Evander 2.0

By McGrath, Ben | The New Yorker, May 18, 2015 | Go to article overview

Evander 2.0


McGrath, Ben, The New Yorker


EVANDER 2.0

Not long before the disappointing "fight of the century," between Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and Manny Pacquiao, the former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield dropped by a recording studio above Jazz at Lincoln Center. "I'm not a singer," he warned, as an engineer prepared the sound equipment. He was accompanied by an energetic man named Steve Hanley, who identified himself as the C.E.O. of Team Holyfield: a kind of post-career promoter. "He's a fighter, not a singer," Hanley reiterated. Nearby stood the author and record producer (and former investment banker) Kabir Sehgal, whom Hanley called "the grand facilitator." Sehgal, who is from Atlanta, like Holyfield, had spotted the ex-champ at the airport, a few months earlier, and introduced himself: "Hey, I'm Kabir." He said that he was producing a record called "The Presidential Suite," featuring eight movements inspired by speeches that world leaders had given on the subject of freedom. The movements were strictly instrumental, but Sehgal and the composer, Ted Nash, were looking for prominent people to read excerpts of each text, as introductions. For Nehru, they'd got Deepak Chopra. J.F.K.: Joe Lieberman. Sehgal wondered if Holyfield had any interest in reading Nelson Mandela.

As it happened, the fighter and the freedom fighter had known each other well. In 1998, while accepting the Congressional Gold Medal, Mandela even announced that his greatest regret was never having become the world's best boxer. "I would like my friend Evander Holyfield to know that today I feel like the heavyweight boxing champion of the world," he added.

They met in 1990, backstage at a packed Georgia Tech stadium. It was one of Mandela's first public appearances in the United States after his release from prison. "He hugged me and asked me about Mike Tyson," Holyfield recalled. "He talked on your level." Three years later, they reconnected. "One day, I was in New York, visiting my girlfriend, and he called me," Holyfield continued. "He said, 'I'm in your home town.' I said, 'So you're in Atlanta?' He said, 'No, I'm in New York. Don't you live in New York? I'm down at Kennedy airport.' I said, 'Well, O. …

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