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“Smooth as Silk” – Michael Olajide Talks about His Boxing Career with RSR

Exclusive Interview by “Bad” Brad Berkwitt

I believe I simply had a style that could beat him (Marvin Hagler); it wasn’t about being a better fighter. It was styles.”– Michael “The Silk” Olajide

Being a fan that started following the sport of boxing in 1975, but became addicted to it in the 80’s, I have always enjoyed reaching back to those days to find fighters who defined that era. With that said, I had to reach out to a former top rated middleweight contender, Michael “The Silk” Olajide who is remembered not only for his 80’s hairstyle, but his colorful attire he would wear into the ring.

But don’t let those flashy things fool you. Olajide could fight. Turning professional just six days after Muhammad Ali had his last bout against Trevor Berbick in the Bahamas; Michael would win his professional debut and rack up 23 straight wins on his boxing résumé. However, in his first attempt at a world title (Vacant IBF Middleweight Championship), he was outgunned and lost a decision to former Olympian, Frank Tate over 15 rounds.

“The Silk” would come back after this fight, winning a few against the lighter opposition, but when he stepped up and faced the big boys, he would lose either by decision or knockout. In our interview, Michael talks very frankly about his first love for the sport of boxing, then at times, a detest for its dirty politics. He also addresses a career ending injury, for the most part, when he suffered a Detached Retina in one of his later fights in his career. This is for you 80’s diehard boxing fans. So sit back, and enjoy another RSR exclusive, with a 80’s legend in the sport of boxing.

BB: First off, catch up the RSR readers on what you have been doing since you retired from boxing in 1991.

Since 1991, I have stayed in boxing, but from a fitness and film perspective. I started a fitness program in 1991, which was a group fitness, shadow boxing class in a popular athletic club. From there I began choreographing stage plays, then movies (Ali-starring Will Smith, Undefeated, starring John Leguizamo, Miami Vice, and The Black Dahlia) and trained a lot of stars from Rapper 50 Cent, to model Iman. I produced and starred in fitness videos as well as written a fitness book for Warner Books. In 2006, I opened 2 of my own fitness centers, which I co-own with Leila Fazel, a former ballet dancer and luxury spa developer. I am also really exploring music and writing as a form of expression. This is all a little much, as it is much better if you have one focus, but I can’t help it. I think I have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) brought on by too many punches to the dome.

BB: You turned professional six days after “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali, had his last professional fight when he lost a ten round decision to Trevor Berbick, in the Bahamas. What was the boxing scene like at that time for a young man who has just turned 18 years old, and I am sure had dreams of being a World Champion some day?

I can clearly remember turning pro at 18, and the thing that seemed to puzzle me the most was boxing without headgear – that seemed most alien to me. Not that it scared me, it was something that I always wore and suddenly, no shirt, no headgear. Of course when the bell rang you have more pressing issues. I was very excited. I had a limited amateur background (a year and a half) so I had no idea what was in store, but as they say, “ignorance is bliss.” Maybe it was better I didn’t know what was coming my way. I wanted to be the new Ali, the Sugar Ray Leonard though, this I knew.

BB: I noticed looking at your record, it appears in just your fourth fight you already were fighting in an eight round fight. Today, you hardly see that with a fighter with the same amount of fights, but in your case, you were already there. What made your team move you along so quickly?

Even more revealing than my fourth fight, was my 5th fight, against Roosevelt Green. I fought a 12 round, Pacific North West Title fight, and I had no idea what I was getting into, but what I lacked in experience, I made up for with conditioning and desire. I was able to out will him, but he was leagues ahead of me in ability at the time. I think I was moved along quickly for economic reasons, and my father was my manager and trainer, and sometimes they have a warped perspective of what is realistic.

BB: In your 12th fight, you faced rugged Wayne Caplette for the Canadian Middleweight Title. You stopped Caplette in the ninth round. What was it like to have your first taste of being a champion of any kind?

