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‘Fighting Words’ — Triller Isn’t Gone Yet, But The Thrill Sure Is

Photo by Mikey Williams/ Top Rank via Getty Images
Fighters Network

Nearly a year ago, what’s old was new again. 

Retired legends Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. headlined a pay-per-view in an exhibition bout alongside a high-curiosity celebrity sideshow fight (social media influencer Jake Paul vs. former NBA player Nate Robinson), matches among established pros, several high-profile musical acts, and a different take on how to put on a boxing event. 

The show reportedly did an excellent buy rate. The company behind it, Triller — a social media app featuring videos and music that has been described as similar to TikTok — had made a splash and was poised to make more.

Less than a year later, what once was new and fresh now seems old and rotting.

That is largely the result of two fights, two cases of COVID-19, too much bad luck, too many bad decisions, too much bad press, too much talking to the press.

Coming off the success that was Tyson vs. Jones, Triller then went from making a splash to making waves. It rocked the boat this past February with a high purse bid on a fight between lightweight champ Teofimo Lopez and mandatory challenger George Kambosos Jr.

Purse bids happen when a sanctioning body orders a fight to occur but the two fighters can’t reach a deal. In this case, Lopez wanted more money than his promoter, Top Rank, was offering. He felt he was worth more after his huge win over Vasiliy Lomachenko in October 2020.

The bids, done in blind fashion, came in: Top Rank bid about $2.31 million. Matchroom Sport bid $3.56 million. Triller? It put forth a bid of nearly $6.2 million.

That money would be split between the two fighters, 65 percent for Lopez, 35 percent for Kambosos. There would still be the costs of marketing and producing the fight, never mind the other bouts on the card and any musical performances.

“Insane price,” Bob Arum of Top Rank told RingTV’s Michael Woods at the time.

The real insanity was still to come.

By March, Tyson said he wouldn’t work with Triller again. He apparently believed the promoter owed him money. Triller quickly put out a letter asserting its rights to Tyson’s next fight. Toward the end of June, Triller released another letter saying that Tyson had been paid.

(Roy Jones also said he hadn’t received everything he was owed.)

Triller held another show in April, this time putting Paul in the main event and pitting him against former mixed martial artist Ben Askren. It was a sideshow, though strangely enjoyable. With boxing, music, a slap fight, Pete Davidson of Saturday Night Live, and retired pro wrestler Ric Flair, it felt like a three-ring circus with something for everyone.

The pay-per-view was apparently heavily pirated and streamed illegally, an issue that has beset combat sports in general. Triller sued both those who pirated the show and those who benefited from the piracy. It offered amnesty to anyone who stepped forward and paid $50 for Paul vs. Askren in retrospect.

In June, just days before Lopez vs. Kambosos was to take place, Lopez tested positive for COVID. He apparently had not been vaccinated. The whole show was postponed.

That postponement reportedly cost Triller millions. Triller wanted to recoup some of those losses by relocating the fight to Australia, where Kambosos is from and where it could hold a large event — this was at a time before we began to see significant crowds returning to major sporting events and concerts throughout the United States.

Lopez objected to the idea, including the quarantine he’d be required to undergo upon arriving in Australia. There was more behind-the-scenes battling and maneuvering, plus an on-the-record interview where Triller executive Ryan Kavanaugh tore into Lopez. Eventually, the IBF, which had ordered the fight, said the match had to take place in a location without a mandatory quarantine.

The plans, which had already gone from June in the United States to August and then to October in Australia, eventually settled on Monday, October 4 in New York City.

That would’ve been yesterday.

We don’t need to get into the weeds and tell you about how all the sausage was made, or in this case how all the sausage links unraveled. The headlines have been manifold. Each chapter created weariness among hardcore boxing fans — and wariness among those in the boxing industry.

In essence, that October 4 date was up against a Monday Night Football broadcast. Triller wanted to reschedule once again to Saturday, October 16, a crazy last-minute change for fighters who are trying to make weight and hit peak form at the right time. Lopez nonetheless agreed to the change. Kambosos wanted more money. Triller wants Kambosos removed from the title fight. Kambosos wants Triller to be declared in default and for another promoter to pick up the bout.

