Michael Olajide—“When (Hearns) hit me, I felt the knuckles through the gloves.”

By Thad Moore on April 27, 2016
Michael Olajide—“When (Hearns) hit me, I felt the knuckles through the gloves.”
“My father was a fighter. I remember seeing my Dad's boxing shoes. They were gold.”

Always eloquent with no shortage of material on any topic, I recently caught up with the one-time middleweight…

Michael Olajide’s career as a middleweight championship contender was short-lived. The British born and Canadian raised boxer fought most of his professional bouts with significant damage to his right eye. By the time he reached the age of 27, he was declared legally blind in that eye and had to retire prematurely with a record of 27-5, with 19 KOs. Nicknamed “The Silk” by his father, Olajide lost his two tries at major world titles to Frank Tate and Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns. Olajide has had ample success since his boxing days have ended and is known by many today for his work with Victoria’s Secret models as a trainer at his Manhattan fitness studio, Aerospace. Always eloquent with no shortage of material on any topic, I recently caught up with the one-time middleweight.

What were your earliest memories of the sport? What got you interested in boxing?

“My father was a fighter. I remember seeing my Dad’s boxing shoes. They were gold. He used to go to the gym and train. He took me to the gym. I was about five. The whole smell was boxing. It was a smell that identifies where you are. The smell of leather, blood—it was a rustic smell. No matter what was going on in my life, I stayed with boxing. I always loved boxing. I didn’t have to get into fights because people knew my Dad was a fighter. I went to Sunday school in Vancouver. Right behind the church, there was a house where I would watch boxing. I used to watch those fights through his window into his basement. It was CBS with Tim Ryan and Gil Clancy. As I got older, my love of the sport grew. My Dad actually had a boxing gym. I would go there after private school.”

How did you first negotiate a contract to be on NBC as your professional career advanced?

“I was fighting Hard Rock Green with Bobby Goodman (matchmaker/promoter). They saw me fight Ray Ray Gray and Richard Burton. Two weeks before the date, I was asked to fight against Don Lee. I said, of course.”

You defeated southpaw contender Don Lee, then moved on to fight undefeated Troy Darrell in an action packed bout, as part of your NBC fight deal. It was a highly rated fight. What did you see in Darrell that you felt you could exploit?

“I was extremely confident after Don Lee. I felt like a world champ already. Conditioning was always number one for me. Darrell was 22-0. Angelo Dundee (who worked with Darrell) said we are going to out-jab Olajide. I knew that wasn’t going to happen to me. Every time he threw his jab, he tilted his head to the side. I forced the same thing during the fight. I caught him with a left and dropped him. Then I dropped him again (in the first round). He was hurt. The three knockdown rule was in effect. Then, the bell rang.

What he was doing was pulling out. They said stay on his chest. I didn’t focus on boxing. We fought at close range. I had this knot over my eye. It didn’t change my game plan. I felt I was rolling with the shots. By the time the sixth and seventh rounds came around, Dundee was yelling at me that I pushed Darrell off. Whoever won the last two rounds was going to win the fight. We went toe-to-toe in the ninth and tenth. I felt that I sealed it, then.

It was a great fight in terms of entertainment. It signaled that a lot was wrong with my fight mind. I wasn’t able to shift gears and I thought something was wrong.”

A big crossroads fight in your career was against future three division world champion Iran Barkley. Describe your experience in this fight?

“I remember everything so vividly. That was one of my fights I wish I could do over again. When the referee stopped it, I knew it shouldn’t have been stopped. Arthur Mercante Jr. pulled the plug on it. I knew I fought the wrong strategy. There was something affecting his energy and my energy. I knew I had to weather the storm in the first four or five rounds. This fight is one of my experiences in life that you never forget. It was almost like your experience into manhood was cut short. I felt I could come back. I had him hurt numerous times in that fight. You could sense me coming back. I would sense him coming back. The fight gave me such intense knowledge and life experience every young man should have. It allowed me to know myself.

I didn’t think he had the boxing ability to beat me. I saw toughness in Iran. I knew he wasn’t going to quit. I knew this fight was going to be a real rumble. He showed some intelligent counterpunching. He pulled back from the right hand with the left hook. He had good timing. When you have that timing, you don’t have to be the best in the world. He did everything he had to. He went out in three rounds and KO’d Tommy Hearns. If you are sleeping on Iran, you’ll be in trouble. You have to be out of distance or out of range to be successful.”

Later in your career, you did go to battle with the aforementioned Hall-of-Famer Tommy Hearns. Is he the best fighter you ever challenged?

“I would say so. Tommy can crack. It was crazy how hard Tommy’s jab was. When he hit me, I felt the knuckles through the gloves. His offense was so quick. You have to have many answers when you fight him. You can’t outbox him. Leonard tried, Benitez tried. He has a great boxing instinct and hits very hard. His hand speed was hard to keep up with. It was a very difficult fight.”

What was the proudest moment of your career?

“Against Don Lee, I fought the right kind of fight. We proved how good we could be as the momentum was there. That was one of them. Life was good. When I beat Curtis Parker, I was really proud of that. I used to have a poster with Parker and James Shuler. I was an admirer of him. Ray Ray Green made a difference early in my career. I remember being extremely happy afterward. I think about my biggest losses. Going 12 rounds with Tommy was great-it’s what you dream about. That stood out for me.

But the biggest moment of all was meeting Bo Derek at the Leonard-Hagler fight.”

Why do you feel that boxing lives up to the name The Sweet Science?

“In order for boxing to advance, it needs to be recognized as one of the most intelligent sports. As simple as some people think it is, boxing is very complex. It is really like Bobby Fischer type chess with pain. You still have to remain composed no matter what happens in the ring.”

How would you like to be remembered?

“I had so many wild experiences. Boxing is such a colorful, wild business. I would like to be thought of as entertaining. When they think of me, I would want people to remember that they saw a great fight. I always tried, I never wanted the fight to end. Boxing was the best gift I ever received.”

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Michael Olajide - Curtis Parker

Michael Olajide - Don Lee

Iran Barkley-Michael Olajide FULL FIGHT

Thomas Hearns vs Michael Olajide 1990 04 28

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  1. Jarrett Bato 08:26am, 04/28/2016

    Beautiful article and an awesome era where the contenders were champs, which really elevated the era of Hearns and Hagler. My god! Great times. Glad Michael is successful shaping the body of models, what a classy guy and a dream gig for a retired fighter. His picture makes me think he’s a real life Sagat except not Muay Thai :D

  2. Eric 06:04am, 04/28/2016

    Curtis Parker was one of my favorite fighters to watch back in the eighties. Still remember when he lost to Dwight Davison on national t.v. when both were undefeated contenders. After that loss, Parker lost to just about every big name fighter he fought. Parker was crushed by Mugabi & Nunn, but put up some worthy efforts despite losing to Hamsho & Ramos. Both Hamsho fights could have gone either way and the Parker-Ramos fight was an entertaining slugfest. Parker did come out on top in his Philly war with Frank Fletcher. Parker & Fletcher were smallish middleweights, both standing 5’7”-5’8”, and both were usually at a height and reach disadvantage. Perhaps both fighters would have been more successful at 154lbs. Hard Rock Green vs. Parker would have been an interesting match-up back then. Have read that Parker was nigh unbeatable in the gym, giving Hearns hell, and his wars with Dwight Qawi were brutal.

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