I remember seeing Wayne Caplette fighting on NBC against Alex Ramos and I was surprised how tough he was. Personally, he and I had a dislike for one another, unlike one I have ever experienced before, and we didn’t even know one another. Some people you just don’t get along with and you can’t really explain why. So winning that title was bitter sweet because there was controversy at the knockout punch I scored. To make a long story short, I had him hurt and backed off him, the ref said box 3 to 5 times, Wayne looked at his corner, looked back at me, twice. I gave him every opportunity to stop, or defend himself, he didn’t. I threw the right hand and he was out cold. People thought I sucker punched him because it was such an unusual ending, but it was above board.

BB: In your 16th fight on January 11, 1986, you really took a step up in class when you faced former world rated contender, Curtis Parker. This is your first fight on US soil and you take a ten round decision. What are your recollections of this fight?

Against Curtis Parker I definitely remember being a little tentative. And then when we had the weigh in, this guy was built like a tree stump, and here I was, this skinny kid with a Jheri Curl, straight out of Vancouver (that was when the Michael Jackson of boxing thing began). I remember being picked up from the airport and brought to the hotel. In Atlantic City, in January, it was pretty bleak weather. This was the first time I had ever been there and I dropped a quarter in the slot machine on the way to the room and won $10. I definitely began to like the city right away. The fight itself was a great fight and Curtis was amazingly tough. When I got the decision, I was so happy. I was practically floating. I beat the guy and I remember having a picture on my wall of him from Inside SPORT magazine.

BB: Just a day shy of three months later, you once again, face a tough former world ranked fighter in James “Hard Rock” Green. In this fight, you win another ten round decision. It’s quite impressive that you were matched up with very tough fighters so quickly and that you won both fights. Green was, as I said, one tough guy and many boxing fans enjoyed his fights. What are your recollections of this fight, and with a solid win over first Parker, then Green, how did you feel and what did it do for your career?

When I fought “Hardrock” Green again, this was someone who I had really admired as I watched him go to war on TV- him vs. the John “The Beast”? Mugabi. Wow, what a fight! I came into the fight with a game plan that I formed myself: Outbox him, don’t stand in front of him, and I was able to win with less wear and tear than I had in the Parker fight. These fights I think signaled the end of the early 80’s contenders and ushered in the new bunch such as Frank Tate, Michael Nunn, Sumbu Kalambay, and me. Because I didn’t live in NY at the time of the Parker win, I didn’t really feel the industry knew me, but after Green, I began to get talked about a little more.

BB: On February 1, 1987, you once again win, but really big against world ranked, and solid puncher, Don Lee, who you stop in the ninth round. Lee held a nice win over former world title challenger, Tony Sibson by KO, so for you to beat him, that had to propel you up into the top of the rankings. What do you remember about this fight and with this win, did you think at the time, you were close to securing a shot at a world title?

The Don Lee fight was the first fight that gained me huge recognition outside of the boxing industry. Before that, I had a career defining fight with Ray Ray Grey, who was a pretty good fighter, and Richard Burton, which was billed as a NYC middleweight battle. That win got me Don Lee. NBC reached out to us and gave us 2 weeks to prepare for a hard-hitting, tall southpaw…

Fortunately I grew up in the gym where my main sparring partner was a southpaw, so I was not confused and nothing seemed alien to me, except for how hard he hit. He hit me one time in the chest and it felt like he left his fist in my chest. I thought I was on my way to a title fight, in fact I was, especially after this fight, I was in every organizations top 5. I was feeling really great and I thought that I would get the Hagler fight.

There was a sense amongst the middleweights that Marvin was getting a little tired from the massive fights he had had and he may be ripe for the picking. After the Troy Darrell fight, I was the #1 contender and the mandatory for Hagler, Sugar Ray came out of retirement and that dream went up in smoke. I really, in my heart, felt at that time I could beat Hagler. Of course it never would be easy, Hagler was a great champ, one of the best middleweights ever, and that is saying something if you were to look at the middleweight champions. I believe I simply had a style that could beat him, it wasn’t about being a better fighter. It was styles.