The fight obviously didn’t happen yesterday. It’s not going to happen on October 16 either.

Triller will still put on a show on that date, with much less prestige in the main event: Cletus Seldin vs. William Silva. There will be musical acts both on that Saturday and on Sunday.

Triller will likely take a financial bath on this. It had already spent almost $10 million on the show, according to what one company executive told Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports. That article gives a good rundown on much of the drama.

That’s not all of the drama. Not even close.

Triller was also supposed to put on a September show featuring Oscar De La Hoya’s return to the ring. That return was postponed after De La Hoya contracted COVID-19 (he says he was vaccinated and had a breakthrough case.)

Instead, Evander Holyfield stepped in to face former mixed martial artist Vitor Belfort. The former cruiserweight and heavyweight champion was initially supposed to face Mike Tyson’s final conqueror, Kevin McBride, on the undercard of Lopez-Kambosos back in June. Holyfield said he was owed money, and the promoter apparently sought to solve two problems at once by putting him in the ring in place of De La Hoya.

But Holyfield is 58 years old, nearly 59, and hadn’t fought in a decade. Triller essentially shopped for a commission that would allow the match to occur despite Holyfield’s advanced age and declined ability to box or take a punch. They landed in Florida, because of course. The event was a traveshamockery

So here we are, some 10 months and change after Tyson vs. Jones, almost exactly a year after Lopez beat Lomachenko, and seemingly both Triller and Lopez are worse off.

Triller executive Thorstein Meier told Iole that the company now wants to “focus … on full-blown, good professional fights.” It might not really have much choice in the matter. Jake Paul had already departed for Showtime earlier in the year. The network also was behind Logan Paul’s exhibition with Floyd Mayweather Jr. And the Association of Boxing Commissions is trying to ensure that each commission has better regulations in place to prevent fighters like Holyfield from taking dangerously unnecessary punishment. 

Photo by Amanda Westcott/Triller Fight Club

The initial incident that sent Triller on this downward spiral wasn’t its fault. It was Teofimo Lopez who should’ve been vaccinated. But it is Triller that hasn’t comported itself since in a fashion that inspires confidence.

Boxing is a weird sport and an even weirder business. It is comfortable associating itself with felons and bigots, whether they are fighters or promoters or journalists. 

Triller executive Kavanaugh, for all of his experience producing blockbuster movies, has also received some unfavorable coverage. One former colleague had accused him of running a Ponzi scheme. Kavanaugh countersued. They eventually settled their case and the colleague retracted his accusations.

Another case involved a different former colleague, Adam Fields, who accused Kavanaugh of creating a fake memo outlining several sexual harassment complaints against Fields. Kavanaugh has since sued Fields, saying he leaked incorrect reports — that an arbitrator had only found Kavanaugh to have breached their contract, not to have committed fraud.

There have been other negative stories involving allegations against another executive. There have also been questions about how many people actually have downloaded and used the app.

None of that actually has any bearing on Triller’s future in boxing, however. None of that is why Triller has quite an uphill climb ahead of it.

It has no stable. It has no major television deals subsidizing its costs. The bloom is off the rose when it comes to long-retired fighters returning to the ring — though that may still depend on who it is that is lacing the gloves back up, and whom they’re trading leather with.

If Triller wants to continue on in boxing, it will need to win purse bids or otherwise pay well enough for other promoters to join up or step aside. 

It will need to sell pay-per-views and tickets. 

It will need to do enough of that while incurring significant expenses for shows.

And it will need to shake off the significant hits to its reputation that Triller suffered — and in many cases brought upon itself — in recent months.

It wasn’t that long ago that Triller was seen as new and fresh. If Triller wants to be around in boxing much longer, it’s going to need to wash away this stink.

The 10 Count

1 – Manny Pacquiao says he’s retired. 

I hope it’s true. I hope it remains true — no matter what happens in his campaign to become the president of the Philippines.

His pro career has lasted more than 26 years and for 72 fights. His legacy was secure a long time ago, and then he added even more to an all-time-great career.

