On the evening of September 11, 2021—a day that will mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks—former President Donald Trump will provide live commentary for a boxing pay-per-view headlined by two fighters with a combined age of 102.
The event, staged by Triller Fight Club, will pit former undisputed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, 58, against 44-year-old former UFC light heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort in the main event, as well as an undercard that includes a match-up between former UFC champions Anderson Silva and Tito Ortiz. The fight will take place at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida, and will air on the Fite TV digital streaming service.
“I love great fighters and great fights,” Trump said in a news release ahead of Saturday’s bout. “I look forward to seeing both this Saturday night and sharing my thoughts ringside. You won’t want to miss this special event.”
While Trump’s unexpected participation in Triller’s upcoming circus event may seem strange—absurd, even—it is actually makes perfect sense when you take into consideration Trump’s strategic association with combat sports, as well as the his prior history with Triller co-owner Ryan Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh, an American businessman who was named Showman of the Year by Variety in 2011, rose to fame when he co-founded entertainment company Relativity Media in 2004. Relativity claimed to use sophisticated algorithms that minimized the risks involved in financing films. The company was reportedly involved in dozens of motion pictures and played a role in helping Marvel Studios execute a deal that would allow it to become the now iconic Marvel Cinematic Universe. Despite the company’s success, which landed Kavanuagh in the Forbes billionaires list in 2013, Relativity filed for bankruptcy in 2015.
Despite his fall from grace, Kavanaugh staged an unlikely comeback four years later when he and his partner at Proxima Media, Bobby Sarnevesht, took a majority stake in Triller, the video sharing social networking service. The app gained ground in mid-2020 as a competitor to TikTok when then-President Trump published executive orders targeting TikTok due to links between ByteDance, the app’s parent company, and the Chinese government. While TikTok survived the pressure from Trump’s administration (in fact, TikTok managed to ban Trump before Trump could ban TikTok), Trump’s actions at the time led to an influx of users, including popular TikTok influencers, over to Triller. The former president even started his own account on Triller, where he posted an introductory video featuring an audio clip of him saying “I’m a professional at technology.”
Triller went on to raise millions from artists like Snoop Dogg, the Weeknd, and Kendrick Lamar, vaulting its valuation to $1.25 billion by April 2021. It also expanded into sports and entertainment when it founded Triller Fight Club and acquired Fite TV and marketing platform Amplify.ai. While much of that success is due to Kavanaugh’s salesmanship and talent for seeking out investments, it was arguably Trump’s endorsement of Triller during his presidency that ultimately had the most impact on their growth. Even Donald Trump Jr. began posting videos on Triller lauding it as a TikTok alternative that would not “weaponize” user data.
In light of the well-documented history between Triller and the Trump family, it is reasonable to assume that Triller is hoping to once again stimulate growth by invoking the polarizing former president in their latest event. It is a desperate attempt to salvage an event that endured a last-minute main event replacement and a shift in venue from Los Angeles to Hollywood, Florida. Trump, for his part, boasted that he will pocket an “obscene” amount of money—reportedly in the millions—for his ringside commentary. However, the former president stands to gain much more than a mere cash influx.
Over the past few years, Trump has enjoyed endless support from combat sports organizations such as the UFC and its head honcho Dana White, who endorsed Trump at the 2016 and 2020 Republican National Convention, campaigned for Trump in his native Las Vegas, defended Trump’s controversial policies on UFC programming, produced a propaganda documentary titled “Combatant-in-Chief,” and hosted the former president at UFC events in the past. These brazen display of political favoritism and propaganda are prime examples of how the UFC and its executives sportswashed Trump’s political legacy.
Now nine months removed from his presidency, Trump will likely view the Triller event as his chance to remain relevant during his forced (and potentially temporary) political hiatus—a rare opportunity to espouse his political ideology in an unfiltered setting to an audience brimming with his supporters.
The former president will also be surrounded by his admirers, including his commentary partner Jorge Masvidal, the UFC star who also campaigned for Trump during the 2020 presidential election cycle and headlined a “Fighters Against Socialism” bus tour during the campaign. Trump will also have the opportunity to call a co-main event involving a 46-year-old Ortiz, whom until recently was mayor pro tem of Huntington Beach, California. Not only is Ortiz a staunch Trump supporter, he is also a conspiracy theorist and an anti-vaccine advocate known for spreading disinformation across his social media accounts. Most recently, Ortiz posted a photo of himself wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words WWG1WGA, which is a QAnon slogan that stands for ‘where we go one, we go all,’ while promoting his upcoming boxing match for Triller.
In many ways, Trump’s participation in Triller’s upcoming event is a calculated stunt with mutually beneficial outcomes for both himself and the organization. And yet, it is also a case study in sportswashing tactics and the role of combat sports in the zeitgeist of modern American politics. Even Trump Jr. did not shy away from the suggestion that his father’s upcoming appearance is little more than strategic political theatre.
“I’m sure if you get a couple of hours of unfettered Trump commentary, it’s going to be no holds barred,” Trump Jr. said during the press conference on Thursday. “It may get more vicious than some of the fights.”