A “Cage Match” between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg can be no joke

The day after Elon Musk challenged Mark Zuckerberg on social media to “a cage fight” this month, Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, received a text message.

It was from Mr. Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta. He asked Mr. White, who runs the world’s premier mixed martial arts competition, which is fought in cage-like rings, whether Mr. Musk was serious about a fight.

Mr. White called Mr. Musk, who runs Tesla, Twitter and SpaceX, and confirmed that he was willing to take the plunge. Mr. White relayed it to Mr. Zuckerberg. In response, Mr. Zuckerberg posted on Instagram: “Send Me Location,”[ads1]; a reference to the catchphrase of Khabib Nurmagomedov, one of the UFC’s most decorated athletes.

Since then, Mr. White said, he has been talking to the tech billionaires every night to organize the settlement. On Tuesday, he said, he was “on the phone with the two of them until 12:45 in the morning.” He added: “They will both do it.”

If you thought a cage match between two of the world’s richest men was just a far-fetched social media stunt, think again.

Over the past 10 days, Mr. White said that he, Mr. Musk and Mr. Zuckerberg — aided by advisers — have been negotiating behind the scenes and are moving toward physical combat. While there are no guarantees that a fight will happen, the broad outlines of an event are taking shape, said Mr. White and three people with knowledge of the discussions.

The fight would be an exhibition fight, Mr. White said, and outside of official UFC jurisdiction and rights agreements, although he would help produce the event. The tech executives have agreed there should be a charitable component, Mr. White and a person familiar with the talks said, with details still being worked out. The preferred location is Las Vegas, which requires approval from the Nevada Athletic Commission. On Thursday, Mr. Musk tweeted that the event could also take place in the Roman Coliseum.

Mr. Zuckerberg’s friends and advisers have generally been supportive of the fight, two people close to him said, although others said a fight would be a distraction and not the best use of his time. A person close to Musk said that although he hated sports and didn’t seem to have the discipline to work out regularly, no one could rule out something about him.

If the battle between Mr. Musk, 52, and Mr. Zuckerberg, 39, continues, it would be a rare spectacle, even in the boastful universe of the technology industry. While Steve Jobs and Bill Gates used to sneak up on each other, the closest thing the tech world had before this was real sports feuds between billionaire sailors like Oracle’s Larry Ellison and SAP’s Hasso Plattner.

But two wildly wealthy tech titans fighting, punching and kicking in a Las Vegas or Roman arena? No one would have dreamed of it.

Meta declined to comment. Mr. Musk did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Zuckerberg and Mr. Musk have long alternated between being competitors, frenemies and outright enemies. The two have criticized each other over the years, including over Mr. Musk’s SpaceX rockets, privacy scandals at Meta and more. Most recently, Mr. Zuckerberg sent a team at Meta to build a competitor to Mr. Musk’s Twitter, codenamed Project 92.

If they take their rivalry beyond those jibes, the UFC’s Mr. White said he was concerned about the physical gaps between the billionaires. Aside from their 13-year age difference, Mr. Musk is said to be at least 70 pounds heavier than Mr. Zuckerberg. In official martial arts matches, athletes are usually matched by weight.

“We’ve got two guys who have never fought professionally, and they’re in two completely different weight classes,” Mr. White said. Still, he said, “it will be the biggest fight in the history of martial arts.”

Mr. Zuckerberg is particularly familiar with the UFC world. Over the past 18 months, he has embarked on a personal journey to bulk up and delve deep into Brazilian jujitsu, a grappling martial art in which competitors attempt to submit their opponent and used in UFC fights.

Mr. Zuckerberg began training on a lark mostly in his garage in 2021, where he built what he called a “mini academy” with a circle of friends who spar with him. He has said that he appreciated that Brazilian jujitsu required “100 percent focus” and strategic thinking to defeat an opponent, rather than brute strength.

Mr. Zuckerberg has sought out martial arts experts, including Dave Camarillo, James Terry and Khai Wu. In May, he competed in his first public martial arts tournament in Redwood City, California, which he entered undercover — until the moment he took off his hat and sunglasses to fight. He won gold and silver medals in the challenge.

Last year, Meta also announced that it had partnered with the UFC to bring mixed martial arts to Horizon Worlds, its virtual reality app.

Mr. White said Mr. Zuckerberg was truly dedicated to the sport.

“I’ve been talking to Zuckerberg now for maybe close to two years now,” he said. “And it’s never like small talk or we’re joking and laughing.” He said the Meta boss was “dead serious all the time”.

Mr. Zuckerberg is probably in fighting shape. He has been on a rigorous exercise regime, going on runs and challenging friends and colleagues to beat his times, two people close to him said. This month, he posted a personal best for completing the “Murph” challenge, which requires completing a series of pull-ups, push-ups, running several miles and doing hundreds of squats, all while wearing weighted, military-grade armor.

“Doing sports that basically require your full attention, I think is very important for my mental health and the way I stay focused on everything I do,” he said in a recent podcast episode.

Mr. Musk, on the other hand, has tweeted that he “almost never” trains even once suffered a back injury who required surgery after participating in an exhibition with a sumo wrestler. This month he has so he had trained in “judo, Kyokushin (full contact)”—two Japanese martial arts—and “no rules for street fighting.”

“He made it very clear: ‘I’m not going to lose weight,'” Mr. White said of Mr. Musk’s approach to the potential matchup. “‘Shall we fight or shall we not fight?'” Mr. White said Mr. Musk told him.

This week, Lex Fridman, a podcaster, posted photos of himself practicing judo with Mr. Musk. Mr. Fridman, who has also trained jujitsu with Mr. Zuckerberg, did not respond to a request for comment.

At least one person doesn’t seem to be a fan of a fight: Maye Musk, Mr. Musk’s mother.

“Do not encourage this fight!” she recently tweetedalong with two frowning emojis.

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