|Ebo Elder: Seeking a Different Crown Today!
INTERVIEW By Ken Hissner, DoghouseBoxing (Dec 25, 2008)
I remember watching Ebo Elder fight Ricardo Williams in the Olympic trials in 2000. Williams would go on to represent the USA in Sydney, Australia. When Elder turned pro I followed his career as he won his first 16 bouts before running into a spoiler. He would come back some 2 years later and post 5 wins and then be featured on ESPN against hot prospect, Courtney Burton (21-2). It was a classic battle of wills as each fighter seemed to take turns getting the edge in a war! When it was all over Elder came over to Burton who was sitting on a stool in the middle of the ring with his head down having just been defeated. As Elder knelt down besides him on a knee he asked if he could pray with him. To me it showed the “other side” of boxing when two human beings went toe to toe for over 30 minutes trying to defeat the other and for the victor to show such compassion at the end for the fallen one. That image has never left my mind to this day. Recently through Buddy Osborn who runs the Rock (Ministry) Gym in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, Elder was in touch with him about coming to the city as part of a speaking tour he is on. Let’s let Ebo tell you in his own words in a Q&A that I had with him and I only hope it blows you away like it did me.
Ken Hissner: What was your amateur record and tournament experience?
Ebo Elder: I had approximately 140 wins and 10 losses. 1998 Goodwill Games Silver, US Challenge Silver, it’s really hard to remember…that was a long time ago.
KH: Did your dad always train you?
EE: My dad did mostly. We had a few assistant trainers…Eric Bonilla, Xavier Biggs and others.
KH: What were your feelings when you lost in the Olympic trials?
EE: Well, the losses I had as an amateur that bothered me were against Ricardo Williams. We fought 6 times and I should have won at least 3 of them. Due to politics and favoritism I didn’t get one victory over him. I guess the USA Boxing Committee really thought a lot of Ricardo. Good call, huh? He needs Jesus and I bet he’d be an awesome dude. It’s really okay though. I trained hard and fought my heart out. That’s all you can really do. You know what they say, “if you don’t want to lose, don’t make it close.”
KH: In your 14th fight you defeat Emmanuel Clottey who was 14-3 giving you 14 wins in 13 months. How tough was that fight?
EE: That was a step up for us. It was my first big test. How tough is a relative question. Compared to my Burton fight, not tough at all, but Clottey fought well and his head hurt my hands. He is game and well conditioned. If you remember the ring was soaking wet from the rain, which made it very difficult to move laterally. I think that added to the difficulty of the fight considerably.
KH: Dagoberto Nijera, 14-2, was your next test and you get a win in 6.
EE: I remember he was cut and I knocked him down a bunch. It was kind of funny in the interview he said that I don’t hit hard, but I knocked him down 2 or 3 times in 6 rounds. I guess he’s got an admitted glass jaw.
KH: Just 6 weeks later Ubaldo Hernandez, 14-8-1, is next. He had just lost a split decision to future world title holder of 3 belts Juan Diaz. Tough fight to take and you are upset in the 1st round. What happened?
EE: Hernandez was a last minute substitution and it was not a smart fight to take at that time. He can take a beating and hits hard. You better be ready to fight when you fight him and I was not. I wasn’t ready to fight anybody. My relationship with my dad/trainer was a wreck and the last 3 weeks of the camp were horrible. I thought I could still somehow win, but pride comes before a fall. God was grounding me and humbling me. I’m really glad he did, too. I didn’t box for more than 2 years. Me and my wife Amy moved to Manhattan with our 1 year old daughter, Mattie. It was a hard couple of years, but God used it to bring me back to Him. I honestly didn’t think I would ever fight again, but in November of 2003 God spoke to me and told me to. You see, God had a different plan. He likes to make masterpieces out of train wrecks. He likes to use the unusable and make the incapable, able. He has a plan. I really think God protected me from too much success. You see, if I had beaten Ricardo in the trials or beaten Hernandez and gotten my Showtime contract, I may have never reached the bottom of that pit that made me cry out to Jesus. Money, success, accomplishments, fame and pleasure most often give you a false sense of security, peace, purpose and fulfillment. Worldly success draws you away from the Lord. I’m glad I didn’t get what I wanted.
KH: You are off for 2 years and come back with a quick knockout win and then face Oscar Diaz (17-0).
