A ‘cage match’ between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg may be no joke

Talks over a “cage match” exhibition fight between tech billionaires Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk have progressed and the parameters of an event are taking shape. (Photo: NYTimes)
The day after Elon Musk challenged Mark Zuckerberg on social media to “a cage match” in June, Dana White, president of the UFC, received a text.

It was from Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta. He asked White, who heads the world’s premier MMA competition, which is fought in cagelike rings, if Musk was serious about a fight.

White called Musk, who runs Tesla, Twitter, and SpaceX, and confirmed that he was willing to throw down. White then relayed that to Zuckerberg. In response, Zuckerberg posted on Instagram, “Send Me Location,” a reference to the catchphrase of Khabib Nurmagomedov, one of the UFC’s most decorated athletes.

Since then, White said, he has talked to the tech billionaires separately every night to organize the showdown. On Tuesday, he said, he was “on the phone with those two until 12:45 in the morning.” He added, “They both want to do it.”

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

Over the past 10 days, White said he, Musk, and Zuckerberg — aided by advisers — have negotiated behind the scenes and are inching toward physical combat. While there are no guarantees a match will happen, the broad contours of an event are taking shape, said White and three people with knowledge of the discussions.

The fight would be an exhibition match, White said, and outside official UFC jurisdiction and rights deals, though he would help produce the event. The tech leaders have agreed there should be a charity component, 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, Musk tweeted that the event could also happen in the Roman Colosseum.

Zuckerberg’s friends and advisers have generally supported the match, two people close to him said, though others said a fight would be a distraction and not the best use of his time. One person close to Musk said that while he hated sports and didn’t appear to have the discipline to train regularly, no one could rule anything out with him.

If the matchup between Musk, 52, and Zuckerberg, 39, goes ahead, it would be a rare spectacle, even in the braggadocio-filled universe of the tech industry. While Steve Jobs and Bill Gates used to snipe at each other, the closest the tech world had before this to real sporting feuds was among billionaire yachtsmen like Larry Ellison of Oracle and Hasso Plattner of SAP.

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

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

Zuckerberg and Musk have long teetered between being competitors, frenemies, and outright enemies. The two have criticized each other over the years, including about Musk’s SpaceX rockets, data privacy scandals at Meta, and more. Most recently, Zuckerberg dispatched a team at Meta to build a competitor to Musk’s Twitter, code-named Project 92.

If they take their rivalry beyond those jibes, White said he had concerns about the physical gaps between the billionaires. Apart from their 13-year age difference, Musk is said to be at least 70 pounds heavier than Zuckerberg. In official MMA bouts, athletes are generally matched up by weight.

“We have two guys that have never professionally fought, and they’re in two completely different weight classes,” White said. Still, he said, “it will be the biggest fight in the history of combat sports.”

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

Zuckerberg started 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 he appreciated that Brazilian jujitsu required “100% focus” and strategic thinking to defeat an opponent, rather than brute strength.

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 attended undercover — up 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 it had partnered with the UFC to bring MMA fights to Horizon Worlds, its virtual reality app.

White said Zuckerberg was truly dedicated to the sport.

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

Zuckerberg is likely in fighting shape. He has been on a strict workout regimen, going for runs and challenging friends and colleagues to beat his times, two people close to him said. This month, he posted a personal record for completing the “Murph” challenge, which requires completing a series of pullups, pushups, running multiple miles, and doing hundreds of squats, all while wearing weighted, military-grade body armor.

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

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

“He made that very clear: ‘I’m not going to lose any weight,’” White said of Musk’s approach to the potential matchup. “‘Are we going to fight, or are we not going to fight?’” White said Musk told him.

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