On September 11, 2001, Donald Trump honored the then-unknown number of dead in lower Manhattan by pointing out that the collapse of the World Trade Center meant that he now owned the tallest building downtown. To commemorate the event’s 20th anniversary, he visited a fire station and police precinct in New York City before flying back to Florida to guest-host a novelty pay-per-view boxing match with his son.
The former president, a promoter at heart, mostly stuck to vague bromides that couldn’t get him in trouble as he provided color commentary during four underwhelming bouts at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. “I think tonight’s card is going to be very successful,” he said, when asked about his expectations for the evening. “He is like a totally different fighter,” he said, seconds after a co-host made the exact same observation. “I like to do that,” he said, when asked if he liked to eat lobster. Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the night is that Trump hung on for the whole undercard without getting visibly bored.
Though he largely behaved himself, a few non-boxing jabs inevitably came through. When asked at the beginning of the broadcast about 9/11, Trump said that the anniversary was made even worse because of a “very bad week” from President Joe Biden. He praised the state of Florida for the way they “ran the election clean.” Describing the way that referees decide boxing matches, he said, “It’s like elections: It could be rigged.” Donald Trump Jr., during a particularly boring moment in the first bout, said that “right now, the audience likes politics better.”
It was an astute observation: During the first two fights, the only real noise from the crowd came during outbursts in support of the former president. Cardboard banners dotted the casino arena: “Bring back #45” and “Trump won.” (“I’m watching the signs,” said Trump.) The home audience that paid $50 to stream the fight also got access to a live chat in which viewers talked about QAnon, Hunter Biden, Joe Biden sucking, Pepe the frog, Trump actually winning the 2020 election, and Jeffrey Epstein not actually killing himself.
There’s a reason the boxing wasn’t really the main event: Celebrity fights, of the sort featuring aging heavyweights, jacked influencers, and retired NBA players, are a sideshow of the sport itself designed purely to make money. (Other than Anderson Silva’s first-round knockout of Tito Ortiz in the third bout, many of the boxers on Saturday night spent more time trying to avoid boxing than actually boxing.) Into this world enters President Trump, a man who’s never been afraid of a weird opportunity to make money. His presence was a perfect addition to the resurgence of novelty fighting: a domain full of shady financing; alleged sexual assaults; aging stars who are trying to mount a comeback; and guys who really like Florida.
In some ways, he never really left the sport. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Trump hosted several marquee fights in Atlantic City, including Mike Tyson vs. Larry Holmes and Evander Holyfield vs. George Foreman. Since the ’80s, Trump has been friends with World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Vince McMahon and once shaved his head in the “battle of the billionaires” at WrestleMania. McMahon’s wife, Linda, served as the head of Trump’s Small Business Administration and worked on his 2020 campaign, while Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White is also a close friend. If his observations on Saturday night weren’t particularly insightful, it was clear that this world claimed him as one of their own. To his credit, Trump’s best moments were his recollections of his Atlantic City days, and he seemed genuinely animated when Jorge Masvidal, a UFC champ who campaigned for him in south Florida, stepped into the announcer’s box.
After his year of almost nonstop assaults on American democracy, it’s very strange to watch Donald Trump talk boxing, enjoy himself, and be in charge of absolutely nothing for a few hours. This bizarre appearance on a mostly tedious three-hour stream felt like a peek into another reality: one in which the 45th president accepted his electoral loss last November, and instead of flirting with a second run, he spent his time chasing quick cash in man-o-sphere appearances — events that can be outrageously fun and stupid if you choose to engage and completely inconsequential if you do not.
As the night wore on, it got more absurd. Before Evander Holyfield got in the ring with former UFC champ Vitor Belfort, the audience was asked to observe the anniversary of 9/11 for a ten-count of the bell. The silence was broken up by a woman yelling, “Feel that fuckers!” “Shut the fuck up!” the crowd screamed back. The memorial bell tolled as the audience booed and a woman in short shorts walked around the ring with an American flag.
Once the fight started, Belfort more or less beat the pulp out of the 58-year-old Holyfield until the sad display was called off before the second round. (Holyfield wasn’t actually supposed to fight: He was subbed in after Oscar de la Hoya got COVID at the last minute; his last opponent was in a charity “fight” against Mitt Romney in 2015.) When he was interviewed after the fight, Belfort called Jake Paul a “bitch” and demanded that the celebrity-boxing moneymaker fight him for $25 million on Thanksgiving. Trump, after avoiding the crowd’s chants requesting he give a speech, closed out the event with an address to his many supporters in the casino. “This is like a rally,” he said. “We love you all. We love this country.”