Ten years ago, German photographer Holger Keifel was looking through a few boxing books when he noticed that, in each photo, the boxer was in a similar position: hands up, tough face, ready to fight. He felt there was something missing — who the boxers were outside the ring.
Keifel resolved to change that. Now, he has become known in boxing circles for having what may be the largest single collection of boxing portraits in the world, consisting of 400 portraits of fighters, promoters, trainers, cutmen, and announcers. Every portrait tries to reveal the inner life of his subject, from Mike Tyson to Joe Frazier to Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Keifel shared some photos from his boxing project with us here, and you can see more in his book, “Box: The Face of Boxing.” The National Portrait Gallery also recently acquired two of Keifel’s portraits.
Despite Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s tough reputation, Keifel says the boxer is a nice guy once he’s done “selling” himself and the cameras are off.
It took Keifel two and a half years to get Luis Collazo in the studio. When Keifel asked for the portrait, Collazo had just been injured in a loss to Shane Mosley. Keifel decided to wait because he “wanted to make him look good.”
Ukrainian boxer and current heavyweight world champion Wladimir Klitschko has spoken out often about the current unrest in his home country. His brother Vitali, also a boxer, is the leader of the opposition in Ukraine.
Arthur Abraham’s nickname is King Arthur. When Keifel took this photo, Abraham had just arrived in America to promote the Super Six World Boxing Classic. He was wearing the crown and jacket.
Considered one of the finest defensive boxers of all time, James Toney tried his hand at mixed-martial arts in 2010 at the age of 42. He lost his one and only match in under 4 minutes.
Keifel calls Bernard Hopkins “the quintessential old-school boxer.” He took this shot after a training session at Hopkins’ gym in Philadelphia.
Nicknamed “the Golden Boy,” Oscar De La Hoya retired in 2012, after losses to both Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
Keifel had to stand on a milk crate to photograph the 7-feet 1 inch tall Nikolai Valuev.
“The Italian Dragon” Joe Calzaghe retired in 2009 with an undefeated record and as a reigning world champion.
Mike Tyson was not easy to get in the studio, Keifel told MaxBoxing. In order to convince Tyson that it was worthwhile, Keifel talked to Gene Kilroy, Muhammad Ali’s business manager in the 1970s, who set it up.
Lennox Lewis is ranked as the number one pound-for-pound British boxer of all time.
One of the most well-known boxers of all time, Evander Holyfield will likely be most remembered for when Mike Tyson bit off a piece of his ear during a rematch.
Larry Holmes made 20 successful title defenses, second only to Joe Louis.
Keifel got this shot of Joe Frazier in 2003, eight years before the boxing great died. “You don’t have to tell him what to do,” Keifel says of Frazier. “He had an incredible life story and it was all written in his face.”
After seeing this shot of himself, Jake LaMotta told Keifel, “It’s an ugly picture of me, but I like it because it makes me look tough.”
After initially refusing, Don King eventually let Keifel photograph him three times. During the first shoot, King asked Keifel, “What am I doing this for? For my enemies?” It was only after seeing Keifel’s work that King warmed up to him.
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