On a misty night in downtown Detroit, a record-breaking audience of inebriated meatheads and co. conglomerated in the Ford Field Arena. Armed with beer and banners, they left their monster trucks to bear witness to the ‘Battle of the Billionaires’, knowing full well that the ensuing madness under Michigan’s fog was merely the culmination to one of sport’s great works of stagecraft.
The choreography had begun three months earlier. Each pawn in the saga slowly implemented with the precision of a chess grandmaster yet reduced to unapologetic vulgarity.
The opening gambit came when Vince McMahon, the WWE’s billionaire owner, announced that Donald Trump would wrestle Rosie O’Donnell, who lest we forget was armed “in all her lesbionic fury”, on your typical American Monday. No sooner was Trump’s wrestling impersonator shouting “come on fatty” and propelling a fudge cake into her face.
Then the real Trump interrupted wrestling events for each of the weeks following, whether it was to drop briefcases of cash into the ring while promising to make the WWE great again no less or to launch into familiar tirades:
“I’m taller than you, I'm better looking than you—and I will kick your ass!
“Your grapefruits are no match for my Trump Towers.
“As you know, I have quite possibly the most famous head of hair in the world.”
And with the gesture to his “it’s not a toupee”, the final rook was positioned. Trump and McMahon selected a wrestler to represent them - Trump misnomering the “black gentleman” he chose - and the losing billionaire would have his head shaved.
Now, this is not a wrestling biopic. Watching Trump gleefully apply shaving foam to his billionaire buddy’s head is bizarre and boasted an unnerving likeness to the baby balloon which marauded over Westminster. But what was crucial about that night, president aside, was the 1.2 million pay-per-view buys - 100,000 more than Canelo Alvarez’s rematch with Gennady Golovkin last month - which raked in over $24 million and the record-breaking 80,103 fans in attendance - a record which still stands eleven years on.
The days of Don King wheeling out Mike Tyson like a straitjacketed show pony, before biting Lennox Lewis’ leg, were over. Boxing promoters no longer needed to pander to or pray for hyperbole. A mutual understanding between broadcasters, promoters and fighters meant they could master their own forgery.
It’s why Eddie Hearn offered Dereck Chisora a Rolex to ignite the build-up to his grudge match with Dillian Whyte in December 2016.
It’s why YouTubers are making rap songs about each other and Conor McGregor is hurling trollies and offering whisky to his devout Muslim opponent ahead of their UFC fight on Saturday.
Last night marked the end of their three-city whirlwind tour featuring a scuffle in London, rows on a retired warship in New York and an innocuous ‘brawl’ in Los Angeles.
There isn’t any genuine hatred between Fury and Wilder, nor even a dislike. Hours before being separated in London, they joked with PC perfection on Good Morning Britain. In New York, before abusing one another on stage, a picture leaked of the pair laughing on a sofa lapels practically touching. The heavyweights are thought to have held a respecting friendship for half a decade since Wilder travelled to the UK in 2013 to face Audley Harrison.
It’s all a hysterical hoax, but who can blame them? Minutes after saying how he was “living inside Wilder’s head”, Fury said that “all the mind games don’t really mean anything at all. Nothing.” They’re not denying the charade and why should they?
After all, it’s we, the public, whose primal attraction to the promise of violence demands, for the fight to be a success, Fury to say such lines as:
“The thing is Bronze Bomber, you big dosser, you’re not ready for me, you never have been. All your knockout power can’t beat Tyson Fury. You are going to f*** yourself.”
Or the drawling American son of a preacher to reply: ‘You’re dealing with the killer. When I look over your body I’m not gonna have no mercy for you.’
Fury and Wilder have every right to maximize their financial reward while risking all sensibilities for our own entertainment. But then who is to blame for the ritual pantomime? Ourselves?
Or what about Donald Trump’s wrestling escapade? Why not.
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