THE key is to try not to care. Don’t care to watch it and don’t care about the wellbeing of the fighters participating, either. It’s easier that way. Healthier that way. More palatable that way. Certainly, this approach seemed to work for the promoters and coaches involved with Triller’s ‘Legends 2’ event in Florida on Saturday (September 11). It worked for the Florida commission, too, who saw no reason why Evander Holyfield, 58, shouldn’t have been licensed for an eight-round boxing match against Vitor Belfort, a 44-year-old mixed martial artist. None of those people cared, nor so much as even pretended to care, and look at all the fun they appeared to have.
Guilt-free, they watched, like perverts, as Belfort inevitably violated Holyfield inside a round and watched with similar relish as a 46-year-old Anderson Silva, a former UFC champion, did the same to another former UFC champion in Tito Ortiz (46). Before all that, they endured the sight of best friends David Haye (soon 41) and Joe Fournier (38) pleasuring themselves for eight carefully choreographed two-minute rounds, and also, in what was the closest thing to a proper boxing match, Jono Carroll defeat Andy Vences via 10-round majority decision.
By not caring, they enjoyed themselves, these perverts. They failed to see that it was an event short on entertainment and skill but overflowing with egos, regrets and unfulfilled promises. They refused to acknowledge the tragedy of fights featuring damaged former champions, fights featuring former drug cheats, and fights featuring men for whom the term ‘fighter’ has only ever been an attempt at false advertising. Blissfully ignorant, they watched an abomination the only way it could possibly be watched: through a peephole.
It was, for the rest of us, probably worse than we had feared. Fight week started with the event getting shifted from California to Florida to allow an old man to get punched in the head, peaked with Holyfield, the old man in question, pawing at pads inside a gym boasting the ambience of a morgue, and finished with Haye and Fournier giggling during a pre-fight stare down. After that, each of these men, as well as Silva and Ortiz, attempted to throw punches again, with some achieving the feat with a greater degree of success than others but not one of them looking anything like the younger versions of themselves they still see in the mirror each morning. Thankfully, very few cared and even fewer watched.
The beauty of not watching, of course, is that you can pretend it never happened. You can remember these fighters the way you would rather they were remembered: as champions, or legends. If not exactly ignorant, you can at least share their delusion. Because it is clear, for all our whinging, there is no stopping them, just as it is clear they are all addicted, whether that be to money, attention, risk, or self-harm. It is indeed this very addiction that both made them the fighters they used to be – when an obsessive streak ensured no stone was left unturned in preparation – and what now makes it so difficult to accept defeat and the passing of time. Sadly, too, as proven with Holyfield and Oscar De La Hoya (the original headliner), it happens to the best of them.
Rather than stand and watch, all we, as bystanders, can do is treat them like the addicts they are and detach with love. We must accept that it is toxic to care and toxic to offer so much as even pity. Do that and you are not only giving them an audience but you are asking for disappointment – over and over again. You will feel dirty on their behalf; far dirtier than they, the ones bathing in dirty money, are ever likely to feel.
Nostalgia is, admittedly, a powerful thing but never should it be a strong enough reason to watch. Don’t tell yourself these ‘Legends’ events pay tribute to longevity, either, because they don’t. As adults, it’s true, they can do with their bodies and minds whatever makes them happy (or money). Yet, equally, we should do all we can not to enable them.
The worst culprits, in terms of this enabling, are usually the social media fiends twerking for attention whose love of the sport is secondary to the love of their own voice. In these people, the come-backing boxers find their enablers, their cult, their kindred spirits. In that kind of company, the come-backing boxers feel relevant, validated, wanted.
No matter the sell, however, they are neither fighting for the fans nor have any interest in entertaining you. Instead, the goal is a much simpler and far more selfish one and can be simplified like this: get in, get out, get paid.
While it could be argued this is shrewd, it is only when you stop to think about your role, and indeed boxing’s role, in this cynical plot that the extent of the manipulation becomes apparent. After all, it is boxing they are undermining and corrupting in order to pull off this heist and it is your money they hope to steal. They will call it sport, perhaps even entertainment, but it’s a heist all the same. They are stealing from their mother’s purse. They are robbing their own family business. They see, having let it become their god, only money.
Whatever the individual motive, each of the participants in Saturday’s event pushed the limits of bad taste in search of some sort of reward – be it cash, relevance, endorphins, or simply a fleeting reminder that, before civilian life dared to poke fun at their ego, they used to be somebody. The event, as a result, was not a celebration of boxing, or combat sports, or great former champions, but instead a reminder of how, in retirement, things can turn desperate for even the most successful fighters. It was, by the night’s end, little more than a cautionary tale; a warning to younger, currently active boxers to think about their future and not assume the good times – or money – will always last.
Forget entertainment, ‘Legends 2’ was equal parts snuff film and instructional video, one recommended for educational purposes only.
The Verdict Deeply depressing in every way.