Trump, Tyson, and Don King Ringside at Mayweather-McGregor Is a Fever Dream Fit For 2017
Artwork by Grimoire
Imagine that you’re America in 2017. Imagine that you’ve elected Trump president, or you’ve just eaten a few hundred milligrams of THC and you’re face-deep in pinot noir and you’ve projectile vomited into a bucket. Wiping chunks from the edges of your mouth, a vision of the future sharpens between the hazy edges of your scrambled brain, and it looks like this: President Donald J. Trump, flanked by Don King and Mike Tyson, sitting ringside at Madison Square Garden, watching Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and UFC champion Conor McGregor go a dozen rounds in eight-ounce gloves.
The jowls and clenched-sphincter lips. The face tattoo. The hair magnetized to the sky. The boxing superfight that is large as well as pointless. This is a fiction, but it’s a fiction so effortless to imagine because of how seamlessly it can become fact. And before nuclear weapons reduce us to radioactive dust on purpose or by accident, it will happen.
A portion of this vision is already part of the record. Mike and the two Dons were frequently photographed together in the 1980s, back when their worlds first started overlapping. Trump pushed to turn Atlantic City into the nation’s new boxing capital, and he made millions of dollars from hosting four prime-era Tyson fights near Trump Plaza. Shortly after Tyson beat Michael Spinks in 1988, he became Tyson’s business adviser and Trump remained an outspoken apologist, blaming the 18-year-old victim for Tyson's rape charge and advocating replacing his jail sentence with a fine. (More strangely, Trump says Tyson once asked him if he was having an affair with his wife, then immediately fell asleep on his couch.) King, a promoter with a violent and checkered history, came along in 1988 and put his hand in Tyson’s pocket, just like he did Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes.
Then the 1990s came along and broke apart this three-headed superorganism of 1980s celebrities. Tyson and King had a public falling out, with Tyson suing King for $100 million that he allegedly stole from him. A Senate subcommittee investigated King for his alleged ties to organized crime. And Trump, an inductee in the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame, made a bold exit from bringing big fights to Atlantic City: as his casinos started to collapse, he hosted the 1991 heavyweight championship bout between Evander Holyfield and George Foreman, then invoked the contract's act of war clause—remember: the Persian Gulf War took place nowhere near New Jersey—to squirm out of paying $2.5 million. The billion-dollar Trump Taj Mahal declared bankruptcy three months later. Today it's gone.
A few decades makes a difference. Tyson rehabilitated his public image as an ear-biting brute. In September, Don King, still scraping by in the boxing world, nearly had the street where he stomped a man to death half a century ago named after him. Trump, who claimed a $916 million loss on his 1995 tax return, won a presidential election based on his alleged business acumen and other things that are depressing to think about. And while Tyson and King remain at odds—Tyson once recalled a car ride while he was ostensibly trying to patch things up with King: "Don said some innocuous thing and all that jealousy and rage spilled out of me and I kicked him in his fucking head"—Trump is their common ground. Both Tyson and King were enthusiastic, vocal Trump supporters in the lead up to the 2016 election.
Animosity is forgettable, especially when the walls of logic close in and especially in the pursuit of millions. Two years after Trump called Mayweather's decision win over Marcos Maidana a "disgrace,” Mayweather posed with Trump and his 80s ski-movie-villain son at Trump Tower. McGregor, who once said "Donald can shut his big fat mouth, I don't give a fuck about Donald Trump," told CNN days after the election: "Maybe Donald won't be so bad in there."
So let's keep beating the dead horse of a boxing match where McGregor fights Mayweather. It would be combat sports spectacle at its most empty because the fight poses a question that no one really wants answered: How would an MMA fighter do when you take away everything but his fists and put him upright in front of the best boxer in recent history? (Terribly. It wouldn’t even be close.) It would require raiding Scrooge McDuck's Money Bin to pay Mayweather's purse and McGregor doing some legal and business gymnastics to wriggle out of the constraints of his UFC contract, all for the pleasure of having Mayweather jab him into a puffy-faced mess. Yet it’s a fight that McGregor and Mayweather both want because of how fat their pockets would be at the end of it, and the apparent similarities between boxing and MMA—both glove-to-face hitting sports with rounds and whatever—make it feel remotely competitive even when it isn't. It’s a novelty that boils down to 140 characters or less.
And what better mouthpiece to hire for a squash match with the packaging of importance than Trump, the ultimate in shameless carnival barkers? Trump would welcome any chance to be in proximity to tough guys, and an association with McGregor-Mayweather would be grand enough to clear the bad memories of Holyfield-Foreman. In a few days, Trump will have the executive branch at his disposal to pull together an empty-calorie match-up under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, because Atlantic City is a ghost town. He’ll also have a soapbox in the Oval Office where he can tell an army of true believers who butt-chug his every lie and misdirection—while his Cabinet grows more cannibalistic and racist and adds billions to its net worth—about how great a fight between a 49-0 veteran and a 0-0 novice will be. And as long as you’re asking them to pay for a border wall with the hollow promise of Mexico reimbursing the cost, just finance McGregor-Mayweather with taxpayer dollars too. Use the Department of Energy’s budget to pay up front, and take a few pay-per-views points and a couple of ringside seats for you and your two friends who probably still hate each other.
This is the essential vision of America circa 2017, where nothing makes sense, amnesia and money heals old wounds, and a gladiatorial cash grab distracts from the cliff we’re about to go over. This will be the biggest fight of all time. It will break records. Believe me.
Check out these related stories:
The Mixed Martial Arts of Victorian London
Before BJJ, there was Bartitsu.
Jonathan Maicelo: The Last Inca
Peru's up-and-coming boxing star.
Kron Gracie on Jiu-Jitsu, Skateboarding, Older Brothers, and Famous Fathers
The ties that bind are strong.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.