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The Billionaire Battle Show: Musk vs. Zuckerberg

  •   6 min reads
The Billionaire Battle Show: Musk vs. Zuckerberg
Diliff via Wikimedia

Now we know where the announced “cage fight” will take place: Italy - surely a win for Meloni’s government that jumps on the occasion to exact payment - question: Who will be the arbiter? Why not Putin? But the latest news: Zuckerberg signals he's pulling back

by Claude Forthomme - Senior Editor

Update 15 August: Now Zuckerberg signals he’s pulling out of the show, calling off the “cage fight” and telling Musk “If Elon ever gets serious…he knows how to reach me.” Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised: When Musk announced he’d livestream the match on Twitter (pardon, on X) he made it clear to one and all that this was merely a marketing stunt, no doubt meant to revive a dying Twitter (sorry, I mean X, I just can’t get used to the new name that is merely a sign universally used to delete whatever you want to delete). The question now is: How long can Twitter survive Musk’s shenanigans?

In recent weeks, relations between Musk and Zuckerberg haven’t been rosy: Musk has sparred online with Zuckerberg after he’d introduced a competing social media service called Threads.

Below, more on the back story.

How it all began: In June, Elon Musk, of Tesla and Twitter fame, challenged Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook headmaster, to a “cage fight.” Yes, you read that right. A cage fight, the human version of cockfighting, is a mixed martial arts (MMA) event. Basically, it’s a full combat sport whereby the two contenders enclosed in a small space defined by a net, unable to escape, have only one option: rain punches, kicks and all manners of blows on each other until one of the two drops to the floor, unconscious and unable to move.

Yeah, pretty brutal. You could say the ultimate macho-style event, just the sort of thing Musk and Zuckerberg, both admirers of Ayn Rand’s brand of alpha capitalism, would go for.

Following Zuckerberg’s acceptance, while the world waited with bated breath for an announcement of where and when the fight might take place, the press spent the next month mulling over the deeper meaning of this news. A notable Bloomberg article that was republished in India by the Deccan Herald (that’s how far this news travels) even suggested that a “lasting friendship” could come out of such a fight (!), noting that “delay may be the better part of valor — given the better physical condition the Facebook founder is in.”

The only assurance millions of viewers had that they wouldn’t be missing out on it was Musk’s announcement that the fight would be live-streamed on X.

But where? Musk, from the start, indicated he wanted to dignify the cage fight with an ancient Roman background — something like the Colosseum in Rome. For a while, that suggestion fell on deaf ears, but apparently, Meloni’s right-wing government — no doubt feeling on the same wavelength as Musk, a notorious Trump fan — must have been listening.

Yesterday the news broke: Prime Minister Meloni and Gennaro Sangiulani, Minister of Culture, offered to host the fight in Italy. Musk triumphantly announced it on Twitter – pardon, I mean “X”:

An epic location? “Everything in camera frame will be ancient Rome so nothing modern at all”? So, reading that tweet, we are led to believe it will take place in the Colosseum, just as Musk wanted…

But no. No such luck, Elon!

The Minister Sangiulani, in a press communiqué yesterday (August 11), was quick to clarify:

“I had a long and friendly conversation with Elon Musk, we talked about our shared passion for ancient Roman history. We are thinking about how to organize a great charity and historical evocation event, respecting and fully protecting the places. It will not be held in Rome. But above all, it is expected that a large sum, many millions of euros, will be donated to two important Italian pediatric hospitals for the strengthening of structures and scientific research to combat diseases affecting children.”

This is unambiguous: “It will not be held in Rome”, says Meloni’s Minister.

Sorry, Musk, no Colosseum for you!

And the Minister added, clearly anticipating a negative reaction from the government’s opposition: “It will also be an opportunity to promote our history and our archaeological, artistic and cultural heritage on a global scale.”

Whether this will pacify the opposition is open to doubt. Carlo Calenda, one of the more vocal political leaders Italy has today, Secretary of Azione, a progressive party in the opposition, was quick to upbraid Sangiuliano on Twitter (sorry, I mean X):

This is a rather damning message and here is the Google translation:

“Dear Minister, Italian monuments represent our history and our identity. Using them to indulge the antics of two billionaires who want to give them to themselves worldwide (which in itself is already ridiculous and egomaniacal) is indecorous and disrespectful of our heritage. Nor can the promise of a donation change this assessment in any way.”

Yes, what about those “many millions” the billionaires promised for two pediatric hospitals? Many millions, if negotiated right, could be more than a mere “tip” and a windfall for needy, sick children. For Dana White, President of UFC who met the Italian Culture Minister, this event could “generate billions”:

Yes, Ms. White is probably right about the knock-on effect (whether UFC organizes the event or not): There’s likely to be a billion-dollar shower over the MMA world. For the sick children, maybe not so much. But no, Calenda won’t have it.

For him that doesn’t work, it’s a bribe, it’s undigified, it’s pure corruption!

Here is how Calenda puts it in his tweet, jumping on the occasion to fustigate government policies, making the point that Meloni is turning a blind eye to the needs of the Italian population in critical areas: health, education and, in this case, culture:

“On the contrary. We will give the idea of ​​a country ready to sell off its dignity for what for these gentlemen is a tip, while we have public expenditure of 870 billion that you are unable to direct towards culture, education and health. You often fill your mouth with the word identity and tradition. But identity is born from knowledge and respect for one’s own culture. We have disastrous data regarding the attendance and knowledge of our cultural and archaeological heritage by Italian citizens. After making so many references about Croce and Prezzolini (you can imagine what they would have said to you after such a proposal) we still haven’t seen a shred of cultural politics. Do your job, which (unfortunately for us) is not that of being the valet of Elon Musk.”

Note how Calenda identifies here a major weakness in the rightwing populist policies of the Meloni government: a lack of “cultural politics.”

Indeed, one can only agree with him: not enough attention is dedicated to the cultural and archeological heritage of Italy, which is undoubtedly unique. Not so long ago I wrote about the scandalously degraded state of Rome (it was in 2017), and alas, the situation is still largely unchanged.

So, Calenda’s protests notwithstanding, you can rest assured the fight will no doubt take place somewhere in Italy. But where?

For now, there are two hypotheses for “epic locations” that have emerged: one, suggested by the Corriere della Sera, is Pompei, the other is the Verona arena. Also, Italians are wondering whether our American billionaires will go in full re-enacting mode and fight in ancient Roman costumes. But maybe that would be a step too far?

And how about the arbiter?

The International Mixed Martial Arts Federation has a set of rules (issued in 2017) that specify, inter alia, that while such a contest has a ringside physician and a referee, the referee is the sole arbiter of a bout.

Who will be the referee? I would suggest another famous billionaire who, as everyone knows, is an ardent sportsman and a great lover of battles: Putin.

Now, if Putin is not available (too busy with Ukraine), why not ask Trump?

There’s another fan of MMA, and when one of the contestants finally falls to the ground unconscious, we will all have the pleasure of hearing him yell “You’re fired!”

First published in Impakter. You can read the article here.

Claude Forthomme - Senior Editor

Claude Forthomme is an economist (Columbia U. graduate) and aid expert; former director (ADG-level) of Europe and Central Asia Regional Office of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization; author of several fiction and non-fiction books in English and Italian

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