Johnny Nelson: Evander Holyfield loss to Vitor Belfort ‘sad to watch’

Sheffield boxing legend Johnny Nelson admits seeing his hero Evander Holyfield knocked down twice and stopped in round one of his exhibition fight without landing a single punch was a sad sight.

Thursday, 23rd September 2021, 3:41 pm

The 58-year-old former cruiserweight and heavyweight world champion returned to the ring for the first time in a decade at eight days’ notice to fight Vitor Belfort, of UFC fame, on Saturday night in Florida.

But the brief encounter was a sorry sight and stopped before Holyfield, who did not rule out another return to boxing against Mike Tyson afterwards, was badly hurt.

Former US president Donald Trump provided ringside commentary for the fight, which was moved from Los Angeles to Florida after the California State Athletic Commission refused to sanction Holyfield.

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Johnny Nelson absorbs some punishment from a 14-year-old Kell Brook, the recently crowned Yorkshire & Humberside Schoolboy Champion.

Cruiserweight king Nelson, who in a 2018 interview listed the two-weight world champion as the best to ever fight in his division, told The Star: "You saw an old man that had plenty of experience, achievement and wisdom, but that’s all he had and it showed.

"It was sad to see because you didn’t realise how much he had depreciated, but you get caught up in that nostalgic dream of remembering him in his pomp.

"When you get older you can’t do the things you did 30 years before. It’s not just boxing, it’s football, ballet, tennis. This is why the champions of all these sports are young because as humans we can’t compete with the age process.”

“The youngsters watching just saw a 58-year-old man being beat up. He was top dog [in his prime], I was a massive fan of his.”

Johnny Nelson pictured in December 1991 at St Thomas's Boxing Club with Brendan Ingle, Bomber Graham, John Ingle and Brian Anderson.

Nelson is one of five world champions produced by the Ingle Gym and still lives in Sheffield.

He spends Saturday mornings coaching kids classes at St Thomas’s – the same classes he attended as a boy.

Nelson, dubbed The Entertainer in his fighting days, has competed in exhibition bouts himself since retirement and doesn’t want to see an end to similar events in future.

"I still do them now but you have got to stay in your lane,” he added.

Vitor Belfort throws a punch against Evander Holyfield during the first round of their fight (photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images).

"Even though you have more wisdom, experience and have achieved more than your opponent he’s still going to have youth. That’s something you can’t buy.

"At that age, to be getting hit in the head is more dangerous than when you are 28.

"You can always keep yourself physically fit but unfortunately some people forget and think ‘I can do this, I’m 28 again’.”

The wear and tear of a professional career spanning almost 20 years took it’s toll on Nelson and left him barely able to get out of bed and bend down to tie his shoelaces.

The Sky Sports Boxing pundit needed two hip replacements and suffered ‘major problems’ in his lower back for around a decade before turning to Molecular Biophysical Stimulation Therapy (MBST), which he says changed his life. He is now MBST’s first UK ambassador.

Still, there is always a lingering anxiety among some retired fighters about potential long-term brain injuries.

"Of course you worry about it,” Nelson said, “Times have changed and safety aspects have been put in place for every fighter, every sportsperson, especially boxers.

"It can never be completely eradicated but everything possible to fix that is being done.”