SALT LAKE CITY — Call it the Quake on the Lake. Hopping around shirtless in a pair of red silk trunks, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney faced off against five-time world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield for a boxing match in Salt Lake City on Friday.
Few would have predicted the spectacle three years ago, when Romney was looking more presidential and his opponent was President Barack Obama.
The bout raised money for CharityVision, an organization that provides surgeries to heal blindness.
For two rounds, Romney, 68, and Holyfield, 52, went head-to-head, each landing gentle blows that appeared more like a tickle fight than a boxing match. Although Holyfield took a tumble on the mat, Romney threw in the towel in the second round.
The bout didn’t reach Foreman vs. Ali levels of sports history, but the sight of the last runner-up in the race for the White House dancing his way around a ring elevated it to must-watch status.
Romney trained with Holyfield
Before the main event, Romney trained with the Fullmer Brothers Boxing Gym — with Holyfield’s help.
On fight night, he walked into the ring in a red robe while the song “I Will Survive” blared over the sound system. His wife, Ann, joined him, wearing a Batman baseball cap turned sideways.
Since it was a friendly event for charity, Romney knew Holyfield wouldn’t smack him silly.
“The good news is that Evander Holyfield always hits above the belt, and sometimes in politics that isn’t the way things are done,” Romney said.
The day before the fight, the duo met for a traditional stare-down ceremony, where Romney weighed in at 179 pounds. His opponent registered 236 pounds on the scale.
“He’s the oldest person that I ever fought. He’s the smallest person I ever fought,” Holyfield said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for that.”
During the match, the former Massachusetts governor ducked and dodged his way around Holyfield’s mighty-yet-restrained arms, and even got a few soft blows in himself.
“For a man who’s never got in the ring to box, he can throw a jab,” Holyfield said. “He can move around. I was impressed.”
In 2012, Romney would never have dreamed of climbing into the ring with a former heavyweight champion. It would not have been seemly for a candidate seeking high office. Plus, the Romneys did not highlight their charitable endeavors.
Fast forward through an unsuccessful presidential bid, plus a brief flirtation with a 2016 run, and the Romney family appears to be more comfortable in a casual spotlight.
“The whole thing makes me laugh,” Ann Romney said before the match, chuckling. “Mitt might write, like, a fantastic editorial about the Iran nuclear deal and how troubling it might be, and nobody reads it. But he’s going to step in the ring with Evander Holyfield and, like, the whole world knows.”
Ann highlighted her husband’s extensive training, which included lifting some of his grandchildren. Then there’s the annual Romney Olympics, where the family competes in challenges like biking, swimming and hammering nails into a board.
“With the Romney Olympics now, it used to be that Mitt would lose to all the boys and that he’d beat all the girls,” she said. “Now he’s losing to the girls, so I’m not sure how much that’s going to help him.”
It’s all for a good cause. The charity is run by Mitt’s son, Josh Romney. It’s aiming to raise $1 million from the event, which would cover 40,000 surgeries to help the blind.
Meanwhile, Ann has a full slate of charitable causes that are all her own, including the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Disease. She has set a goal of raising $50 million for the center. She also has a memoir set to release this fall, with the proceeds to benefit the center.
A different focus
Embracing the limelight outside the political stump has been a long process for this media-wary family.
“I hesitated for a very long time,” Ann said about deciding to document her struggle with multiple sclerosis in her forthcoming book. “I sort of felt that there are a lot of people that went through things that were much tougher than what I went through.” She said she hopes her struggle will help others facing difficult periods in their life.
As for another presidential bid — an idea Mitt dismissed early this year — Ann didn’t fully rule it out. But she said she and her husband, the former Massachusetts governor, were focused on other priorities.
“Everywhere we go everyone says the same thing, ‘Please, please, please run,’ and Mitt and I are like, we’ve done that, and we’re going to let the next group come along and see what’s going to happen there,” Ann said.
“We’re in a different place right now, and we’re really focused on these charities that we’re involved with and our grandchildren.”
By Sara Murray and Chris Moody