When two of the wealthiest and most influential individuals in the world express a desire to engage in a "cage match," it reveals just how peculiar our reality has become. Elon Musk casually proposed the idea on Twitter, and Mark Zuckerberg promptly accepted the challenge.
This potential fight looms over their ongoing dispute concerning Zuckerberg's Twitter rival, Threads. Reports suggest that both moguls have been in contact with Dana White, the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, to arrange the spectacle.
White, known for his flamboyant style, has even donned a T-shirt promoting the event, boldly proclaiming it to be "the biggest fight ever in the history of the world." It seems peculiar to make such claims about two middle-aged men who, by any reasonable definition, are not professional fighters.
However, what if this audacious statement holds some truth? What if their immense fame alone could entice millions of people to pay for the opportunity to witness their clash? Astonishingly, it is entirely plausible that a greater number of individuals would be interested in watching two unskilled billionaires duke it out in a cage rather than paying to witness the skills of the most accomplished athletes in niche sports.
Shift in Combat Sports: Fame Over Skill
For athletes who have dedicated their entire lives to their craft, this notion is undoubtedly disheartening. Nevertheless, it speaks volumes about the role combat sports now play in our culture.
Rather than being reserved for true enthusiasts who have diligently honed their skills, they have transformed into a swift means for celebrities to exploit their fame or toughen their public image, which may be perceived as too soft.
Wealthy individuals seeking a veneer of tough-guy street credibility through association with combat sports is hardly a new phenomenon. The bare-knuckle era of the London prize ring in the 18th and 19th centuries, essentially the precursor to today's professional fight scene, was patronized by English nobility, who dabbled in boxing at James Figg's London amphitheatre, much like how Silicon Valley tech bros currently indulge in overpriced private jiu-jitsu lessons.
While the actual fighting has historically been left to those born into less economic privilege, the rich and famous have always reveled in their proximity to the fight game, often deluding themselves or others into believing their fighting prowess.
Ernest Hemingway, for instance, infamously overestimated his own boxing skills to the point where the champion boxer Jack Dempsey refused to spar with him, a courtesy extended to other expat writers in Paris. Hence, the current era of influencer-fighters, epitomized by figures like Jake Paul and KSI, who have transformed celebrity boxing from a passing curiosity into a full-fledged personal brand.
There are several reasons why this phenomenon thrives in combat sports but would be untenable in other professional sports. Fighting is relative—a fighter doesn't need to be exceptional, only better than their chosen opponent.
Furthermore, combat sports offer an avenue for quick monetization of popularity or notoriety. There's no need to convince a team or league to include you in their ranks; you simply need to be known and have people care about you, whether positively or negatively.
Most importantly, fighting promises a raw and unfiltered honesty that is often absent from other spheres of our society. It strips away the metaphors of traditional sports, presenting a primal test of physical and emotional strength that can yield personal triumph or profound humiliation.
For figures like Musk and Zuckerberg, this allure lies in our current society's domination by mega-wealthy titans who, increasingly, may not possess the intelligence or greatness they have led us to believe. Their wealth and power often insulate them from various aspects of the human experience.
Yet, if confronted with an opponent who aims to inflict harm, they become ordinary mortals, vulnerable to exposing their fears and weaknesses before a live television audience. Undoubtedly, we do not anticipate witnessing a remarkable display of fighting or athleticism in this hypothetical matchup.
In fact, given Zuckerberg's intermediate-level jiu-jitsu skills, which would likely surpass Musk's, it is highly unlikely the fight will ever materialize. However, our interest is not primarily rooted in their fighting abilities.
Rather, we are drawn to the possibility of witnessing something genuine, raw, and human unfold. Despite our reservations, we cannot help but wonder if we will ever have another opportunity to see a billionaire shed blood.