Buoyed by success of Tyson-Jones, Triller plans to produce more 'epic' fight cards

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·6-min read

It was, in many ways for Mike Tyson, just like old times on Saturday. The former heavyweight champion returned to the ring for the first time in more than 15 years and the world stopped to watch.

Pay-per-view sales of the show at Staples Center haven’t been released yet, but all appearances are that Tyson lost nothing off of his fastball in his 15 years on the sidelines. There are plenty of indications that the card will wind up selling in excess of 1 million.

That is a remarkable feat under any circumstance, but it is an extraordinary accomplishment for a show that was headlined by a pair of long-retired 50-plus-year-old boxers. Its co-main event featured former NBA slam dunk champion Nate Robinson making his pro boxing debut against YouTube star Jake Paul.

The show was a combination boxing card/hip-hop concert, and it worked very well in large part because of the way it was produced.

“I kind of planned this as the new paradigm for boxing when we did it,” said Ryan Kavanaugh, the co-owner of Triller, the company that staged the show. “A lot of people didn’t believe it would happen, but our concept was really different, which was not to shoot this like it was a boxing event. We shot it more like a movie and we had 21 cameras in there. We shot it in what I’d call a movie-esque, Tarantino-style lighting, if you will.

“Since we didn’t have a crowd, it gave us a lot of liberty to do that. We could be up at every angle and shoot it. We set up a separate boxing ring and a separate stage and we were almost able to treat it like two events combined into one. We had a really great stage and with no audience, we didn’t have to worry about the acoustics in the [arena] or worrying if everyone could see both. We basically treated it as a movie set.”

Tyson is one of the greatest pay-per-view draws in boxing history, and he continued that with his exhibition with Roy Jones Jr. The fight was available on cable and satellite, but it was also streamed online, with the backend provided by FITE TV.

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)
Mike Tyson enters the ring during his bout vs. Roy Jones Jr. at Staples Center on Nov. 28, 2020, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Triller)

Jake Paul’s massive contribution to successful show

FITE TV has been around for about five years and has streamed 4,000 events up to the Tyson-Jones show. It had more than 2.8 million registered users prior to Tyson-Jones. FITE added more than 1 million registered users, Mike Weber, its chief executive officer said, and now is at 4 million registered users.

While not all of those who are newly registered purchased the Tyson-Jones show, the surge around the time of the event shows the interest it had. When you add those sales to the ones garnered via cable and satellite, it produced a major number.

The three biggest events FITE had done prior to Tyson-Jones were all boxing matches featuring Canelo Alvarez: His two bouts against Gennadiy Golovkin and a bout with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

“We went from 2.8 million registered users to 4 million, and you have to remember, we’re a free platform,” Weber said. “That was a major jump in users and exposed us greatly. People who bought it had a good experience and fortunately, these guys put one heck of a show together. We were very impressed by the production values and the quality of the event. In terms of delivery, there wasn’t one single complaint from consumers about the content.”

Weber, who worked on WrestleMania II, had experience working with Tyson events before. In 1988, he was working for Trump Sports & Entertainment and helped put on the heavyweight title unification bout between Tyson and Michael Spinks in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

He said Tyson’s mainstream appeal helped sell Saturday’s card, but said he felt Tyson wasn’t the only draw.

“Tyson transcends boxing and he’s been in the public eye for so long,” Weber said. “These days, it’s all about social media, which Triller is very good at. When you have guys like Snoop Dogg with all of his followers and he’s tweeting out a direct link to buy the fight, that helps. Donald Trump Jr., I don’t want to make this a political thing, but he has a huge following and he was tweeting out links where you could buy the event. There were some high-end, strong distribution tactics that were used.

“Tyson is like Muhammad Ali; everyone knows the name. If you don’t follow boxing, if you don’t know a thing about boxing, you still know who Mike Tyson is. One of the other reasons for the high [sales] success of this is Jake Paul. … If you want to give people on the card credit for sales, I think it’s fair to say Tyson brought in 40, 50 percent of the buyers. But Jake Paul brought in 40 percent, too, and Snoop Dogg had a big impact.”

Triller isn’t hanging up the gloves anytime soon

This show won’t be a one-and-done for Triller. Triller is separate from Tyson’s League of Legends, and while it plans to work closely with Tyson, it could do shows without him, Kavanaugh said.

Kavanaugh said Triller’s goal with the first show was to create something that would cross boundaries and appeal to people who were 18, 50 or 80 years old.

Triller plans to get a promoter’s license, which it did not have for Saturday’s show. It used the license of Jimmy Burchfield of CES.

It has a long-range plan for doing fights.

“Our concept was to come out of this with something we call the Triller Fight Club,” Kavanaugh said. “The Tyson event was our first, our trial, and we produced it to the highest level that we could. We spent a huge amount of money to make sure we could do this. The concept was to bring people in you wouldn’t traditionally see fighting and then have them follow pro rules.

“It would require skill and understanding of boxing, and it would be people [fighting] that a normal boxing audience wouldn’t see and it would be produced like it were a movie. Tyson obviously is an anomaly. I don’t know that there’s anyone else in the world other than Tyson that everyone would want to see. But what I know coming out of the event is that people can see the paradigm of boxing can change. Triller is changing that. And that was the first time where people said, ‘Oh my God! Boxing can look like that? I felt like I was watching Rocky!’ … With the lighting and the music, it was like a big epic show, but it was real.”

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