Nowadays marketing and sales gimmicks are as important as the game itself where professional sport is concerned, especially in the USA. A few years ago we had seen an unusual stratagem in India too. The IPL had turned the staid sport of cricket upside down by introducing mini-skirted cheerleaders on the boundary lines. Three days ago, the sport of professional boxing in the USA also decided to introduce a new gimmick to catch the attention of television viewers.
Former US President Donald Trump was roped in as a guest commentator to do commentary of boxing bouts. To top it all, the bizarre programme included one bout which featured former world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield (now aged almost 59) against Brazilian MMA fighter and boxer Vitor Belfort who was himself 44 years old. The combined ages of these two contestants was more than 100!!
One begins to wonder if anyone in his right senses would want to watch such outlandish sports competitions. But apparently there were quite a few people who sat through the programme and witnessed it all.
The much awaited display by Holyfield turned out to be a damp squib. Being almost 15 years older than his middle aged opponent, Holyfield lost in the very first round. Belfort charged into Holyfield from the start and never eased the pressure as Donald Trump tried his best to describe the action from the commentator’s box.
A flurry of punches sent Holyfield down to the canvas and after he got up, he received more punishment until the referee decided to call a halt to the proceedings so as to prevent further injury to Holyfield. The whole bout lasted just one minute and 49 seconds!!
It was more of a farce than the serious boxing competition which it was supposed to be.
What prompted Holyfield who was at one time one of the famous names of boxing to make an appearance in the ring when almost a senior citizen? That is a question that only Holyfield can answer. Perhaps it had to do with money and nothing else.
This was the man who was at one time the undisputed world champion in WBA, WBC and IBF categories. Before that he had represented the USA at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 and taken the bronze medal.
In 1996 he defeated the fearsome Mike Tyson and reclaimed the WBA title. Holyfield defeated Tyson a second time in 1997. This was the bout in which Tyson bit off a part of Holyfield’s ear.
So for Evander Holyfield to climb back into the ring in his old age and get hammered quickly and easily, seemed to be a completely absurd and foolish thing to do. But such are the demands of professional sport. If a promoter comes up with a money making idea it is put on the table and there are enough people who will watch such inane competitions.
As for the former President and his attempt at boxing commentary, he covered up his lack of knowledge of the sport as best as he could. Like any seasoned politician he made use of the occasion to hurl thunderbolts at his opponents whenever the opportunity arose.
While waiting for the result of the first bout (not the one involving Holyfield) Trump declared that he had seen many bad decisions in boxing over the years. “Boxing is like the elections. It could be rigged,” he stated.
However, Trump was financially involved with boxing earlier. In 1988, he hosted a bout between Mike Tyson and Michael Spinks in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to promote his Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. Tyson defeated his opponent very easily and after that, he decided to hire the services of Donald Trump as his financial advisor.
So the man who later became President of the USA had been employed by one of the world’s most controversial boxing champions who had once been jailed for rape. That event had led to many comments in the media and among boxing fans. One comment was: “Always be kind to your employee. He could become your President one day.”
In India we cannot imagine that our President or Prime Minister could take up boxing commentary or be hired as an advisor by a boxer. Strange things have happened in professional sport in the USA and it seems unlikely to end. As long as there is a gullible section of the public willing to view whatever comes on the television screen, such odd events will continue to be held in the name of sport.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.