Three months after a resounding success promoting a Mike Tyson exhibition match with Roy Jones Jr., Triller Fight Club rocked the boxing world on Feb. 26 when it won the right to promote a Teofimo Lopez undisputed lightweight title defense with an astoundingly high bid of $6.018 million.
On Saturday, nearly $10 million in the hole with several date changes, no fight and nothing to show for it, Triller’s COO told Yahoo Sports it has given up on promoting the IBF mandatory title defense between Lopez and George Kambosos as it re-charts its course.
COO Thorstein Meier said that Triller will no longer promote what became known as “freak show” or “carnival act” fights featuring long-retired boxers and/or celebrities. It will try to create a new entertainment platform that combines well-known musical acts and legitimate and competitive boxing matches.
The Tyson-Jones show on Nov. 28 was Triller’s first in the boxing space. It featured YouTuber Jake Paul in the co-main event against former NBA slam dunk champion Nate Robinson. It also had several big name musical acts perform between fights. The pay-per-view sold nearly 2 million units and was well-produced.
But Triller never followed up on its success, and took a financial beating trying to get Lopez-Kambosos into the ring. Some of it was its own fault, but much of it, like Lopez contracting COVID-19 less than a week before the fight, was not.
Events kept scuttling the bout until this week, when Triller had enough and tapped out.
“[With] the advertising we’d lined up, the performance marketing we’d lined up, the radio spots, the television spots, all this stuff, quite frankly it’s fair to say that at the moment, we’re between $9 million to $10 million in promotional dollars, promotional money, that we’ve spent to promote this fight,” Meier told Yahoo Sports. “We’ve gotten nothing out of it and … this is why we’re saying enough is enough.”
How Triller fumbled the bag
Meier said Kambosos and his team quit responding to them, no-showing a $37,000 airplane flight from Australia to the U.S. on Sept. 29. It was initially demanding $400,000 from Triller to agree to move the fight from Oct. 4 to Oct. 16. Lopez agreed to the move only for a purse advance, but Kambosos, who was the B side, wanted to be paid additional money.
As the mandatory challenger, he would have gotten a career-high $2.1 million purse. Under the IBF rules for the purse bid, Lopez as champion got 65 percent of the winning bid, which meant he’d make $3.9 million.
Triller had requested the IBF to rule Kambosos in default and order a new purse bid feature Lopez and the next highest available contender, Isaac Cruz. The IBF responded that it would not be available from Oct. 4-7 and would rule on Triller’s request after that.
Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Sport was the second-highest bidder on Feb. 26, bidding $3.506 million. If the IBF doesn’t rule Kambosos in default, Hearn’s bid would then be the winner. In that scenario, Lopez would get $2.28 million while Kambosos would earn $1.23 million. Each fighter would owe money from those purses to their promoters, Top Rank in Lopez’s case and Lou DiBella in Kambosos’.
There were only two officially announced dates for the fight. After Triller won the purse bid, there was discussion of having it on June 5. But when the retired Floyd Mayweather unexpectedly agreed to fight YouTuber Logan Paul on pay-per-view on June 6, there were fears in Triller’s hierarchy that competing with the Mayweather-Paul PPV was foolhardy.
So the first officially announced date for the fight was June 19 in Miami. But on June 15, news broke that Lopez had tested positive for COVID and the fight was postponed indefinitely.
The next, and only other, officially announced date was Oct. 4, though there had been discussion of putting it on in Australia or in August in the U.S. But no date in August worked, and Triller moved it to Oct. 4 at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater in New York.
That date, though, was fraught with problems. The fight was going head-to-head with a “Monday Night Football” game between the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers. It also was five days before the WBC heavyweight title fight on PPV between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder and the MLB playoffs begin on Oct. 5. And the possibility remains that the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees Yankees could play in a one game play-in on Monday to break a tie.