BB: On October 10, 1987, you face Frank Tate for the vacant IBF Middleweight Championship of the World in a scheduled 15 round fight. When the fight is over, you lose for the first time in your professional boxing career by a wide unanimous decision. I didn’t see this fight, so I cannot say what happened, but it looked like, at least from the scorecards, you were never in this fight from the start. What are your thoughts on this fight, and what did your first professional loss teach you?

Well, Tate and I ended up fighting for the World Middleweight Title and by the time the fight came around in October, I was so drained of all physical and emotional energy, I was surprised I went the distance to tell you the truth. My Father and I were at one of the most terrible points in our relationship, I hadn’t stopped training since the Ray Ray Grey fight over a year earlier (and if you saw how I trained, you’d think I was possessed). On top of that, I had never in my life been in the ring with someone who had a style like Tate, nor did I have anyone remotely close to his style to spar with. I think it took me 14 rounds just to adjust to the angles and punch trajectory. I really felt defeated before going into the ring and I had never felt this way before. It was like I was depressed and I was being brought to the slaughter, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Then the ugly side of boxing reared its head. I had a co-manager and co-trainer that did the “Judas thing” to me. I suffered a 12-stitch cut in my left hand 7 days before the fight, and no one in my camp-not my promoters or managers-called the fight off. Naturally I am a fighter and I didn’t know to not fight which seemed cowardice to me. I got my ass kicked, dropped twice along the way and never was the same after that fight. I suffered inner ear damage from getting hit behind the head and to this day my balance is still messed up. I stagger like a drunken sailor, but the upside of doing an impression of Captain Jack from Pirates of the Caribbean is he made staggering fashionable, so I can live with that.

After the fight, I really didn’t allow myself to feel anything, but when I got home to NYC, I felt the sting of embarrassment…. I immediately took another fight and then another against Cecil Pettigrew and then Iran Barkley.

BB: You are back in the ring a little over two months later and win again against Cecil Pettigrew in a ten rounder. In your next fight, you face Iran Barkley who would go on to upset Thomas Hearns in his very next fight after yours, by KO. In your fight, he stopped you for the first time in your career in the fifth round. What are your recollections of this fight, and being stopped for the first time in your boxing career? What did that do to you?

The Blade fight was wild. We had a manufactured dislike for one another, but internally, what was not to like? He was a hard working, blood and guts guy, who consistently got the short end of the stick. We fought, my father and I weren’t even effectively communicating at that time, the rats in the camp had completely defected, and when I got up into the ring to fight Barkley, I see them literally in his corner, up on the ring, pointing at me and telling him to kill me. These were people I was really close to and being naïve from Vancouver, I couldn’t rationalize how this could happen. The bell rang, I didn’t box, I just wanted to hit him real hard and immediately. He triggered off a great hook counter, caught me on the side of the head and dropped me. I got up and dropped him (I wished he didn’t get up, but of course he did) and he dropped me again. We were fighting, and the ref, whom I thought was too inexperienced to handle a fight of this magnitude and emotion, pulled the plug. That fight took the wind out of my sails completely. That fight was like a coming of age ritual, or right of passage, and to have someone else decide your fate was too devastating for me to handle.

Between my balance and bad eyes, I began to lose interest in the sport as a profession, but I didn’t know that was what was happening. I cut ties with my Father after this fight, got new management, brought in Hector Roca as my trainer, and then Angelo Dundee, and started over. I won a couple fights, fought a fight against Dennis Milton in which I did a zombie act for 8 rounds, finally decided to punch and stopped him in the last 5 seconds of the last round.

Unfortunately the ref was “persuaded” by Milton’s management that he stopped the fight because he thought he heard a bell and Randy Gordon, Head of the NY Athletic Commission at the time, was threatened with bodily harm if he didn’t “agree” with the ref, so he ended up agreeing with the ref, and they called it a split decision win for Milton. Which was a little frustrating and expensive. Who ever tells you that boxing isn’t “influenced” at times, doesn’t know this sport.

