Mike Tyson who was back in the heavyweight mix after serving time for rape. “I would never have beaten Mike” admits Bobby about a possible bout with “Iron” Mike. “He would have beaten me silly. We are still friends now but he would have probably have beaten me like he did (Michael) Spinks. Mike would have given me that shot though, if you fought Mike it would have been a $5 million payday.”

Before such a match could take place, Bobby had to get past another former champion in Evander Holyfield at Madison Square Garden. The ten rounder in May 96’ also featured the slugfest between Lennox Lewis and Ray Mercer. Both Czyz and “The Real Deal” scaled 211lbs before the fight but only one man was a true heavyweight.

At the first bell, the taller, more muscled Evander pummelled his opponent early on as Bobby shipped some big shots. Czyz took a standing count but never went down as Holyfield seemed hell-bent on wiping out his shorter foe. By the fourth, Holyfield looked horribly gassed and suddenly Bobby’s counters where coming back more regularly. With a fight-back looking likely, Czyz was retired by his corner after the fifth in a contest shrouded in controversy.

“I have never been able to see right since that fight I’m telling you now. My vision was 20/20 before that fight; afterwards maybe 20/40” reveals Czyz evenly. “My face burned painfully at the end…the days after all my skin peeled off from my chin to my forehead. I’d been boxing twenty years and had never experienced anything like it.”

With the tiniest hint of bitterness creeping into his voice for the only time of our talk Bobby continues. “Someone put something on Holyfield’s glove. I don’t think it was Evander I think it was his corner and Don Turner. In the gym you may rub Vaseline on a fighter's gloves to stop cutting and marking up during sparring but, in a fight, you don’t rub anything on as you want to cause damage in the fight.”

“Look at the tape of that fight, from the second round, Turner is continuously rubbing Holyfield’s gloves in between rounds.”

Holyfield famously went on to destroy Tyson in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. Many wrote Evander off prior to the fight on the count of his poor showing in the Czyz bout.

Czyz would fight just once more, suffering a painful second-round defeat to huge-punching southpaw Corrie Sanders in June 98’. He exited the sport with a 44-8 (28) record.

“Sanders was another guy I watched and didn’t realise how harder he’d be in the actual fight. He was 6’4”, 245lbs and was quick as hell. Before that fight, I’d body-builded up to 247 and then come back down to 220. I thought if I could get inside and work I’d be able to beat him but my reflexes were poor and there was no sharpness there anymore.”

Still sharp; Bobby now

The newly retired fighter kept working as a colour commentator for Showtime before getting asked to leave following a drink-driving wrap. Aside from that unfortunate incident though the articulate Mensa member is busy with charity work, motivational speaking and is in the throws of starting a boxing tutorial in the UK “to teach people how to learn to fight.”

The three-time champion was also involved in insurance after leaving Showtime but, after going back to college to gain his qualification and making a successful start, the economy went bust bringing his progress to a halt.

“My motivation when I was fighting was different to most other peoples” reflects Czyz as the interview nears conclusion. “Most people are motivated by religion. I’m an atheist; there is no heaven and no hell for me. Right now I’m in the history books for three world titles in three different weights. I competed in six weight divisions and won world titles in three. I never wanted to be ordinary and that was always my own motivation.”

Bobby Czyz got out of boxing with his head held high and only ever lost to champions and leading fighters of his time. Motivated and intelligent and with many business ventures in the works one feels there could be plenty more success in the life of the former champion in the years to come.

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