Making money boxing means never having to apologize.
Not for Evander Holyfield risking his life at the age of 58 just to make a few dollars. Especially not to steal money from gullible fans for a farce of a pay-per-view show that would have done terrible damage to the sport, if only it hadn’t been so badly damaged.
Nobody apologized – at least loud enough to hear – among the crew of the Triller Fight Club, a young promotional outfit on the verge of boxing. They managed to get Holyfield in Florida licensed and moved the entire map over there from California at short notice after scheduled headliner Oscar De La Hoya withdrew with what he referred to as COVID-19.
Holyfield also made no apologies after being credited with landing just one punch before being stopped in the first round by a former MMA fighter. The Real Deal now apparently lives on the edge of reality as he suggested after the fight he wanted another fight – this one against Mike Tyson.
Somewhere else in boxing, however, there was an apology. A rare and heartfelt apology from a judge who said he screwed up.
The best thing about it? It came out of nowhere, like a perfect left hook.
Stephen Blea was one of three judges on Friday night in Tucson when home hero Oscar Valdez faced Robson Conceicao in a junior lightweight title bout. It was a familiar position for Blea, who valued having directed more than 60 title fights as a referee in wrestling around the world.
That night, the sold-out crowd cheered Valdez – loudly. In his ring seat, Blea dealt with photographers on one side and a camera team in constant motion on the other.
“I honestly thought I could do my job 100% with no excuses,” he said.
But the noise of the crowd affected Blea early on. He scored some rounds for Valdez that could even be scored or for Conceicao.
The story goes on
In the end, Blea got the winner right. But his lead of 117-110 stood out in an extremely close match (the other two judges had 115-112 Valdez).
The predictable online outrage over his score made Blea think he might be wrong. He watched a replay of the bout and concluded that he should have scored 115-112 or 114-113.
So he apologized not only stunningly, but also unprecedented.
All of the terrible decisions made over the years. All the controversy over a terrible score.
Nobody ever apologized for them.
But a judge in Arizona did.
“The 117-110 score is not accurate and does not represent the action in the ring and I feel like I have let my association, the NABF, down; my organization, the WBC; and above all our sport and the fighters in the ring, ”wrote Blea.
Hopefully people will be careful with Triller because they will have to apologize too. Throwing a man in the ring at the last minute who had just moved in just four years after paying social security was not just a mockery of a sport that needs no further ridicule.
It was also about the callousness of risking a man’s life – or rummaging through his brain – just to clear the income statement.
Triller is hardly alone. Boxing has a long history of promoters and managers who sacrificed fighters for the sake of their wallets. They have ruined careers and ruined lives in a sport so dangerous that every stroke can be the last.
It was hard to see the clips of Holyfield for the short time he was in the ring. The fighter who beat up Tyson a quarter of a century ago and then fouled him at the second meeting looked slow and confused as he tried desperately to find some of the old magic.
Even sadder, Holyfield – who made $ 35 million for the 1997 Tyson second fight – was so desperate for money that he was delusional enough to even step into the ring.
Compare that to Blea, who was so upset with his assessment that he plans to take time out and undergo a thorough retraining program before returning to the ring.
“I am an honorable man with deep love, knowledge and respect for the sport,” he said. “I’m sorry I had a bad night and brought unnecessary controversy into such a sensational fight.”
Real excuse. In boxing, of all things.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or https://twitter.com/timdahlberg
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