June 23, 2023 - 7:00am

Despite purist combat sports fans’ understandable reservations, content creators from YouTube, Twitch and other platforms have been engaging in high-stakes “creator clashes”, pulling in massive audiences and earning people like the Paul brothers millions. In the process, this format has propelled many lesser-known individuals to greater heights, ranging from long-cancelled comedian Sam Hyde to accomplished but washed-up MMA fighters such as Ben Askren and Tyron Woodley. 

It’s an easy way for celebrity “listers” of all stripes — A, B, C, and even D — to generate additional revenue streams while engaging in an entertaining approximation of professional combat. Now, Elon Musk, CEO of Twitter, and Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, are hinting at their own showdown, which could serve as a publicity goldmine for their respective platforms.

Musk instigated the idea with a tweet stating his willingness for a “cage fight” with Zuckerberg, to which the Meta CEO responded with “send me location” on his Instagram account (in each case, the platform used was owned by the respective billionaire poster). According to the Verge, Zuckerberg’s post was apparently serious, placing the ball firmly in Musk’s court. Musk’s succinct reply was “Vegas Octagon”, the primary venue for most weekly UFC events, followed by a tweet sharing his signature move, “The Walrus”, where he would merely lie atop his opponent — not a bad strategy given his substantial weight advantage.

This proposed brawl, possibly following MMA rules, is a stark contrast from the earlier “Battle of the Billionaires” at WrestleMania 23, a heavily scripted affair where Donald Trump and WWE’s CEO Vince McMahon fought vicariously, supporting their wrestlers in the ring until Trump’s charge won and secured him the opportunity to shave McMahon’s head. While Zuckerberg has been training in various sports, Musk’s combat background remains uncertain — though he has used the new drug Ozempic to shed some unwanted pounds. Nevertheless, manosphere influencer and former professional kickboxer Andrew Tate has offered to train the larger and more inexperienced Musk — likely via video chat, given that Tate is still dealing with sex trafficking charges in Romania.

The proliferation of non-traditional fighters, from YouTubers to comedians and tech moguls, stepping into rings or cages can be viewed as a manifestation of a broader cultural phenomenon. At its core, this may represent an assertion of masculinity in an increasingly digital age where physicality — particularly for those who earn their living through computer screens and software — is often sidelined. In the era of ancient Greeks, an Olympic contest, or agon, offered a stage to showcase arete, or excellence. These high-profile fights might be amateurish, but they provide a unique platform to display courage and tenacity, two qualities often associated with traditional leadership. 

As a practical matter, such contests also serve as an extremely cost-effective marketing strategy, drawing attention and potentially boosting the participants’ brands or platform visibility. It’s a fascinating blend of old and new — archaic ideas of masculinity and heroism intertwined with the promotional powers of the digital and social media age. Despite — or perhaps because of — the deteriorating fortunes of both Meta and Twitter — Zuckerberg and Musk’s impending “fight of the billionaires” is set to draw considerable attention, serving as a catalyst that could well shake up the social media world. 

Oliver Bateman is a historian and journalist based in Pittsburgh. He blogs, vlogs, and podcasts at his Substack, Oliver Bateman Does the Work