When a DJ was playing music over the ring, Jake Paul hopped around, posed for photos, and danced with his team. About 10 minutes earlier, he landed on Ben Askren with a single straight right hand and knocked him out on the first round.
It was a short end to a night of spectacle – a night dubbed the Triller Fight Club, but which felt more like an hour-long concert of high-profile music acts and a variety show that incorporated boxing.
Ric Flair, “Woooooos” and everyone, led a slap fight. Seriously. Saturday Night Live actor and comedian Pete Davidson made fun of almost everything. The Black Keys opened the show with a 20-minute set and Justin Bieber was the musical headliner.
This was boxing in an alternate universe, a sideline almost to the point where the actual sport was the least important part of the presentation. Some of this had to do with the actual fights – only one of the four pay-per-view fights had two seasoned boxers against each other – and some had to do with how the show treated itself.
Within the first seven minutes it became clear that this would be different. The open featured a sketch with Snoop Dogg and Jaleel White, the latter in his most famous role as Steve Urkel from the ’90s sitcom “Family Matters”. They explained what they were trying to do with the Triller Fight Club, referring to gin and juice and marijuana. Davidson joked about his mother, and then the Black Keys immediately took the stage.
Almost every musical act played at least one three-song set, including Snoop Dogg’s new supergroup Mount Westmore and Bieber.
Boxing was not the focus at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. In fact, the action took place in what appeared to be a smaller ring than usual in front of the stage where most of the musicians performed, a fitting image that fitted perfectly as a metaphor. Saturday’s card was an extension of what Triller had achieved on his first foray into boxing back in November, when the promotion was lauded for the way it played music and boxing during a sharp-looking pay-per-view show by Mike Tyson-Roy Jones Jr. mixed up.
This didn’t have the same level of spacing or tempo, and leaned much more heavily into the music and the sideshow than the fights.
At one point, when Davidson was preparing to watch a cage brawl as part of the show, he joked that it felt like he was on acid and he had to turn to his agent to fire him. Davidson interviewed Askren before his fight and described it as a “circus of a joke of a thing”.
It’s likely that Davidson was joking or referring to Paul, whom he pounded a lot during the show. But it also apparently addressed everything else that was going on during an epic long event where the first two hours had at least three musical acts and a fight that lasted two rounds.
Alcohol and marijuana were clearly present throughout the broadcast – during the Frank Mir-Steve Cunningham fight, the broadcast team made abundant references to weeds and contact heights. The five-person announcement booth roasted each other with alcohol during the fight between Regis Prograis and Ivan Redkach.
This was unlike any box pay per view in history, and yet … it got people talking. “It’s a great night man,” said Snoop Dogg on the air. But of course Snoop Dogg will say that because it’s his show, his promotion.
But Trillers Fight Club did something that so much boxing is possible outside of mega-fights: it caught the attention of the social media sphere. It’s always a tricky move, but it has shown that at least people tune in.
Was Saturday night too much in terms of anything but boxing? Yes it was. Was it a possible goal to get more people to get involved in a sport that needs spectators and that doesn’t have many marketable stars who can really sell pay-per-view cards?
If done right, possibly.
This is where Triller’s next big pay-per-view will be the real test. The June 5 card doesn’t feature a YouTube star in Paul transitioning from novelty act to potentially serious fighter. There will be a legitimate title fight with Teofimo Lopez and George Kambosos Jr., as well as an undercard exhibition between Evander Holyfield and Kevin McBride.
More boxing purists will join in, and if Triller finds its sweet spot between spectacle and seriousness in June, it could be something. And during the most legitimate fight of the night between Prograis and Redkach, there was some evidence of that potential.
In this fight there was real analysis from the more experienced members of the announcement team, Al Bernstein, Ray Flores and Mario Lopez. It showed what the promotion could deliver on their next fight night.
What Triller does is take an interesting approach to boxing, to fuse the celebrity that always seems to be about big fights and mix them with the fights themselves. The future goal should be to get a good card. Get an announcement crew worthy of a title shot and let them relax and have a little fun while you check out Snoop Dogg. Make sure everyone at the booth has value, which didn’t always happen on Saturday.
But Triller has caught the attention of some fighters – Amanda Serrano tweeted that she would be open to it be on a future trill card – and this approach could open up new audiences for fighters. It is reasonable to believe that part of the population paid for the PPV because of Bieber and The Black Keys and Doja Cat instead of Mir, Askren and Prograis.
There is an idea here that can be honed. And if Triller can do that, it could be something in the boxing world.