Evander Holyfield’s first boxing appearance since 2011 didn’t go well in any way, with the 58-year-old embarrassed and stopped in the first round by Vitor Belfort in the main event of the Sept. 11 Triller Fight Club card.
Reaction was harsh, and should have been, and Triller boss Ryan Kavanaugh appeared on The MMA Hour today to speak with Ariel Helwani about the fight and the fallout.
On how he feels about Holyfield-Belfort
“I have very mixed emotions. ... It’s very easy to play Monday morning quarterback for me, too, to look back and say, ‘What could I have done differently?’ But I think I won’t know how I feel about the card until I see what happens over our next few cards. What I mean by that is most people don’t know — we had a contract with Holyfield to fight a number of fights, which we still do. And his first fight was going to be with Kevin McBride, who was the last person to knock out Tyson. And McBride is only two years older than Vitor.
“We saw McBride and saw some footage of training and got very concerned, and actually went to the commission and said, ‘We’re concerned about this fight.’ We actually were told we were the only promoters in the history of promotion to try and talk the commission out of a fight. The Holyfield camp — and we love them, we love working with them, but they were adamant that this fight had to go on, so much so that they brought it to arbitration, to say, ‘You have to let this go.’ And it was a real, under all pro rules fight, it was not an exhibition dance fight.
“We said we were very concerned about McBride, not Holyfield. Holyfield, having seen what we saw, was in such incredible shape, works out, never stops working out, he’s a specimen of a human being. It was quite a battle, and it came down to us — honestly, it was gonna be a fight of us saying, ‘We don’t want someone to get hurt.’
“So when we turned around to put this card on, the way we looked at it was Vitor, yes, he was younger — two years younger than McBride, so almost the same age. But not a pro boxer. He’s boxed once, right? He’s MMA. We all know that MMA has a disadvantage, let’s just say, when it comes to pro boxing. So we actually thought it was gonna be a very fair kind of card. There was an age disadvantage but there was an MMA disadvantage.
“The reason I say I don’t know yet (how I feel), is if you talk to Holyfield, what the world perceived happened, didn’t happen. If you talk to Holyfield, Vitor apparently stepped on his foot, which made him trip, and that’s why it looked like he fell. He swung really hard, and that was the knockout swing — which if he connected with Vitor, Vitor would probably still be in the hospital today — and missed, which put him into the ropes, because he swung so hard. And Vitor came back aggressively, but Holyfield is a notoriously slow starter. As he says, his strategy is, ‘Let me get hit, let me feel how he punches, and then I’ll come out with my returns.’
“If you look closely at that footage, he was blocking, he said he got hit once, if you ask Holyfield, he got hit once and the rest he was blocking. So the stoppage, in his opinion, is the problem, because he’s, like, ‘I would have come back and I knew what I was doing.’
“Now, I can’t — first of all, I probably know less about fighting than most people, so I can’t opine on that 100 percent. But the reason I say time will tell is that we’re gonna — I think Holyfield will wind up fighting someone again that’s, I guess, not — hopefully people see as better suited, whether it’s Tyson or someone like that. And Vitor’s gonna fight again, and we’re gonna see what’s gonna happen.
“No matter what happened here, we would have gotten shit. When we did the Jake Paul fight (against Nate Robinson), before the fight, there was press writing how irresponsible we were because Jake Paul wasn’t a pro athlete and Nate Robinson was and it was endangering Jake Paul. On Tuesday after the fight, press came out saying how irresponsible we were because Jake Paul was a pro boxer and Nate Robinson was not, and we were endangering Nate Robinson.
“Look, we were not happy with a round one stoppage, knockout, whatever you want to call it (in Holyfield-Belfort). Certainly not what we wanted to see, certainly not what the audience wanted to see. But I’m not sure yet if the end of the story has been written.”
On whether not he has any concern about whether a 58-year-old with slurred speech and slow movement should be fighting at all
“Yeah, I do. I’m mixed right now. I think coming off of Tyson (last year), we saw this amazing spectacle of a fighter, he looked great, it felt great. It was what we wanted to see. And I think we kind of expected something similar here. I didn’t — having seen Holyfield and him being an idol of mine for so long, and watching him train — he’s in better shape than most people.
“He’s always been a quiet guy, it’s not like all of a sudden he’s more quiet or talking slower. And he’s strong and fast. We have a lot of training footage of him where he’s hitting very hard, and hitting very fast, and he’s sparring 22-year-olds and knocking them out in 12-round matches time and time again. So I don’t know. I’m just as mixed as you are right now. (Ed. Note: Helwani never said he had mixed feelings on the topic.) The odds were on Holyfield! When you look at him, I was for sure, I thought Vitor was getting knocked out. For sure.”
On talk that Holyfield didn’t think it was a full speed fight
“The original deal with Evander was it was all pro fight rules apply, him and McBridge, two minute rounds, eight rounds. Everything was judged pro. The same thing that was going to happen with Oscar and Vitor, as well. When we moved it, we were happy to call it — we didn’t want to use the word ‘exhibition’ ... We want to make sure it’s scored like a pro fight, treated as a pro fight, and you guys are fighting as a pro fight. In fact, so much so that we negotiated in the agreement that the fighters would use their best efforts. The exact words we used.
“The day of, we agreed that we would tell the commission, we wanted to get it approved as a pro fight, specifically to make sure that they were healthy enough to fight like a pro bout. It would be signed off by their doctors and the various pieces. The week of, we said it won’t go on BoxRec. We specifically said it’s not an exhibition, it’s under pro fight rules, boxers use their best efforts ... there will be scoring, there will be judging, there will be knockouts, it just won’t go on BoxRec. Exhibition has so many different terms to it and what it can mean. The only exception is it didn’t go on BoxRec.”
On reports of the show doing low PPV buys
“You don’t get your pay-per-view for a while, it’s antiquated. So we don’t even know within a stone’s throw what our pay-per-view was. We know what our digital was, and I can tell you we did the same on digital that Jake Paul’s last fight (with Woodley) did on digital. We don’t know what our pay-per-view is yet. ... We are almost identical to the (Paul-Woodley fight) on digital. ... We certainly did more than 150K overall. We just have no idea. I’ve got people who are saying our numbers are going to be through the roof, and I’ve got people who are saying our numbers are going to be so-so. We don’t know yet.”