Making money in boxing means never having to say you’re sorry.
Not for allowing Evander Holyfield to risk his life at the age of 58 just to make a few bucks. Certainly not for stealing money from gullible fans for a pay-per-view broadcast prank that would have done terrible damage to the sport if only the sport weren’t already so badly damaged.
No one was apologizing – at least loud enough to hear it – among the crew of the Triller Fight Club, a nascent promotional outfit on the fringes of boxing. They were successful in obtaining a license for Holyfield in Florida and moved the entire card there on short notice from California after planned headliner Oscar De La Hoya stepped down with what he said was COVID -19.
Holyfield also made no apologies after being credited with a single punch before being stopped in the first round by a veteran MMA fighter. The Real Deal now apparently lives on the edge of reality, as he suggested after the fight they wanted another fight – this one against Mike Tyson.
Elsewhere in boxing, however, there have been excuses. A rare and sincere apology from a judge who said he was wrong.
The best thing about it? He came out of nowhere, like a perfect left hook.
Stephen Blea was one of three ringside judges Friday night in Tucson as hometown hero Oscar Valdez faced Robson Conceicao in a junior lightweight title fight. It was a familiar position for Blea, who estimated that he had officiated over 60 title fights as a referee in rings around the world.
That night, the sold-out crowd was cheering – and clapping loudly – Valdez. In the front row, Blea also had to deal with photographers on one side of him and a constantly moving film crew on the other.
Still, “I honestly thought I would be able to do my job 100%, no excuses,” he said.
But the noise of the crowd influenced Blea early on. He scored a few laps for Valdez that could have been scored even, or for Conceicao.
In the end, Blea got the better of the winner. But his 117-110 margin stood out in an extremely close fight (the other two judges had him 115-112 Valdez).
The predictable outrage online over his score started to make Blea think he might have been wrong. He watched a replay of the fight and concluded that he should have scored the fight 115-112 or 114-113.
So he offered an apology that was not only astonishing, but unprecedented.
All the horrible decisions over the years. All the controversy over a terrible score.
No one ever apologized for them.
But a judge in Arizona did.
“The score of 117-110 is not accurate and does not represent actions in the ring and I feel like I have let down my federation, the NABF; my organization, the WBC; and especially our sport and the fighters inside the ring, ”Blea wrote.
I hope the folks at Triller are careful because they also have some excuses to make. Throwing a man just four years old from Social Security in the ring at the last moment wasn’t just about making fun of a sport that doesn’t need to be made fun of anymore.
It was also about the insensitivity of risking a man’s life – or clouding his brain – just so the profit and loss book could be balanced.
Triller is hardly alone. Boxing has a long history of promoters and managers who have sacrificed fighters for the better good of their wallets. They’ve ruined careers, and they’ve ruined lives in a sport so dangerous that any punch can be the last.
It was even difficult to watch Holyfield’s music videos during the short time he was in the ring. The fighter who beat Tyson a quarter of a century ago and then forced him to foul the second time they met looked slow and confused as he desperately tried to find a part of the old magic.
Even sadder was Holyfield – who made $ 35 million in 1997 for Tyson’s second fight – so desperate for the money he was delusional enough to even enter the ring.
Compare that with Blea, who was so upset with his judgment that he plans to take time off and undergo a thorough refresher program before returning to ringside.
“I am an honorable man with a deep love, knowledge and respect for the sport,” he said. “I’m sorry I had a bad night and brought unnecessary controversy to such a sensational fight.”
A real excuse. In boxing, everywhere.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for the Associated Press. Write to him at [email protected] or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg
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