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Tyson, Holyfield and the dying gasp of a once-great sport

The ring is empty much of the time now. There are moments when boxing gets up off the canvas and paid attention, but they are only moments. Otherwise, the gloves have had an impact on pillow fights. This is why novelty boxing continues to grow, generating revenue and recognition, like clowns riding in small cars in a parade. The enormously fraudulent Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight in August 2017 — the boxer vs. the mixed martial artist. That generated nearly $1 billion in money and exposed the fact that a generation of media and fans who had not witnessed great fights in their lifetimes could be hoodwinked into believing anything with a TMZ tagline.

Lately, we have seen the celebrity fisticuffs — the Jake Paul-Nate Robinson debacle, featuring an internet star not known for anything other than a so-called digital life and the former NBA star. Paul’s second-round knockout of Robinson just sold as a non-fungible token (NFT) for $10 million, according to a TMZ report last week. Paul’s next fight — his “third” as a celebrity fighter — is set for Saturday night against former UFC fighter Ben Askren. It’s pay-per-view and likely to make more money than the grand rematch last month between junior bantamweights Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada, which had a total purse for the two fighters of $600,000. On that same November freak show, former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson returned to the ring in an eight-round “exhibition” bout against former middleweight champion Roy Jones.

Tyson was 54, and Jones was 51 at the time.

“These fights actually look great,” the New York Times reported, more evidence that there are few observers left in this business who has ever seen “great” boxing. Neither fighter looked like a 54 and 51-year-old fighting on YouTube before the 7-Eleven, so expectations were low.

Now we have the return of Tyson’s nemesis, former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, who, according to Sports Illustrated, will get into the ring to fight another Tyson nemesis. This man ended Tyson’s professional boxing career, Kevin McBride (now 47).

This, like Tyson-Jones, will be an “exhibition” — eight two-minute rounds.

The only thing missing from this is Mike Tyson.

According to reports, the 58-year-old Holyfield had been eyeing a fight against Tyson, which would have been their third — the last one the memorable “bite fight” when Tyson was disqualified after biting off pieces of Holyfield’s ear at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas nearly 24 years ago.

Eight months earlier, Holyfield had stopped Tyson in 11 rounds about where many feared for Holyfield’s life. Tyson seemingly had resurrected the early “worst man on the planet” part of his career after coming out of prison in 1995, walking through opponents in three rounds or less, winning two world championship belts.

People who are excited about Tyson fighting at age 54 hope they’ll see that Tyson. They forget the sight of Tyson slumping in his corner at the MCI Center in Washington in June 2005, quitting on the stool after taking a beating for six rounds from McBride, a journeyman heavyweight from Ireland who had done nothing of note before or since. Tyson was 38 at the time and beaten up in four rounds by another journeyman heavyweight, British boxer Danny Williams, a year earlier. Yet because they’ve seen Tyson punching boxing pads with bad intentions, people want to be convinced that at age 54, they’ll know the Tyson they grew up with or have watched on YouTube videos.

I am not sure why a Tyson-Holyfield grandfather bout was not able to come together — most likely over money, as most of these fights fall apart. But I suspect Tyson-Holyfield might be difficult to pull off as an “exhibition” once both fighters get in the ring.

The bad blood between the two goes back to their days as amateurs at the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where they engaged in a brutal sparring session that had to be stopped, and where Holyfield had backed Tyson down in a dispute over the use of a pool table at the center.

Holyfield has never been afraid of Tyson, and he out-bullied the bully in their first fight. You saw what happened when Tyson was in danger of losing again in their rematch. It’s possible that bad feelings could quickly resurface, even in a senior citizen exhibition. Many would love to see that, I’m sure. I have no urge to watch rival, former heavyweight greats do fierce battle when they are single-digit years away from Social Security.

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