Pacquiao seemed to have a hard time accepting reality after his August loss to Yordenis Ugas, blaming cramps rather than recognizing the contributing factors of age and wear and tear. That kind of situation could motivate some fighters to return and try once again, to remedy the situation. It’s unnecessary for Manny Pacquiao. There’s no need to continue to try to prove himself, not at a high level, not at this age.

There doesn’t need to be a fight with Errol Spence. 

There need not be a match with Terence Crawford. 

There shouldn’t even be a sequel with Ugas.

If he ever wants to return to the ring for the sake of money — Pacquiao has a history of supporting his countrymen — then perhaps he can follow the Floyd Mayweather Jr. route, coming back solely for the sake of exhibitions. Even that idea may have a limited window and a limited appeal.

No one wants to go out believing they could’ve done better in their last fight. But Pacquiao can go out knowing that very few have done better over the course of their entire career.

2 – There are four main ways that this Saturday’s big event — the third heavyweight title fight between Ring Magazine champ/WBC beltholder Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder — could go. And each of them has an intriguing storyline.

Fury could dominate Wilder with power again, whether that’s another stoppage or pounding his way to a decision. Fury could out-box Wilder and, this time, win on the scorecards. 

Wilder could land that lightning, and this time it could keep Fury down for good, unlike in their first go-around. Or Wilder’s work with new trainer Malik Scott could pay dividends with his own boxing skills, allowing him more breathing room in order to land his own power punches.

During a punishing display, Fury scored two clean knockdowns. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

If Fury wins again, he’ll cement his place atop the heavyweight division, while Wilder will need to rebuild in order to contend again.

If Wilder triumphs, he’ll be back on a path forward, whether that’s toward a fourth fight with Fury — be it immediately or somewhere down the line — or taking on a new opponent.

There are several contenders at heavyweight. And there’s the fact that the three other world titles still belong to someone else: Oleksandr Usyk.

The Fury-Wilder 3 winner may have to wait on the winner of a rematch between Usyk and Anthony Joshua in order to fight for the undisputed championship. And in the interim, there are other fun fights to be made.

I’m excited about this Saturday, even though I know there are others who thought a third fight between Fury and Wilder was unnecessary. Sticking with that theme…

3 – There was this good question, and an ensuing good conversation, on Twitter this past weekend.

“Has there ever been a return bout where a winner as dominant as Fury was last February lost the rematch?” asked Sean Zittel of “Is Floyd Patterson-Ingemar Johansson II the only fair comparison?”

The responses weren’t an exhaustive list but did provide other good examples. They included:

One example came to my mind, though it doesn’t quite fit. Longtime flyweight champ Pongsaklek Wonjongkam knocked out Daisuke Naito in just 34 seconds in 2002, won a technical decision in seven rounds in their rematch in 2005, but lost the championship to Naito in their third fight with a unanimous decision in 2007, and failed to recapture it with a draw in their fourth fight in 2008.

(Wonjongkam did eventually get the championship back. Naito lost to Koki Kameda, who lost to Wonjongkam, who lost to Sonny Boy Jaro, who lost to Toshiyuki Igarashi, who lost to Akira Yaegashi, who lost to the final person in this championship line, Roman Gonzalez. “Chocolatito” was the lineal champ from 2014 until he moved up to junior bantamweight after two years and four successful defenses).

4 – There’s another benefit — secondary but still important — to the fact that Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder 3 is finally happening.

It’s that people will (hopefully) finally stop talking about Fury-Wilder 2 and the bizarre aftermath: the conspiracy theories about Fury’s gloves and Wilder’s water bottle; the excuses; the finger-pointing; the extended delay in getting a contractually mandated third fight made; the legal mediation and the final decision; the cancellation of Fury vs. Anthony Joshua; the postponement of Fury-Wilder 3 due to Fury catching COVID-19 after not getting vaccinated; and the fact that delay meant even more months of the unending barrage of all of the above.

Here’s hoping there’s nothing controversial during Fury-Wilder 3. Or after it.

Years of talk about Mayweather vs. Pacquiao was enough, though it certainly sustained plenty of boxing writers and videographers, including this beautifully bald fight scribe, who seemed to ask everyone and their uncle (that last link really is to a certain boxing uncle) about the fight and then raked in untold fortunes in YouTube advertising revenue.

