Regardless of the overriding ethical questions at play, 58-year-old Evander Holyfield is still set to headline a boxing pay-per-view card on Saturday in the year 2021 against 44-year-old former UFC champion Vitor Belfort.
The Triller Fight Club card was moved on just six days' notice from Los Angeles to its new home of Hollywood, Florida, after a positive COVID test to fellow Hall of Famer Oscar De La Hoya left the card in need of a new headliner. Enter Holyfield (44-10-2, 29 KOs), boxing's only four-time heavyweight champion, who wrapped up his 27-year pro career in 2011.
The fact that the Florida State Athletic Commission was so willing to sanction the bout after its California counterpart refused remains one of the more troubling aspects of the fight card.
Regardless, this heavyweight attraction will go down in the books as a pro fight – unlike Mike Tyson's 2020 exhibition comeback at age 54 against Roy Jones Jr. -- even though Belfort (26-14, 1 NC in MMA) will be boxing for just the second time as a pro (and first since 2006). The fight is set for eight rounds of two minutes per, instead of the traditional three.
For Holyfield, the decision to accept the fight on such late notice proved merely a financial one after he began training for a comeback nearly two years ago. "The Real Deal" said he signed with Triller thinking he was getting a trilogy fight against Tyson only to see his former foe cut ties with the promotion, which prompted a lawsuit from Triller.
After the fallout of the Tyson debacle, Holyfield stayed in camp and was expected to make his Triller debut against former Tyson conqueror and journeyman heavyweight Kevin McBride, only for that fight to get postponed multiple times. Last week, Holyfield filed a demand for arbitration against Triller seeking $5 million before accepting the Belfort fight just days later.
"I got into this because I was getting ready to fight Mike Tyson. That's what I was looking for," Holyfield said during Thursday's press conference. "For two whole years, the fight just kept going and kept going. Then I was into another fight that didn't happen. Then they asked me and I said, 'If [Belfort] is willing to fight, I'll do it.'
"I wanted to get paid for my time. I put the time in. The only thing that you can waste in life is time. I have been training for two years. I'm more than ready and I look forward to the fight."
Fears regarding the danger Holyfield could be entering against Belfort, a knockout artist in MMA with power in both hands and a decorated history of performance-enhancing drug use, were only escalated on Wednesday when footage of Holyfield hitting mitts during the media workout showed a much slower and more deliberate version of the once great heavyweight.
Holyfield dismissed such fears the following day but not only referencing the physical shape he is in but by playing up the advantages he expects to hold in technique. Belfort, a former UFC light heavyweight champion at 205 pounds, competed at the elite level in MMA over three weight classes and now much face a much bigger foe in Holyfield than he was originally scheduled to against the 47-year-old De La Hoya, when they initially agreed to a catchweight of 185 pounds.
"Going into this, it's going to be hard to outbox me," Holyfield said. "I'm not into MMA. If I went in there, [Belfort} would probably hurt me. But not in boxing. I'm only doing things to my advantage. That's the reason I can do this in this short period of time. I may be 58 years old but I am in shape and I do well for my age.
"There is an art to this. I know how to box and that's the reason I was able to do real well with all the big guys. They were bigger than me and may be able to hit harder than me but they can't outbox me."
Belfort last fought in MMA in 2018 at the conclusion of his final UFC deal. He signed with the MMA promotion ONE Championship in Asia the following year but cut ties with the company before making his debut.
The native of Brazil first caught the boxing bug after watching Holyfield's upset of Tyson in 1996. "The Phenom" said he was offered a chance to turn pro in boxing shortly after but instead chose the path of MMA . He turned pro later that year at age 19 and drew comparisons to Tyson after starting his UFC career with a trio of first-round knockouts at heavyweight.
"This was an upgrade from business class to first class fighting a gold medalist and heavyweight champion [like Holyfield]," Belfort said. "He was the heavyweight king and the 'Real Deal.' I'm excited to show my boxing skills and this is an amazing change and an amazing opportunity.
"When you are going into a legendary fight, the kind that has never been done in history, I see everything in my life that every problem is an opportunity. If you see it that way, you become more optimistic and happy. Size for me is speed, power and agility. I am not intimidated by the size and a lot of fighters are. I kind of enjoy it."
- Evander Holyfield vs. Vitor Belfort
- Tito Ortiz vs. Anderson Silva
- David Haye vs. Joe Fournier
- Andy Vences vs. Jono Carroll
- Date: September 11 | Start time: 7 p.m. ET (main card)
- Location: Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino -- Hollywood, Florida
- TV: Triller Fight Club PPV | Price: $49.99
Although Holyfield opened as the betting favorite, the video of how slow his hand speed was during the open workout quickly flipped the odds in Belfort's favor. Getting a glimpse of a shirtless Belfort at the same event had a similar effect.
From the standpoint of experience and technique, the advantages fall almost overwhelmingly in Holyfield's favor, as does the fact that he has remained in incredible physical shape throughout his 10-year retirement.
But Father Time remains undefeated and Holyfield is fighting someone not far removed from the highest levels of elite combat sports in Belfort, who has an MMA style that appears very adaptable to boxing given its reliance upon power punching. In this case, the fears regarding whether or not Holyfield can get hurt in this fight seem legitimate given his age and the extreme amount of damage he has accrued over such a legendary career.
As MMA legend Chuck Liddell found out the hard way in 2018 when he returned from an eight-year retirement to lose via first-round knockout to arch nemesis Tito Ortiz, when the reflexes and punch resistance of a once great fighter leave --- regardless of the physical shape they work themselves back into – they are gone for good.
Pick: Belfort via TKO6