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Holyfield vs Belfort: Proof we learned nothing from Chuck Liddell’s public execution

From Mike Tyson to Kevin McBride and ultimately Vitor Belfort, boxing icon Evander Holyfield was determined to make his “sweet science” return in 2021. Regardless of opponent, “Sunshine State” regulators blew an opportunity to implement rule changes to protect the 58 year-old “Real Deal.” They may end up regretting it.

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Evander Holyfield v Vitor Belfort - Press Conference Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

Evander Holyfield turns 59 in just a couple of weeks which in the Untied States, means the former heavyweight boxing champion is now eligible for senior housing, a membership into AARP, and the early bird special at his local Sizzler.

And yet somehow we’re expected to stand and cheer for “The Real Deal” when he steps into the ring this weekend against former UFC titleholder Vitor Belfort, who is not only 15 years his junior, but a powerful puncher boasting a slam-bang career littered with highlight-reel knockouts.

I guess we learned nothing from Chuck Liddell.

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Not unlike Holyfield, the aging “Iceman” was previously lured out of retirement for a “Golden Boy” payday opposite longtime nemesis Tito Ortiz. And why not? For most of his fighting prime, Liddell was the superior combatant — and proved it on two separate occasions.

Then came videos of his pre-fight pad work and well, the “Junk Liddell” jokes were not that far off the mark. Liddell was flat-footed and stiff and looked no different when it came time to throw down. That’s how Ortiz — not exactly known for his striking prowess — melted “The Iceman” in the opening frame.

You know it’s bad when Dana White sounds like the voice of reason.

Some combat sports fans will argue that nobody has a right to tell fighters like Holyfield when they should (or should not) compete. If that’s your position; fine, it’s a fair one, but don’t circle back after the fight and say, “Oh my god, poor Holyfield, they should have never let him inside the ring.”

Remember, California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) refused to license Holyfield because it’s irresponsible to let someone that old step into a ring without a modified ruleset, like the one in place for Mike Tyson’s return against Roy Jones Jr. last fall.

Undeterred, the ghouls at Triller Fight Club — who are also giving former U.S. President Donald Trump a microphone on Sept. 11 — boxed Holyfield up and shipped him out to Hollywood, Florida, where (surprise!) the commission rubber stamped his eight-round return.

“The Florida Athletic Commission has approved the Evander Holyfield vs. Vitor Belfort bout as a fully regulated professional boxing match,” Florida State Boxing Commission Executive Director Patrick Cunningham said in a prepared statement. “It will be conducted under the Unified Rules of Boxing and scored by three judges on the 10-point must system.”

I’m a sucker for nostalgia and I like the idea of old timers coming back under Tyson’s “Legends League.” It gives fighters like Holyfield an opportunity to compete — without knockouts or head shots — and make a few bucks for themselves or charity.

But this ... this feels gross.

Triller originally booked Belfort against Oscar De La Hoya, who subsequently contracted COVID-19 and was forced to withdraw. Postponing the event or elevating Anderson Silva vs. Tito Ortiz into the headlining slot would have adversely impacted the bottom line, even if it made the most sense (or proved the safer route).

Exhuming the mummified remains of the once-great Holyfield, however, keeps Triller in the black — to the point where it was cheaper to ship the entire card to “The Sunshine State” than to stay put and wait for “The Golden Boy” to recover.

You can hype up Holyfield all day long (and deservedly so) but the fact is “The Real Deal” has not stepped into the ring in over a decade. Never was that more obvious than his troubling, slow-motion workout from last Wednesday in Hollywood.

I’m worried that Holyfield might get hurt ... or worse.

There’s an outside chance that Holyfield wins, fights to a competitive decision, or even starches the power-punching Brazilian. That doesn't mean licensing a 58 year-old grandfather (with nearly 60 professional bouts worth of head trauma) is a responsible way to promote fights.

Back in my day (eek), the boxing writers mercilessly mocked promoters for booking Holyfield — then 29 — against 42 year-old “Grandpa Holmes.” Ha! If only they knew the carnivals to come. As a sport, we should demand better, because in so many ways we are better.

We just have trouble showing it whenever big money gets involved.

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