EE: It was actually 28 months until I fought again, but this time it was for the Lord. I was fulfilling his purposes, not mine. After my first fight back, January of ’04, we really didn’t know what to do. We had lost so much time and needed to beat somedbody with a name to get back in the picture. Then, my dad had a dream. In the dream God told him to go to the enemy’s camp and take back what had been stolen. We really didn’t know what the dream meant, but the next day we got a call from Lou Duva. He said that he wanted us to come fight on their show in Miami against their hot prospect, Oscar Diaz. He told us that we would have to move up to welterweight and fight in 19 days. My wife and I had just had our 2nd daughter, Abbie, and I hadn’t been in the gym since my first comeback fight and I knew I was not ready to fight. I knew I couldn’t win, but I knew this was exactly the fight God wanted me to take. Since I couldn’t win, he would get the glory! Upon arrival at the Miami casino we prayed over the casino and the ring. We actually anointed the ring with oil. We weren’t coming with speed or power, we were coming with the Spirit of the Lord! The first round was the easiest round of my life and on the way back to my corner I said, “Lord, you’re going to just give me this fight, aren’t you?” Then, in the second round I ate about 7 or 8 straight right hands and almost got knocked out! On my way back to the corner God said, “I’m not going to do anything for you that you can do for yourself, but I’ll do everything for you that you can’t. You are going to have to fight!” The next 8 rounds were hard, but it was an amazing victory…for the Lord. We had taken back what was stolen…time.
KH: Fernando Trejo (23-8-4) had won 11 of his last 12 including a win the fight before over Darling Jimenez (17-1-2), and who was a tough next fight for you. You drop your weight to 134. Why? Talk about that win.
EE: Well, from October of 2003, when God called me back into boxing, I knew that I was going to fight at lightweight. I wasn’t really big enough to fight at junior welterweight, at least not yet. Trejo was a physically tough fight. He keeps coming and doesn’t give you much space to work with. I clearly won the fight on every judge’s card, but I have to give Trejo a lot of credit. We gave the crowd an awesome fight. It was truly a blast!
KH: You got Ricardo Fuentes (17-3) at the right time scoring a knockout.
EE: Fuentes is a good fighter, but I had trained with Floyd Mayweather early in the year and had begun to implement some of the things I learned from him in this fight. I really never had thrown uppercuts or knew how to roll my shoulder like Floyd. Both worked really well. It was an uppercut that made his eye blow up like a golf ball and the ref stopped it. He was game though and still wanted to fight.
KH: Next is Courtney Burton (21-2) who had just defeated Emmanuel
Agustus (Burton). It was a war. You finally overcame him and knelt next to him after the fight as he sat on his stool and prayed with him. I can still see it so clearly today.
EE: Burton…what a fight. Well, this fight is half of my testimony. The other half is 30 years. You could say that it was a pretty significant hour of my life! In talks with Showtime they sent us a list of easier fights that we could have taken and actually made more money, but we knew that God had called us to fight the toughest fight that we could get. Courtney was ranked #4 by the WBA at that time. We couldn’t get #1, 2 or 3, but we could get Courtney, so we made the fight. That fight was predestined before time began…it was on God’s calendar. The day of the fight we marched around the casino seven times, like Jericho in the Bible, praying to God. I knew that God was doing something. I didn’t know what, but I knew He was at work. We were going against huge odds in this fight. First, we never saw Burton weigh in, which was always done. I have no idea what he actually weighed. Second, we fought in a 16 foot ring, which was to Burton’s favor. Thirdly, the mat was 2 inches thick and really soft, which was to Burton’s favor. The odds were stacking up against us. My fight was to move and out speed him…not to fight him toe to toe. But, as I said earlier God had a plan. This was his fight, not mine, for him, not me. By the 2nd round I knew I was in big trouble. I was in way over my head and I began to talk to God. I said Lord, “This fight is going to be very hard…very painful and very brutal. And I’m going to want to quit.” Then He said back to me, “if you don’t quit, I’ll do what you can’t do.” I was immediately filled with joy, because I knew I was going to win! Not only was I going to win, but I was going to win by knockout! You see, God doesn’t do small things…he doesn’t win close decisions. He wins by knockout every time! So, the natural Ebo wanted it to be an easy fight. I wanted a quick victory so I began to look for every shot to be the last. Round after round passed by and there was no knockout. I actually began to encourage the living God…”Come on Lord, you can do it!” After the 11th round I was exhausted and hurt. I had a broken jaw, my kidneys were bleeding, both eyes were nearly swollen shut and cut. My dad asked me if I wanted him to stop the fight and I said with a southern draw, “Nawwwww!” God had made a promise to me, but I had to do my part. I couldn’t quit! With 1 ½ minutes to go in the last round I went to throw a left hand and it was caught behind the ropes and as I threw all of my energy drained out of me. As I began to fall I bent over and began my conversation with the Lord once again. I said, “Lord, I’m about to get knocked out. I can’t win.” I knew as soon as I stood back up I would be finished. And then I said, “Lord, but I didn’t quit. I didn’t even think about it and I’m not going to now.” So I stood up and immediately the Holy Spirit came into my body and filled me with power and strength and I knocked him out 30 seconds later! I was amazed at the faithfulness of God. While being filled with the Spirit I praised His name. Then the Spirt led me to go pray with Courtney. Then with millions viewing worldwide, looking straight into the camera, the Lord spoke through me and I said, “Jesus Christ has a plan for your life. Give into it and accept it.” That was definitely one of the most amazing nights of my life. The creator of the universe used me a nobody, for His Glory and His purposes. Awesome! Yeah, I
had no idea this would be my last win.