BB: On April 20, 1990, you moved up in weight and faced Thomas Hearns for his WBO Super Middleweight Belt. In this fight, you lose by a wide unanimous decision. At looking back over your career, you did really well, but when you fought the champions, you went the distance, but were heavily out pointed by them. Looking back at the Tate and Hearns fight, why do you think you were so soundly beaten on the scorecards?

I got the fight with Thomas Hearns, and in 1990 he was not a shell of his former self. Yes, he had lost a couple, but anyone not up to par he took out. The fight didn’t really get started till he dropped me in the 9th round. I got up and had him in trouble. He got up on his bike and moved for the final round or two and that was it. I was unimpressive and disinterested in boxing.

BB: In your boxing career, you received an injury that caused a detached retina in your right eye. Which fight did this happen in and what were the long lasting affects on you through today?

My eye was so messed up that I had to undergo various surgical procedures just to see, waited a year, fought again. I didn’t know I could do anything else, I had no other formal training, got creamed in that fight, almost had the eye removed and stopped fighting after that. The final analysis of the eye was, you guessed it, a detached retina due to trauma as well as an orbital fracture, which is really just as bad if not worse than the retina… it causes you to see double. The first time I had orbital damage that caused me to see double was in a sparring match in Gleason’s gym in 86, I adapted by keeping my chin down so I saw most everything in singles. It got worse after a sparring match with Merqi Sosa in 88 and the slide continued.

BB: Looking back on your almost ten year boxing career, if there was one thing you could change, what would that be?

If I were to do it all over, I certainly would have had more experience before stepping up to the world stage. I would have, without a doubt, fought at my natural weight, which was more junior middleweight, even welterweight… I always ate before the weigh in and weighed 158 usually. It sounds cruel, but I would not have my father as my manager/trainer. You need experience to manage someone and he didn’t have the experience as a manager to do what needed to be done with me… and as for training: Well, my father always made sure I was in shape, but the technical end of things, the analysis of opponents, etc, that was never done. Most of what I learned in the ring came from watching fighters like Ali, Benitez, Leonard, Pryor, Duran, etc.

BB: Your younger brother, Tokunbo Olajide, fought over the last couple of years in the junior middleweight division and had mixed results. He hasn’t fought in almost two years. Does he plan on coming back to boxing? Would you think of being his trainer if he did?

My younger brother, Tokunbo is very talented but I remember when he was fighting as an amateur, I mentioned to friends that if he is going to fight professionally, he better do it quick and look to get out fast because he is a kid that really isn’t desperate. He has the kind of mind that can do other things besides boxing, and if boxing isn’t your passion or you are not desperate, it doesn’t make any sense to fight. Sure enough, he didn’t move along the ladder fast enough and boxing couldn’t hold his interest any longer. At one point I did ask him if he were interested in me being his trainer, as I thought I could help him, but I could also tell that he was already somewhere else and I knew we weren’t going to work together.

BB: In the almost 27 years since you started your professional boxing career, do feel the sport has moved ahead and if not, what areas do you think they need to improve on?

In 25 years, I do not think they have improved upon the sport from the inside. The most significant/insignificant change in the rules of boxing since 87 has been lowering the title fights from 15 rounds to 12. OK, the fighters get paid more for potentially less work. And in training you won’t take as many punches, as well as you will take 3 rounds less punishment… but truly, I can’t say that the change to 12 rounds has done anything great for boxing. It sounds weird but a certain mystique has disappeared with boxing since making changes like that. They would be better off making all fighters come into the ring in proper condition to do battle, when they don’t get tired they will get hit a whole lot less, and they can maintain the fights at 15 rounds too. Boxing just needs a marketing overhaul and there almost isn’t an area in pugilism that can’t be improved.

BB: Do you favor a mandatory retirement fund for all boxers and if so, how would you like to see it accomplished?

