Even without Mike Tyson, Triller Fight Club aiming for epic debut event

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·7-min read

LAS VEGAS — Not a single ticket will be sold for Triller Fight Club’s April 17 debut at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, even though the home of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons holds 75,000 people.

And that is by design and has nothing to do with social distancing or restrictions placed upon it due to the coronavirus pandemic. More on that in a moment.

On the surface, it’s a strange way to do business, particularly when Ryan Kavanaugh, Triller’s co-owner, concedes the show will take “tens of millions of dollars” to produce.

But there aren’t as many skeptics now despite the eclectic mix of musicians, entertainers, content creators and fighters who will compete on the show.

That’s because on Nov. 28 a similar card promoted by Triller that had the benefit of having Mike Tyson in the main event sold somewhere between 1.6 million and 1.9 million pay-per-views.

“I’m not really at liberty to say the actual number, but the latter is a lot closer to it,” Kavanaugh said.

Interest in the debut of the Triller Fight Club doesn’t seem to be less, despite Tyson not being on the show. YouTube star Jake Paul will fight former Bellator champion and UFC contender Ben Askren in the main event.

For a six-day period from March 22 to March 28, 428 posts on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook reached 22 million people. A meeting between Paul and Askren backstage before Friday’s news conference has more than 3.4 million views on Instagram.

Paul insulted Askren’s wife, Amy, and called her “thicc.” Askren responded with an interview with his wife in which he asked her what she thought of what Paul had said. That video already has more than 1 million views.

When the news conference kicked off, a retired boxer named Joe Fournier, who was 8-0 before retiring in 2016, said he was fighting Colombian music star Reykon because the singer got in his way as he was trying to pick up a woman at a London nightclub.

In most cases, something like that may lead to a bar fight and bouncers booting both guys out of the establishment. In this case, Triller puts them on a pay-per-view card you can buy on all the major cable and satellite systems — as well as streaming on FITE — for $49.99.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 28: Mike Tyson enters the ring during Mike Tyson vs Roy Jones Jr. presented by Triller at Staples Center on November 28, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Triller)
Triller offered a fresh presentation for Mike Tyson's bout against Roy Jones Jr. at Staples Center on Nov. 28, 2020, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Triller)

The pay-per-view card will also feature ex-cruiserweight champion Steve Cunningham vs. ex-UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir and one legitimate boxing match, former super lightweight champion Regis Prograis against Ivan Redkach.

UFC president Dana White is no fan of the show and shut down queries about a UFC fighter facing Oscar De La Hoya on a July 3 TFC card. But White bet $1 million that Askren would defeat Paul.

Hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg, a Triller Fight Club co-founder who will perform during the show, said Askren is no sure thing.

“Dana White better be very careful about that bet right there because my boy Jake really knows how to swing them things, you know what I’m saying?” Snoop Dogg said.

But Snoop is excited by Triller’s concept, because it’s reaching well beyond simply the boxing audience.

And he said he hopes it will lead to a change in the way boxing matches are made and promoted.

“For example, if you have this great champion and this great champion, and they’re not fighting each other,” he said, “what’s the hold up?

“What I don’t really understand about boxing is, when you have a champion over here who is undefeated, and a champion over here who is undefeated, why aren’t they fighting? They make them dance around everybody else.”

The secret sauce that Triller adds is the ability to cross promote. There will only be 100 or 200 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium by design. In addition to the fights, there will be a concert streamed and the sound stage will be on the football field.

Triller is able to light the ring and the concert stage separately to maximize the appearance on the TV broadcast. The fans who show will win a contest to get in.

“Being a billionaire or being a celebrity isn’t going to get you in,” said Kavanaugh, who was touted by Forbes in 2015 as the country’s youngest billionaire.

Triller isn’t skimping on the music acts, and they exceed the boxing talent by a long margin on the show. Among those slated to appear are Justin Bieber, along with his full band; Mt. Westmore, a group made up of Snoop, Ice Cube and Too $hort; E40; The Black Keys; Doja Cat; Saweetie; Diplo; and Major Lazer.

Prograis said it’s an event and that it will benefit him to be a part of it.

“You can’t look at the negative; you’ve got to look at the positive,” Prograis said. “The positive for me is that you have Jake Paul, who is coming in and he is in a whole different world out there in terms of popularity and fame. I was at the fight in L.A. with his brother and there were kids there. You’re talking about 10-, 11-, 12-, 13-, 14- and 15-year-old kids. If you have somebody who is going to bring those type of fans and with the old-school boxing fans, it’s a win-win.

“After we get these fights in, more people, more real fighters — when I say real fighters, I’m not disrespecting anybody — but more boxers and more MMA fighters are going to come in and try to be a part of Triller, too, because like I keep saying, it’s going to be an event and not just a boxing match or MMA fight. I think it’s a good thing.”

It will be better if Tyson is involved, of course, because he’s one of the most popular fighters of all time. He recently posted a statement on his Instagram account that said he’d no longer fight for Triller. Tyson said he’d only fight for his Legends Only League.

Triller has been sending out legal letters insisting they have the exclusive rights to Tyson’s fights.

“Tyson got paid everything he was supposed to be paid and then some,” Kavanaugh said. “We did an outright buy on the last fight. We didn’t just buy the fight; we bought the club (Legends Only League). We were launching the club, which was all Tyson fights for the next three years. We paid a lot for that. We didn’t pay for the fight. We paid for the club and we paid for what was supposed to be the [Evander] Holyfield-Tyson fight. At the end of the day, we overpaid for that fight [Tyson-Jones] that nobody else would have bought because then specifically we wanted the Holyfield fight.

“What’s happening now, I can say, is he has people around him who aren’t necessarily giving him the straight answer. But every distributor knows that they cannot air this fight without violating our contract. There’s not even an argument or a nuance except for them just stating something.”

Tyson could not be reached for comment, but Kavanaugh said he’s hopeful an agreement can be reached to settle the dispute.

With or without Tyson, Triller is moving forward. And while it won’t necessarily kick traditional boxing promoters out of business, its success, if it continues, will force them to change the way they promote.

“First and foremost, I’m a businessman and what Triller is doing is exceptional,” Fournier said. “They’ve come into the industry and what I could compare them to is the Uber compared to an old cab driver. They’re taking it to a digital level and they’re creating entertainment.”

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