KH: Didn’t that earn you a title bout with Juan Diaz?
EE: That fight earned me a fight against Juan Diaz for the WBA World title. It was scheduled for April 23, 2005 at Caesars Palace in Vegas. After 11 weeks of training and approximately 20 grand in training expenses, we got a call we never expected. I had just finished my last 7 mile run in Red Rock Canyon in the Las Vegas mountains. It was Juan’s people saying he had been cut sparring and couldn’t fight. I was obviously upset, but thought that Juan would reschedule after healing up. Then after weeks of back and forth with his promoters on rescheduling the fight and getting nowhere I went to New York to meet with them in person. They told me that Juan was never hurt and that he just chickened out. They appeared pretty upset with him for being a coward, but couldn’t make him fight me. I don’t blame Juan though. It wasn’t him that made it happen that way. It was God’s orchestration. If I fought Juan, I would have beat him and I would have instantly been famous and pretty soon after very wealthy. That was not God’s plan.
KH: How did you end up fighting Lavka Sim (20-4-1) of Mongolia for the title?
EE: The WBA told me that if I fought Prawet Singwancha from Thailand and won, they would make Juan fight me. Three weeks before the fight Prawet had problems getting his Visa into the US and was replaced with Lakva. I knew Lakva was a much harder fight, but was determined to get the Diaz fight back. Prawet is a boxer and I’m not worried about getting out boxed. Lakva is a heavy handed guy that you could hit in the head with a hammer and he would laugh. It was a stupid fight to take, but I was anxious, which is not good. Due to some relationship problems it was also my first fight without my dad in the corner, which I wish had not been the case. Remember, I was not fighting for myself. I was fighting for the Lord. I should have been wise enough to know that God wouldn’t let me win without my dad because it doesn’t Glorify Him. It was a mistake for me to fight without my dad, but I felt as though that was my only choice. I’m wiser now. Preparing for that fight without my dad was not good. I felt as though I should train harder to overcompensate for him not being there and I ended up grossly overtraining. I remember running twenty 100 yard sprints every day during the week before the fight when I should have been resting and regaining my strength from the 12 week camp. On my walk to the ring I had a hard time climbing the stairs to get in the ring and I knew I was in trouble. For about the first 4 rounds I was OK, and had Lakva hurt at the end of the 4th, but I just ran out of gas. My legs were shot and moving was how I was going to win. The loss hurt. I was unsure of God’s plans for my life in boxing and I decided to retire.
KH: You were off for over a year and surprisingly came back on the scene for the “Contender” show which had mostly junior middleweights on it. The worse part was the friendship your wife and you made with Mike Stewart and his wife and out of the blue he picked you to fight!
EE: Well, I was done boxing, working on a construction site in Orlando, Florida when a producer of the Contender called me asking me to be on the show. The loss to Lakva had qualified me for it and they thought I had an interesting story. I told them I was done fighting and to call someone else. I then told my wife about the call and she told me to call them back and get my butt to L.A. She is smarter than I am so I took her advice. So I had 3 weeks until filming and I was out of shape, over weight and totally ring rusty. The over weight thing was okay, because the show was fought at 152 pounds, 17 pounds heavier than my last fight. Anyway, I wasn’t ready to fight and I knew it, but what’s the worst thing that could happen? Right? So, yeah, me and Mike started to be friends on the show, hanging out and talking. He’s alright. So we knew who was fighting who, at least the first round. I was fighting Freddy Curiel, who is a great guy, and Stevie Forbes was fighting Mike. Days begin to pass and I start hanging out with Vinroy (Barrett), who I am bunking next to. He’s an awesome dude. Then Vinroy gets sick…with the flu and has to fight Grady (Brewer) sick. Then next thing I know I get a 103 degree fever, but I figure that’s okay because it should be close to a week before I fight Freddy if things go as planned. So the morning after Vinroy loses to Grady, I’m sick as a dog and it is the Blue team’s day to choose who to fight tomorrow. Everybody thought Mike was going to pick Stevie. I’m in the living room an hour before they decide talking to Mike and he sees how sick I am, but I say, “I’ll be okay by the time I fight Freddy.” Next thing I know, an hour later, he picks me to fight. That’s Mike for ya. In the dressing room before the fight I prayed with my wife and daughters and said, “God, I’m not ready to fight, but I’m asking two things. Don’t let me look like an idiot and you get the glory for whatever happens.” Well, my two prayers were answered. I schooled Mike for 3 ½ rounds, got caught with a pretty good hook, went down, got up and the ref stopped it. As quick as that it was over. Then I did something that was very significant, something that would change my life forever. I glorified God in a defeat. I showed the world that my life was not over, that I hadn’t blown my big chance and that my identity was not in boxing it is in Jesus! I showed the world that I serve God not because of what he can do for me, but because of who he is.