Especially a mandatory retirement fund. I know a lot of fighters won’t agree with it because something you earned is being taken from you and you aren’t going to see it until your in your late 60’s, and that just seems too far off to consider, but time flies fast and you never know what life has in store for you. You have to invest or have someone invest for you. That’s really what a retirement fund is. How is this accomplished? Maybe a portion of the fighter’s purse as well as the promoter’s ticket goes to the retirement fund, but at the same time, fighters need to open a different stream of financial opportunity through the marketing of themselves… licensing. As they do in other professional sports. This is tricky and arduous, but it can be done without too much sweat.

BB: What is the one thing you can share with the RSR readers in this interview that they may hear for the very first time from you?

I would like RSR readers to know that at any given point in a fight, any and everybody gets a chance to win or turn it around if losing. Everybody. It’s all about whether the fighter sees his opportunity and believes, which many don’t because resistance has been beaten out of them either in the gym, or through mismanagement.

BB: Finally, what is the saying you live your life by?

“Stick and Move”… I still don’t know which one to focus on as I seem to do both at the wrong time (stick when I should of moved), but life is an amazing challenge and journey and I might just be beginning to understand how this whole thing works… sort of.

Michael Olajide
(The Silk)
(Middleweight)
Professional Record: 27-5, 19 KO’s

– 1981 –

+ (Dec-17-1981, Victoria) Johnny Gains ko 1

– 1982 –

+ (Jan-15-1982, Victoria) Dale Dorsett ko 3
+ (Apr-30-1982, Victoria) Dan Oversby ko 1
+ (Jun-17-1982, Burnaby) Al Ford 8

– 1983 –

+ (Mar-24-1983, Vancouver) Rossevelt Green kot 6
+ (Aug-13-1983, Kelowna) Tommy Briscoe ko 1
+ (Oct-13-1983, Vancouver) Joe Banks ko 2
+ (Nov-25-1983, Vancouver) Stacy Mc Swain 8

– 1984 –

+ (Mar-12-1984, Vancouver) Lancelot Innis ko 4
+ (May-10-1984, New Westminster) Leonardo Bermudez ko 2
+ (Aug-18-1984, Vancouver) Rosendo Ruvalcaba 10

– 1985 –

+ (Apr-10-1985, Vancouver) Wayne Caplette kot 9 (Canada, Middleweight)
+ (Jul-11-1985, Vancouver) Reyes Escalera kot 5
+ (Aug-10-1985, Suva) Sakaraia VE ko 9
+ (Nov-28-1985, Vancouver) Arcelio DIAZ injury 7

– 1986 –

+ (Jan-11-1986, Atlantic City) Curtis PARKER 10
+ (Apr-10-1986, Atlantic City) James GREEN 10
+ (Jun-5-1986, New York) Randy SMITH 10
+ (Aug-28-1986, New York) Knox Brown kot 9
+ (Oct-23-1986, Atlantic City) Ray Ray Grey ko 10

– 1987 –

+ (Jan-8-1987, New York) Richard Burton kot 4
+ (Feb-1-1987, Atlantic City) Don Lee kot 9
+ (May-10-1987, Atlantic City) Troy Darrell 10
– (Oct-10-1987, Las Vegas) Frank TATE 15 (I.B.F., Middleweight)
+ (Dec-17-1987, New York) Frankie Owens ko 6

– 1988 –

+ (Feb-4-1988, New York) Cecil PETTIGREW 10
– (Mar-6-1988, New York) Iran BARKLEY kot 5
+ (Sep-29-1988, New York) Troy WATSON kot 7

– 1989 –

+ (Jun-27-1989, Las Vegas) Kenny LOPEZ injury 4
– (Dec-1-1989, Albany) Dennis MILTON 10

– 1990 –

– (Apr-28-1990, Atlantic City) Thomas HEARNS 12 (W.B.O., Super middleweight)

– 1991 –

– (Apr-25-1991, Mobile) Ralph MONCRIEF kot 8

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