Let’s face it, we are in a crossover/celebrity boxing era ripe with curious and bizarre matchmaking. Saturday’s Triller Fight Club pay-per-view from Hollywood, Fla., is about as weird as it gets.
No, there won’t be any YouTube stars in the main event this time, but the card, headlined by faded MMA star Vitor Belfort and former four-time heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield, from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel offers a veritable buffet of questions, concerns and misgivings along with the promise of violence.
As the card draws this weekend, let’s take a look at the biggest storylines.
1. Oscar De La Hoya was the true draw of this card: This is no disrespect to the legendary combat careers turned in by both Holyfield, a late replacement for De La Hoya after he was hospitalized last week for COVID 19, or Belfort but the 47-year-old “Golden Boy” was such a huge draw in his prime that the intrigue of seeing him lace up the gloves after retiring on his own terms some 13 years ago was the real hook. De La Hoya’s personal life has been a constant rollercoaster of turmoil since his career finale when he quit on his stool against Manny Pacquiao in 2008 and he was hoping to use boxing as a way to curb his personal demons of addiction.
Now, his exit from the card is a big hit to the intrigue of it all, mostly because he never made a comeback of any kind before this. Even Saturday’s co-main event, which pairs retired MMA legends and household names Anderson Silva and Tito Ortiz, features fighters who have remained decently active in some form over the past few years. De La Hoya was also set to fight at a contracted catchweight (185 pounds), which was 25 pounds above the highest he has competed at in a boxing ring — which added to the danger of the matchup.
2. The circumstances surrounding Evander Holyfield’s return are troubling, at best: Let’s not pull any punches here: Holyfield shouldn’t be stepping into the ring this weekend. In fact, there’s a strong argument to make that nobody who is 58 should be taking punches to the head, let alone someone like Holyfield who fought 57 times over a 27-year pro career. It has been 16 years since Holyfield was placed on indefinite suspension from the state of New York, which refused to license him to fight.
The fact that the Hall of Famer stayed active as a pro for another six years despite that until his 2011 retirement at age 48 was bad enough. But putting Holyfield back into the ring against someone as powerful as the 44-year-old Belfort, an MMA striker known for his proficient hands who was active in the UFC as recently as three years ago and has a history of performance-enhancing drug issues, is nothing short of a crime.
What does Holyfield have to gain with this stunt at his age? Nothing. It was bad enough Triller had previously scheduled him to return against 48-year-old Kevin McBride, a heavyweight journeyman who was never that good to begin with and is only known for having retired a lifeless Mike Tyson in 2005. Belfort offers a different level of danger in a matchup, only made worse by the fact that Triller, knowing that the California State Athletic Commission would deny Holyfield a license at his age, instantly moved the entire card to Florida because of its notoriously lax governing body. Everything about this feels gross.
3. Sadly, the Holyfield story only gets worse: As if that’s even possible, it’s hard to look past this: Holyfield’s addition to the card came just days after he filed a demand for arbitration against Triller claiming $5 million in unpaid wages. Holyfield originally signed with the promotion after reportedly being promised a trilogy bout against Tyson, who made a successful comeback of his own late in 2020 against Roy Jones Jr. in an exhibition bout which did big business on PPV.
Tyson subsequently announced he would never work with Triller again, causing the promotion to sue him and claim it had Tyson under contract for one more fight. Holyfield pivoted from Tyson to McBride, but the fight never came off after being delayed multiples times. Although Holyfield certainly has the name value to make a strong replacement for De La Hoya, the surrounding legal ramifications make it seem as if Triller offered him the Belfort fight simply to avoid a potential lawsuit. Again, It produces a feeling grimy enough to make it hard to look the other way.
4. Hall of Fame broadcaster Jim Lampley’s return to boxing couldn’t be anymore bizarre: Lampley, the legendary blow-by-blow man of HBO, effectively saw his unmatched career as the voice of boxing come to an abrupt end in 2018 when the network ended its 40-year history airing fights. Still under contract to HBO, the 72-year-old made a surprising announcement in June by signing with Triller after receiving permission from HBO to call a lightweight title bout pairing unbeaten Teofimo Lopez Jr. against mandatory foe George Kambosos Jr.
The fight was ultimately postponed after Lopez tested positive for COVID, which means Lampley, as straight-laced and professional as any in boxing history, will make his long-awaited return on a card filled with aging MMA stars and musical acts. This should be interesting.
5. Anderson Silva has an opportunity to secure a future payday: At 46, Silva transitioned nicely from a legendary UFC career to a surprise return back to boxing, where he last competed in 2005, when he upset Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. via split decision in Mexico. The victory was received as a major triumph in MMA circles considering Chavez, just 35, was a former world champion in boxing before his career devolved into outright debauchery. It also revived Silva’s brand after closing his UFC career with just one win in his final nine fights.
Considering the celebrity boxing bubble created by Tyson’s return and the transition from YouTube brothers Jake and Logan Paul into the sport, Silva suddenly became a huge player. He enters as a favorite against the 46-year-old Ortiz, a wrestler who was never known for his hands in his MMA heyday. The fight also just might offer Silva a chance to secure a future fight against one of the Paul brothers, who have proven to be huge movers in the space.