Triller in need of makeover after circus-act fights

The last thing that should ever be questioned in a professional sporting event with bets being taken on it is if the event is a work or not.

But that is precisely the position that the Triller Fight Club was in when it staged a pay-per-view on Saturday in Hollywood, Florida, in which the youngest boxer, Joe Fournier, was 38.

Fournier “fought” — and I put the quotes around the word fought intentionally — former heavyweight champion David Haye on the card. Haye is 40 years old and had not fought since May 5, 2018. The two are friends, which certainly wasn’t recognized prior to the bout, and Haye tiptoed to a unanimous decision win that seemed as if he could end it at any moment, according to a number of respected boxing insiders.

In the co-main event, it was a battle of 46-year-old ex-UFC legends as the great Anderson Silva knocked out ex-Huntington Beach, California, Mayor pro tempore Tito Ortiz in just over a minute.

And in the main event, the nearly 59-year-old Evander Holyfield was knocked out in just over a minute by the 44-year-old ex-UFC champion Vitor Belfort.

It was disgusting and unethical and just everything that is wrong about professional boxing. All three bouts, it turns out, were exhibition matches, which you would have struggled to know by the way Triller marketed the card. It referred to it as “the most anticipated fight of the decade,” though it was anticipated by exactly zero people and was put together in 10 days when Oscar De La Hoya tested positive for COVID-19 and had to pull out.

Sports books were taking bets on the fights. BetMGM, which has a partnership with Yahoo Sports, had odds on the fights, none of which count on the record. And at least for the Haye-Fournier fight, after seeing what happened and knowing the relationship between the two, one has to question if that fight was even on the up-and-up.

Fournier is 9-0 with nine knockouts as a pro, which might make one think he’s a competent, if not even a good, professional boxer. He unequivocally is not, but because the fight with Haye was an exhibition, it’s not on his record.

Starting with his pro debut in 2015, these are the records of Fournier’s opponents: 2-24, 0-0, 0-3, 14-8, 11-41-1, 0-5, 1-11, 0-13, 1-11 and 0-0. Yet the genius who runs the Florida Athletic Commission allowed him to fight a former world champion who, even diminished, could have badly hurt Fournier had he really been trying.

Holyfield passed all the required medical tests, and was even examined by specialists. That was no surprise, though, because Holyfield came out of the womb in great shape.

It should be noted, though, and is very much a part of the story, that Holyfield was a month shy of his 59th birthday when he was permitted to fight.

He hadn’t fought since facing Brian Nielsen more than 10 years earlier. So just passing medical tests is a baseline.

Evander Holyfield looks on after losing an exhibition match against Vitor Belfort (not pictured) at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, Florida, on Sept. 11, 2021. (Photo by Chandan Khanna via Getty Images)

Fortunately, that may be about to change. First, the debacle in Florida caught the eye of several regulators, including Mike Mazzulli, the president of the Association of Boxing Commissions.

Mazzulli understands the sport and, like Andy Foster of California, would never have sanctioned any of those three bouts as legitimate fights. Foster was going to sanction Silva-Ortiz as an exhibition, but he was not going to allow Holyfield-Belfort, which is why the bout was moved from the Staples Center in Los Angeles to the Hard Rock Seminole in Hollywood, Florida.

“We’re going to come out with some new regulations for approving fighters 40 years old and older,” said Mazzulli, who said Foster and longtime ringside physician Michael Schwartz are chairing the committee to come up with the new standards.

The standards need to be at the point where a 59-year-old never gets into the ring again, no matter how good the medicals look.

Triller: ‘We are stepping away from exhibition stuff only’

Thorsten Meier is Triller’s new chief operating officer and well-respected in boxing circles. He got his start in boxing working for the Klitschko brothers in Germany, then worked for Tom Loeffler on Gennadiy Golovkin fights and most recently was with the Premier Boxing Champions.

He’s a logistics expert and a guy who gets things done right.

He defended the Triller card on Saturday, but said it is moving away from the shows featuring older fighters and entertainers and toward more real boxing matches.

He said Triller had pulled its approval from a planned Holyfield-Kevin McBride fight because of concerns about McBride’s status.

“There is a greater conversation that could be had talking about ethical and non-ethical and whatnot, but I would never put anyone in the ring if there were any concerns about them mentally, medically or physically,” Meier told Yahoo Sports. “We are the ones who had concerns about McBride. We did everything in our power to make sure that McBride fight didn’t happen because we were concerned that something would happen in the ring.”

Holyfield was angry about the stoppage, said he wants to keep fighting and is interested in a bout with Mike Tyson.

But by listening to Meier, if that fight happens, it might not be with Triller.

“At the end of the day, what we want to do at Triller Fight Club is to put on professional fights,” Meier said. “We are stepping away from exhibition stuff only. Yeah, Tyson was great and whatever [in a November fight with Roy Jones] and got the biggest pay-per-view, whether it was because of the pandemic or whatever. But the focus is on full-blown professional fights and the focus is most certainly on full-blown good professional fights. There are more and more to come.”

Brazilian martial artist Vitor Belfort (L) celebrates after knocking down US former professional boxer Evander Holyfield (R) during a boxing fight at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, Florida on September 11, 2021. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

Vitor Belfort celebrates after his win over Evander Holyfield at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, Florida, on Sept. 11, 2021. (Photo by Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)

He pointed out that Triller will promote the undisputed lightweight title fight on Oct. 4 in New York between Teofimo Lopez and George Kambosos. It’s going to put on an undisputed women’s super middleweight fight between Franchon Crews-Dezurn and Elin Cederroos.

It is planning a night of heavyweight fights in November and will be getting involved in some upcoming purse bids, Meier said.

The WBC is planning purse bids for a middleweight title eliminator between Jaime Munguia and Sergiy Derevyanchenko and for a light heavyweight title bout between Artur Beterbiev and Marcus Browne.

That’s the way to go for Triller, but seeing is believing and Triller’s track record has been spotty to this point. This is the company that has promoted Tyson versus Jones, social media creator Jake Paul versus ex-NBA star Nate Robinson, Fournier versus reggae singer Reykon, Fournier against Haye, Holyfield against Belfort and Silva against Ortiz.

With all due respect to Meier, who wasn’t with Triller for much of that, their track record isn’t good.

Fights involving Jake Paul against MMA fighters aren’t particularly interesting, but the safety issue is vastly different. There was never a concern whether a commission should sanction Paul against Ben Askren or Paul versus Tyron Woodley. There was a question of what it would prove, since MMA and boxing are related but materially different sports. That, though, is a different issue.

Meier has a tough job, because not only does he have to move Triller away from these circus-act fights involving long-retired fighters, but he also has to make sure to clean up the company’s reputation. It could not be honest about what it was putting on Saturday. It turned out it was a card of exhibitions primarily, but they weren’t marketed that way, and if you bet on it, you aren’t happy finding that out later.

A senior tour is only appropriate in golf. Boxing is far too dangerous even for the young and healthy to let those within six years of Medicare step into the ring to fight.