“That was totally my mistake,” Meier said of putting the fight on Oct. 4. “Put that totally on me. I thought that 10/4 would be a great date for the venue, and for a pay-per-view because nothing else was happening. Something was happening, a very big NFL game. Everybody started yelling at me and telling me we should do it on a day where there is nothing else happening. And quite frankly, I started freaking out because I knew the IBF’s cut-off date [to stage the fight] was 10/17.”
Triller’s Ryan Kavanaugh had said publicly the company was thinking of moving the fight from Oct. 4 to Oct. 16. Even though it was far from done, it became accepted as gospel and Triller looked foolish and had issues with its partners.
Meier said “unfortunately, Ryan spoke prematurely,” with the news of the possible shift. That was ultimately the final nail because it’s when Triller lost communication with Kambosos.
But Meier was optimistic that Kambosos would agree to move it to Oct. 16 given that Kambosos lawyer Greg Smith had written a letter to the IBF in on Aug. 28 asking the IBF to extend the Oct. 17 deadline to put on the bout for up to 30 days, allowing it to be later in October.
Referring to the planned Oct. 4 fight, Smith wrote, “At present, Kambosos can fly to New York, but there are no available return flights to Sydney until early November 2021. Upon return to Australia,, Mr. Kambosos will face a mandatory 14 day quarantine. While he understands that the IBF has no control over Australia’s COVID policies, it would not be equitable for Mr. Kambosos to be stranded in the United States for nearly a month after the bout before he can fly home to begin the quarantine process.”
Triller COO: ‘A lot of shenanigans going on here’
After the postponement of the June 19 bout when Lopez contracted COVID, Triller requested that Kambosos stay in the U.S. given the lack of flights. Meier said the company offered to rent a home for Kambosos and fly his girlfriend, Bec Pereira, to the U.S. to stay with him.
However, according to Meier, Kambosos did not want his child to be born in the U.S. and flew home to Australia, where his third child was born in late September.
As Triller was attempting to get Kambosos on board with the Oct. 16, the Kambosos side went silent.
“Let’s be honest: There are a lot of shenanigans going on here,” said Meier, who said he was concerned there has been someone working behind the scenes to scuttle Triller’s efforts to stage the fight.
Complicating issues was that Peter Kahn, Kambosos’ manager, had also been Triller’s president of boxing operations until sometime in September when he left that job. Though Kahn recused himself from Kambosos business when he was with Triller, it was a clear conflict of interest and appeared to be a violation of the Muhammad Ali Act’s prohibition on serving as a manager and a promoter at the same time.
Once Kahn left Triller, he was in the unique position of negotiating for the other side in an event he’d been trying to put on just a few days before.
Triller was left with egg on its face and attempting to build a business that looked promising after the Tyson-Jones bout.
Triller re-charts its course
Meier said Triller wants to go back to that formula with a few changes. He said repeatedly that other promoters shouldn’t feel threatened by Triller and that the company isn’t looking to take any of their fighters.
Triller wants to put on shows similar to Tyson-Jones, where there is a fight and then a musical act performs a song or two before going back to a fight.
He said it wants to make it a member and entertaining night with quality fights, star musical acts, fireworks and laser shows. He said the cards may include other combat sports other than just boxing matches.
“This is very, very important: We are not trying to be the new Matchroom,” Meier said. “We are not trying to be the new Top Rank. We’re not trying to be a competitor to them. We’re not trying to build up a stable of fighters and have them guaranteed 20 fights for the next five years. What we are trying to do is to create a new platform. We are trying to create new show that brings entertainment back into boxing.
“In my humble opinion, boxing is entertainment to start with. That’s why we want to call those evenings [when we put on shows] an evening of entertainment. … We want to have a night of boxing with musical acts and not just create a new platform but develop a new audience. Let’s be very, very honest. Yes, I’m working in the boxing industry, but I’m not a traditional boxing fan. … Boxing needs a little bit of an injection [of excitement] because it became stale and this is what it’s all about.”