KH: You were just 28. What brought about your retirement less than 3 years ago?
EE: In that fight in September of 2006 everyone saw me lose on ESPN and I had no idea what my future looked like, but God did. By Christmas my dad and I had worked out our problems and we were ready to fight again on Ricky Hatton’s card in Vegas, January 9, 2007. Then, New Years Eve, I go to a church in Peachtree City, Georgia and speak to about 500 teenagers. While I’m speaking the Lord speaks to me and tells me that I’m not going to fight anymore. He tells me that I am to start a ministry and travel the world speaking about what he has done in my life and sharing the Word of God. Like a 4 year old, I said no, I don’t want to! I want to box! I want to be a world champ and be rich! You see, God’s plans are not our plans. They are much better. So, I told no one of the conversation, went home, got into bed and wrestled with God all night over the issue. Let’s just say he won. Then, we were unable to get my opponent to sign the fight contract and my fight was cancelled. It was then I conceited to God, okay. I’ll do it your way. So I began to call some churches and see if they would let me come speak. I have no ministry experience, no Christian education and had no idea what to do. Two weeks later we had no money and no prospects of making any money and I’m like, okay God, did I hear you right?
KH: I understand you had a contact from a Calvary Chapel church. I have attended the Philadelphia CC since 1989 where Joe Focht is the pastor. He was an amateur boxer.
EE: Out of nowhere, a guy messaged me on my space. He said his name was Phillip MacIntosh, that he was a youth pastor in San Diego where his dad, Mike, was the pastor, that he watched me on the Contender, saw that I love the Lord and they wanted me to come speak at their church, Horizon Fellowship, a Calvary Chapel church. Now I had no idea what Calvary Chapel was and had never heard of Mike MacIntosh, but I jumped at the opportunity. I imagined that it was probably some small, start up church, which was cool, but I began to question that when they sent me and my wife the weeks itinerary. So, me and Amy fly to San Diego and are taken to some incredibly nice hotel. Then they give us a brand new Suburban to drive and say to just bill everything to the room and I’m like, this is weird. Three days later we arrive at the church for my first, official speaking engagement and I end up speaking to around 2,000 people! Shortly after that I founded the non profit organization, Ebo Tribe. You can check out our website at www.ebotribe.net. December 7, 2008 I had my 120th speaking engagement since January 1, 2007. It has been an amazing 2 years and we have seen God do some incredible things. God has given the Ebo Tribe a huge vision for making a difference in this world and advancing God’s kingdom. We are now planning the construction of our first BrickHouse facility. It is a God Centered Recreational and Combat Training Facility, or GCRCTF. These facilities will have boxing, MMA, jujitsu gyms, state of the art coffee shops skate parks, recording studios and performing arts theatres. We will hold weekly Bible studies in the theatre and structure a discipleship program for the athletes. We have also started a home Bible study, BrickHouse Fellowship, and hope to see the Lord grow it into a Calvary Chapel within His perfect timing and provision.
KH: George Foreman saw a vision in his dressing room after losing to Jimmy Young. He retired and eventually became a pastor. He made a comeback some 10 years later to help the youth in the Houston area. Think you’ll ever fight again?
EE: That is a question I get a lot. I am in my physical prime and I would certainly be a smarter fighter now. My instinct says no, I won’t fight again, but this wouldn’t be the first time I was wrong. I can say this with confidence. I’m going to seek the Lord with all of my heart and if He says fight, I’ll fight with all my heart.
KH: Is there anything you would like to say to your many fans?
EE: Thank you for your friendship over the years. Your support certainly exceeded my ability and I thank you for that. I wish only that you would love the Lord with all your strength and that you would seek Him and His righteousness above everything else. Until He comes back…Fight the Good Fight!
e-mail Ken at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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