5 – It’s fitting that the November 20 fight between welterweight beltholder Terence Crawford and former titlist Shawn Porter is taking place at the Michelob ULTRA Arena (formerly the Mandalay Bay Events Center) in Las Vegas.

After all, Michelob ULTRA is never your first choice — but it’s a perfectly serviceable option under certain circumstances.

6 – It’s just a shame that Michelob ULTRA is a lager. If I’m the challenger, I’m getting sponsored by a porter…

7 – If we can’t get David Avanesyan another notable name, I’m happy with him continuing to serve as a reality check for fighters who think they have a future — only for those thoughts to promptly wind up in the past.

Undefeated Kerman Lejarraga? Ahead on the scorecards when he was taken out by Avanesyan via TKO in the ninth round in March 2019. Their rematch six months later? Avanesyan finished him in the first round.

Undefeated Josh Kelly? He also started strong this past February, only for Avanesyan to pick up the pace and then finish Kelly in the sixth.

Liam Taylor wasn’t undefeated, nor was he highly touted. He came into their fight this past Saturday in London with a record of 23-1-1 with 11 KOs. That lack of power would be his undoing. He couldn’t keep Avanesyan off of him.

Taylor still scrapped gamely (you can watch the official full fight video here). Avanesyan dropped him, though, with 18 seconds to go in Round 1. Taylor again stood his ground in Round 2 until Avanesyan scored with a big left hook and two more flush punches with about 45 seconds remaining. The referee seemed to step in a bit quickly, though it might very well have saved Taylor from being hurt even worse.

Avanesyan is now 28-3-1 with 16 KOs. I’d love to see him face Conor Benn next.

8 – It’s astounding, but thrilling in a way, to see that Gabriel Rosado is getting another big fight in 2021.

Rosado is somehow just 35 years old despite the career he’s had. He’s 26-13-1 with 15 KOs and has suffered losses to many of the first- and second-tier middleweights and junior middleweights over the years, plus a handful of prospects. That who’s who includes Fernando Guerrero and Alfredo Angulo (2009), Gennady Golovkin and Peter Quillin (2013), Jermell Charlo and David Lemieux (2014), Willie Monroe (2016), Martin Murray (2017) and Maciej Sulecki (2019).

There was also 2020’s dreadfully boring boxing match with Daniel Jacobs, which Jacobs won via close split decision.

It wasn’t yet time for Rosado to be consigned to the scrap heap, however. Not when he could still scrap.

Rosado stunned boxing fans, and reignited his career, when he threw a perfect counter right hand that knocked out Bektemir “Bek the Bully” Melikuziev.

It doesn’t matter that Rosado is 3-4-1 in the past five years. He’s going to face Jaime Munguia, the undefeated (37-0, 30 KOs) former junior middleweight titleholder who’s now campaigning in the 160-pound division. Their bout is scheduled for Saturday, November 13 on DAZN.

Rosado has been up at 168 for his past few fights. It remains to be seen how he’ll look after dropping back down to middleweight. But given their styles — I look at the Jacobs fight as an exception to the Rosado Rule — I’m expecting an enjoyable battle.

9 – We move from a real Philadelphia fighter to an imaginary one, albeit a beloved one who has a statue in the City of Brotherly Love.

You’re about to get more of Rocky Balboa. 

Don’t worry — there’s not a new movie putting the 75-year-old Sylvester Stallone back in boxing trunks and gloves. But if there was, he’d probably end up sharing the ring with Evander Holyfield on a Triller pay-per-view.

No, instead there’s the news that Rocky IV is being re-released with 40 minutes of never-seen footage. Rocky Vs. Drago: The Ultimate Director’s Cut will play in movie theaters for just one day — on Thursday, November 11 — and then will be available on-demand afterward.

(My colleague Tom Gray writes more about the movie in the new issue of Ring Magazine. You need to have a digital subscription to read the online version.)

10 – How many other old movies are going to get re-released with additional footage? What will the ad wizards come up with next?

This is only leading in one erection, er, one direction: 

Boogie Nights Redux: The Movie Isn’t the Only Thing That’s Longer…

Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2. His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is available on Amazon.