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Hiring Donald Trump as analyst shows novelty of celebrity fight cards wearing thin

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Hiring Donald Trump as analyst shows novelty of celebrity fight cards wearing thin

This is a column by Morgan Campbell, who writes opinion for CBC Sports. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

Jim Lampley, who was the play-by/play voice of many classic boxing matches, revealed his limits when he claimed that Floyd Mayweather’s reign in boxing as the top draw helped create the political and social climate that allowed Donald Trump’s victory. 

Lampley’s inability see the flaws in his argument suggests that he isn’t a good political scientist. However, he was smart enough quit his broadcast job to call last Saturday’s farce about a boxing match entre Nator Belfort et Evander Holyfield. He did this before the fight’s promoters had hired Trump as an analyst.

The bout saw Holyfield, aged 44, being beaten by Belfort in a one-round round. Two days later, the public relations company hired to handle the event announced it had stopped working with Triller, which was responsible for Saturday’s show.

EAG Sports Management will no longer be working with Triller or Triller Fighter Club EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY! Denise White, president of EAG, sent Monday’s memo to journalists. “Free to print that!”

We don’t know what prompted the sudden severing of ties, though it was possibly the false statements Triller officials scattered like seeds in the leadup to the fight. Triller told ESPN it was negotiating a commentary deal with former president Barack Obama; Obama’s camp told the New York Times that idea was false.

It might have been the intentional fogginess around whether Saturday’s main event was an exhibition, understandable between combatants with a combined age of 102, or an official fight, unconscionable given that Holyfield slurs his words and turns 59 next month.

Belfort hits Holyfield with a punch during their short bout. (Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)

Or maybe it was the putrid final product. Anderson Silva knocked out Tito Ortiz, a drunk puncher, in just one round of the co-feature. The ref stopped the fight with an annoyed expression that suggested he was being summoned to clean up the mess he didn’t make. Holyfield, a retired mixed-martial artist, was seen staggering about the ring. He has a history both of approved and illicit testosterone use.

It all unfolded while radical Trump supporters gathered in the live chat portion of the online broadcast to trade conspiracy theories about QAnon and Hunter Biden.

You could draft the slickest spin doctor on the planet, but you can’t repackage any of those details as anything but what they were — a two-word synonym for disaster that rhymes with “spit snow.”

We did come out of Saturday night with two positive outcomes. First, Holyfield left the ring on his feet — and not on a stretcher. 

Holyfield, 59 years old, was unable to walk around the ring in his favor against Belfort. (Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)

Second, the card offered a clean break between The Sweet Science and what we’ve been seeing lately. We were able to see the limitations of novelty fights as long-term business strategies. The majority of boxers who are half-famous have already been in the sport for a while. Only the retired fighters who still want to risk their lives can look as slow and lazy as their former selves. 

Triller has invested millions of dollars into a business that science and common sense both say isn’t sustainable. Saturday night showed how bad this could all turn out. From here, Triller can either pivot or risk getting some hobbyist or old-timer killed. 

This is an easy decision for most people but not for Triller. Although it shouldn’t be difficult to make a change mid-stream, there are no guarantees. It’s not an outfit for sports. It’s a video sharing social media app, trailing TikTok by a wide margin in that category yet seeking ways to close the gap.

Triller cozied up to Trump when the then-president threatened to ban TikTok in the U.S. Before the company staged the Mike Tyson-Roy Jones exhibition last fall, its highest-profile users were right-wing American celebrities like Donald Trump Jr. It also bought Verzuz and partnered with Ice Cube’s Big3 basketball league. Verzuz gained popularity staging nostalgia-infused fights between old-school R&B and hip-hop acts.

VIDEO 🚨 Crowd Breaks Out in ‘We Love Trump!’ Chants at Holyfield vs. Belfort Fight in Florida

pic.twitter.com/xenihXaAAi

—@TheInsiderPaper

And then there’s Triller Fight Club, whose previous instalments have included Tyson-Jones and YouTube star Jake Paul’s win over retired UFC fighter Ben Askren. Oscar De La Hoya and Belfort were supposed to be the main event on Saturday. Holyfield took over as De La Hoya’s replacement after he was diagnosed with COVID-19. When California officials decided not to host the fight they were wise to move the entire production to Florida.

Triller still didn’t have much to offer. Holyfield still has a mainstream presence, but Tyson isn’t as well-known as him. Tyson was at Saturday’s fight card and possibly sniffed for a bout. Belfort is not well-known outside of the mixed martial arts world, where he has been ineffective since the mid-2010s.

Triller summoned Trump to generate interest. This move tells you everything about the intended audience and where it may be heading. It was hoped that Trump fans would pay the same amount to hear their favorite ex-president, even if they didn’t want to watch them fight. This is a good plan considering Trump’s various ways of segregating his supporters from their cash. 

A flag is held by supporters of Donald Trump, former U.S. president. (Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)

But if your strategy depends on squeezing money from Trump supporters, why do you even need boxing? You could just host a series Trump speeches for a pay-per view. You could also start a podcast subscription-only. Or, a premium cable channel that is 24/7, similar to the aquarium channel. This would have Trump reading The Art of the Deal, and Trump portraits montaged over it. 

These would be more popular than fights between brittle retired men, which aren’t necessarily dangerous but have good taste and a high collective intelligence.

Alternative is to try and revive a franchise that’s just as defunct as the fighters Triller wants to feature. Holyfield became a professional the week after Ronald Reagan beat Walter Mondale. This is to say that he’s too old to fight competitively or for exhibition.

Tyson’s defeat on Saturday makes it less likely that he will rematch Holyfield, leaving Triller with Belfort. American sports fans can’t identify Belfort without a tag. While you can build a famous boxing franchise around someone other than a boxer, it’s not possible to do so with a celebrity like Belfort. The biggest name on the fight card was at ringside behind a microphone, calling the Brazilian Belfort a “great patriot” and griping about losing an election.

Attendance and gate revenue figures haven’t yet been published, so we might never know how many — or how few — people watched Saturday’s card. If you as a promoter need Donald Trump’s axe-grinding to make your fights sell, it might be time to give boxing up for those who love it.

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