We’re all dirtbags of a sort, Texas event marketer Lester Bedford tells me in so many words.
You’re a dirtbag.
I’m a dirtbag.
All the managers, and promoters, and commissioners and yes, the writers, dirtbags.
All of our hands are dirty, to one extent or another, the 50-year-old Texas event marketing specialist says to me on the phone.
I do not protest, because I’m in agreement with him. We all realize, those of us with a conscience, that we derive enjoyment and entertainment from a barbaric practice.
Everyone having something to do with boxing is guilty, nobody is innocent, he tells me.
But there are gradations of dirtbag, and when Bedford got a call a few months back from Evander Holyfield’s people, asking for a meeting, he was hesitant.
What if they wanted him to be a part of comeback fight?
Bedford knew Holyfield had looked crappy in his last fight, on Nov. 13, 2004. He knew he’s 43, and he wondered if the Real Deal was dealing in a reality based world, or was heading down a sad path as a sideshow attraction, someone a promoter can toss on a card to lend legitimacy to an event.
He’d be packaged, Bedford feared, like the concert promoters do, on an oldies card.
Mountain, the Rascals and 2/7 of Badfinger are put on a bill together and money is made.
Holyfield, Roy Jones and Virgil Hill are put on a card and money is made.
But at what cost?
Bedford pondered the cost as he traveled to the meeting in Houston. He didn’t want to be labeled a bloodsucker.
But he listened to the legend and didn’t hear horrific slurring.
And he knew that Holyfield was going to go through with this, with or without him. It was not quittin’ time for a severely stubborn man who possesses a level of certainty that he has more to give that is fueled by a heap of faith in Jesus. Holyfield believes that he is an instrument of God, and that the Big Man has more work for him to do.
Nobody loves me like I love myself, Holyfield told Bedford, so you can cut out any sort of pity-patty. I don’t feel sorry for myself, so don’t you go thinking I’m a shot legend, a deluded fool.
So Bedford decided that he’d sign on.
He promised himself that he would craft an event that wouldn’t embarrass or milk the legend. There will be no circus, he told himself.
First, he made sure that Holyfield’s battery of medical tests were to his liking, and once that hurdle was passed, he gave his recommendation to the fighter.
Set up your own promotional deal on this one, he told Holyfield. Settle with King, bring in the lawyers first and talk last if you have to, but do the promotion yourself. At least make maximum money for the effort, Bedford counseled.
Bedford is pretty certain this comeback after 21 months isn’t a money thing, that all those well-publicized mouths to feed are going hungry. He wondered early on if a stubborn cash addiction was behind the comeback, he admits…
Now, some business deals haven’t been sweet for Evander, but as far as Bedford knows, Holyfield still owns pricy property, and besides, he’s never once brought up money as a motivator to Bedford.
The Texan isn’t slinging a steer-sized chunka bull to me over the phone. He knows Holyfield 2006 isn’t what he was. He knows that he doesn’t move all that well any more, and that even the lowly Jeremy Bates (21-11-1) isn’t a gimme this Friday. He knows and concedes that this could be Holyfield’s last call.
But he also knows that Holyfield had a harsh injury coming in to his last fight, against Larry Donald, and he has little regard for whoever came up with that style matchup for the Real Deal. Donald is a mover who pumps his jab as he’s in retreat. Not a suitable opponent for a guy who’s never been known for his sweet feet…
Holyfield’s neck was bothering him so much coming into the Donald fight, people were telling him to pull out, Bedford relays. But he wanted the show to go on, so he climbed through the ropes, and was a shell of himself in his prime.
So many of us opined that Holyfield (38-8-2) should fade away, be thankful for the cheers and paydays and find another line of work. New York told him he wasn’t welcome to fight there again.
Bedford personally likes the head of the commission in NYC, he tells me, but dismisses that move by the former matchmaker as political grandstanding.
Bedford thinks Holyfield has enough to make another run, and while I’m not so dim that I don’t comprehend that he’s a skillful salesman, Bedford does treasure his rep. He recalled Taylor beating Hopkins, Hatton whupping Tszyu and De La Hoya demolishing Mayorga, and feels Holyfield and Valuev would be quite competitive if Holyfield maintains his health.
That’s a big, fat, bold, italicized IF for a 43-year-old man, of course.
Insult to injury, he’ll be 44 in October…
Bedford wouldn’t give me specifics but some rudimentary math tells me that Holyfield could come away with close to a mil for fighting 32-year-old Kentuckyian Jeremy Bates on Friday, and I don’t know how his portfolio looks, but that’s a solid infusion of cake for minimum risk. More than 10,000 folks are going to pack in to the American Airlines Arena in Dallas, the joint where the Mavs play, and their dough is going in to Evander’s pocket.
Other promoters, guys who aren’t getting a cut, busted Bedford’s chops about getting involved with a “shot” fighter. That pissed Bedford off. Some of those cats are putting their marquee clients in hellacious wars that are likely to do far more damage down the line than Jeremy Bates could with a baseball bat. There are guys out there fighting with plates in their head and you’re promoting that, he told one dealmaker, so whaddya want from me?
And some of those self-righteous preachers are boozehounds who probably get in their cars and put themselves and innocents in danger with their liquored up joyriding, Bedford says. Clean up your side of the street before you point out specks of dirt on my side, he lectures.
Nobody is innocent, he repeats.
Holyfield wants to prove to himself and the networks and the writers and the officials that he isn’t shot. Bedford had a list of 50 potentials, and it was whittled to 5, and Holyfield watched tapes. He chose Bates as the toughest, the one most likely to put up a hard scrap. And Bedford assures me that the other tapes were not of Sonny Liston, Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey and Jack Johnson…
Holyfield has looked good in sparring, Bedford reports. His legs are sturdy, and while he will eat the odd right that he would’ve slipped a few years ago, Bedford says, he ain’t shot.
There will be 10,000 plus dirtbags assessing that for themselves, and that’s a triumph in itself, and to Bedford’s marketing acumen.
If Holyfield gets past Bates, and looks OK, this story will continue. Strike that… Knowing Holyfield, even if he doesn’t get past Bates, and doesn’t look OK, this story will continue. Because the man is fueled by some high-octane faith, and it will probably take a fighter a bit more skilled than Jeremy Bates to siphon off enough to make him step away from the most dangerous game…