Thursday, April 22, 2021

Triller Fight Club Debut Thoughts


The highly anticipated debut of Triller’s Fight Club series carried with it a sense of intrigue. Following the success of the company’s first foray into the sport of Boxing last November, which was headlined by the eight round exhibition between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones, the introduction of the Fight Club series as well as the company’s acquisition of digital combat sports and entertainment streaming network FITE TV were an indication that Triller was not interested in a one-off venture, but rather to enter Boxing in the promotional realm. This events also followed on the heels of the company acquiring the rights to promote the June 5th Undisputed Lightweight world championship bout between undefeated champion Teofimo Lopez and unbeaten mandatory challenger George Kambosos.


Off those acquisitions and looking to build on what some might view as surprising success of their first event in Boxing last November, Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA, played host to the debut of Triller’s Fight Club pay-per-view series on April 17th that was streamed globally by FITE TV. The presentation of this Boxing card, which featured Jake Paul facing MMA veteran Ben Askren in the main event in a Cruiserweight bout, was not what one would expect of a normal Boxing broadcast as the event featured musical performances as well as a loose presentation by the broadcast team working the event that included veteran broadcasters Al Bernstein and Ray Flores. While the looseness included more than occasional explicit language as well as other elements seen on camera that might turn some Boxing purists off, this observer saw it as an attempt to mix Boxing and entertainment aspects into one hybrid. It should also not be overlooked that Triller has also succeeded in bringing mainstream attention to the sport.


While some may have expected a more standard Boxing presentation, I felt for the most part Triller succeeded in providing an entertaining evening of Boxing and music rolled into one package. In terms of what occurred in the ring that evening, it was also interesting. Along with the Paul-Askren bout, the card also featured two bouts that had similar interests. One of those bouts in the Heavyweight division saw former IBF Cruiserweight world champion Steve Cunningham scoring a six round unanimous decision over former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight world champion Frank Mir.


As we have seen before when boxers face MMA fighters in bouts contested under MMA rules, or when MMA fighters step into the Boxing ring, there can be a difference in experience and polish that more often than not favors the fighter who’s primary combat sports discipline is one where the bout is being fought. The forty-one year old Mir, who was making his professional Boxing debut in this bout had some sporadic success in being able to land punches on Cunningham, but Cunningham’s overall offensive output and skillset was the difference in an otherwise uneventful bout.


The second preliminary bout that took place on the card that could have some implications going forward took place in the 140lb. Jr. Welterweight division between former WBA Jr. Welterweight world champion Regis Prograis and former United States Boxing Association (USBA) Lightweight champion Ivan Redkach. Prograis, who was in his second bout since losing his world title in a unification bout with Josh Taylor as part of the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) Jr. Welterweight tournament in October 2019, systematically broke the normally durable Redkach down with a body/head attack. It was this attack that floored Redkach in round six as a result of a clean body shot. Although video replays confirmed that the punch was legal, it was incorrectly ruled an accidental foul by Referee Jim Korb. Because of this ruling, the bout was stopped when Redkach, who would be removed from the ring on a stretcher could not continue.


Although Prograis, who had won every round on two official scorecards and was ahead five rounds to one on the third official scorecard, was declared winner by technical decision, the official result was changed in the days following the card by the Georgia State Athletic Commission (GSAC) to a sixth round technical knockout in favor of Prograis, effectively correcting the errant ruling initially made by Referee Jim Korb. With two victories under his belt since his loss to Taylor, Prograis should be in position to challenge for a world championship again in the 140lb. Jr. Welterweight division or perhaps the 147lb. Welterweight division.


This brings us to the main event of the inaugural Triller Fight Club series where Jake Paul scored a first round knockout of Ben Askren in 1:59. A single yet perfectly timed right hand to the head floored Askren. Although Askren was able to get up, he was on unsteady legs and the bout was stopped by Referee Brian Stutts.


While this officially marked the third win in Paul’s Boxing career, he still faces much criticism as well as unanswered questions as none of the three victories have come against someone with Boxing experience. Paul himself has stated that he does take the sport seriously and that people should view him as a serious boxer. 


For now, this observer will give him the benefit of the doubt, but it is understandable how some might criticize the influx of Youtubers and other notables who have chosen to enter the sport simply because to date, none of these individuals have faced people with legitimate Boxing backgrounds in official bouts. One does however, need to keep in mind that individuals in Paul’s position, who are relatively new to Boxing do not acquire the experience of seasoned fighters overnight and if he is indeed serious about his commitment as a boxer, it will take time for him to develop. Such development however, needs to occur against fighters who have legitimate Boxing backgrounds and training.


While the subject of “Celebrity Boxing” has always been one that is viewed as tongue and cheek because some do not take it seriously, Boxing is a serious sport as well as a dangerous one. As someone who has seen more than one life unfortunately end as a result of injuries sustained in the Boxing ring, I hope anyone and everyone who thinks of getting into a ring treats the sport with the seriousness and respect that it deserves.


As for Triller, with two events successfully completed, we will see what is next for Boxing’s newest promotional entity. Although both the Tyson-Jones exhibition and debut of Triller’s Fight Club series are likely to be viewed as successful, much like the influx of new entrants into the Boxing ring, Triller might be tasked with trying to figure out what they want to be. Whether they want to be regarded as a player in the Boxing promotional space where the aim is always to try to put on the best/most competitive fights possible featuring the biggest stars in the sport, or if it will be more of a stage where influencers from other realms can test the waters to see if Boxing is for them, while mixing music and entertainment into one package. 


With at least two more Triller Fight Club events planned in the coming months including the June 5th Lopez-Kambosos Lightweight world championship bout, we may find out. For now, Triller has succeeded both in providing entertainment and drawing mainstream attention, whether that translates into something the Boxing enthusiast will embrace in time and more specifically be willing to support in the form of pay-per-view buys at high price points remains to be seen.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”


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