OK, so it’s not exactly what the boxing world was craving.
Though Evander Holyfield’s credentials as a Hall of Famer are beyond debate and the thrills he provided will be relayed through generations, it’s not as if anyone was asking for a new set of highlights.
The “Real Deal” hasn’t been in a public prize ring in a few months more than a decade, hasn’t carried a legit title belt in better than two decades and is far closer to celebrating his 60th birthday than his 30th – to say nothing of his 40th and 50th.
Incidentally, for those now scrambling to Wikipedia, he’ll be 59 in October.
Nevertheless, he’ll make his return to the boxing spotlight – or at least the 2021 equivalent of it – on Saturday night in Hollywood, Fla., where he steps in for Oscar De La Hoya to meet former MMA ace Vitor Belfort in an eight-round match of some sorts at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
Belfort was initially set to meet De La Hoya, but the “Golden Boy” was sidelined with COVID, leading to the call answered by Holyfield, who last appeared while stopping Brian Nielsen in 2011.
The show was initially set for Los Angeles, but headed across the country when the state commission in California refused to sanction a bout with a 58-year-old headliner.
The pay-per-view broadcast, available for $49.99, will begin at 7 p.m. ET and include three boxing matches alongside the Holyfield-Belfort main – including another pair of ex-MMA stars in Anderson Silva and Tito Ortiz, former cruiserweight/heavyweight title claimant David Haye against fellow Brit Joe Fournier and junior lightweights Andy Vences and Jono Carroll.
On the mic, for the first time in any capacity in nearly three years and for the first time on a Holyfield fight since 2004, will be ex-HBO stalwart Jim Lampley.
Now 72 himself, Lampley signed off from the “Network of Champions” when it decided to end regular boxing content in December 2018. He’d last worked a Holyfield event when the network carried the multi-time heavyweight champ’s desultory loss to Larry Donald at Madison Square Garden.
Holyfield was 6-2 with a no-contest in nine subsequent bouts on other networks.
As for Lampley, his ringside agreement with Triller Fight Club was announced in the spring and scheduled to begin with the broadcast of Teofimo Lopez and George Kambosos on June 19 in Miami, but it was nixed when Lopez contracted COVID. The fight has since been reported bound to Australia and the Middle East – specifically Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates – but is still not firmed up.
Still, he claims to feel the same nerves and anxiety as this unorthodox show approaches.
“I have zero idea what this fight looks like in the ring and why – will begin to learn Friday,” he told Boxing Scene. “I just want to go to ringside somewhere and learn whether I can still see fights.
“Have to favor the heavyweight, but we’ll see.”
Indeed, most of Belfort’s MMA fights were contested at weights below where Holyfield solidified his in-ring reputation. The Brazilian was a UFC champion at 205 pounds and challenged twice for the belt at 185 pounds. Meanwhile, Holyfield was an Olympic bronze medalist at 178 pounds and a professional world champion at 190 before winning heavyweight titles while weighing 208, 217, 215 and 221.
Belfort’s initial foe, De La Hoya, was a champion at six weights from 130 to 160 pounds.
“Belfort is part of the seemingly culture-wide MMA urge to prove something about their ability to function as boxers,” Lampley said. “It goes without saying that regardless of condition and age, fighting Holyfield is an entirely different equation than fighting De La Hoya. Not really sure whether it is easier or tougher, but after having put in preparation work, it makes sense for Belfort to get paid.
“Evander, I assume, is never totally out of shape – too vain for that. Tyson ‘beat’ Jones, so go ahead and try to set up Holy-Tyson III.”
Speaking of Tyson-Jones, their November fight was part of a Triller broadcast that pushed the envelope with the likes of Snoop Dogg on the main-event mic and a joint-smoking Wiz Khalifa performing between fights. Having Lampley on the team this time won’t bring back the gold standard of he, Larry Merchant and Emanuel Steward, but it’ll no doubt feel a little different than the opener.
The team will again include Snoop, Lampley said, but nearly everyone else is new. Mario Lopez may return as the event host, but the venue move from West Coast to East “threw confetti in the air.”
The Tyson-Jones broadcast drew more than 1 million viewers.
“Can’t put lipstick on a pig and won’t try,” Lampley said. “They know they hired a truth-teller and I will encourage Shawn Porter to follow that path as well. But I don’t expect it to be HBO. Just want to call fights and have fun in this changing world. Don’t need to prove anything and will not try to.
“Not judgmental about covering a 58-year-old fighter.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBC super featherweight title – Tucson, Arizona
Oscar Valdez (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Robson Conceicao (No. 14 WBC/No. 84 IWBR)
Valdez (29-0, 23 KO): First title defense; Held WBO title at 126 pounds (2016-19, six defenses)
Conceicao (16-0, 8 KO): First title fight; Won gold medal at 2016 Olympics (lightweight)
Fitzbitz says: It’s an interesting bout for Valdez in his first title defense. He’s on a roll after a big championship win and faces a guy with obvious street cred. He’ll have enough. Valdez in 10 (99/1)
WBO flyweight title – Tucson, Arizona
Junto Nakatani (champion/No. 4 IWBR) vs. Angel Acosta (No. 1 WBO/No. 6 IWBR)
Nakatani (21-0, 16 KO): First title defense; Never fought past nine rounds
Acosta (22-2, 21 KO): Seventh title fight (4-2); Held WBO title at 108 pounds (2017-19, three defenses)
Fitzbitz says: Nakatani is a talented lefty who’s beaten some good competition, while Acosta is a banger who’s been on a title level one division below. Call it a hunch for the champ. Nakatani in 9 (55/45)
IBF flyweight title – London, United Kingdom
Sunny Edwards (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Jayson Mama (No. 3 IBF/No. 31 IWBR)
Edwards (16-0, 4 KO): First title defense; Five straight wins by 10- or 12-round decision
Mama (16-0, 9 KO): First title fight; Second fight outside of the Philippines (1-0, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Edwards is one of those fighters who’s to be better than the sum of his physical parts. Put that together with a starring role on a home stage and it’s a win. Edwards by decision (85/15)
Last week’s picks: 1-1 (WIN: Ioka; LOSS: Straffon)
2021 picks record: 28-10 (73.6 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,184-385 (75.4 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body’s full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.