The Coward's Octagon

Ed Zitron 8 min read

Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk will never fight.

Over the weekend, Mark Zuckerberg made a statement on Threads stating that “we can all agree that Elon isn’t serious and it’s time to move on.” Elon Musk — after biographer Walter Isaacson shared them first posted a complete text chain between him and Zuckerberg where Musk suggested a “practice round” in Zuckerberg’s backyard Octagon in response to Zuckerberg telling him to either pick a date or stop talking about it.

Musk had previously stated that he “had to get an MRI of his neck and upper back” and that he would need surgery, which would require him to recover for a few months, before claiming (he’s lying) that he had knocked at Zuckerberg’s door to “accept a challenge” that Zuckerberg had yet to offer. A spokesperson for Zuckerberg stated that Mark is traveling and “isn’t going to fight someone who randomly shows up at his house.”

To be clear, both of these men are wretched cowards. Zuckerberg has chosen the higher ground here — to not mercilessly beat a jelly-like cretin into a pulp simply because he was challenged to do so — but has walked away from the only opportunity anyone will ever have to inflict physical pain on Elon Musk.

While there is a chance that Zuckerberg’s respect for martial arts and serious training is such that he wouldn’t take on an unprepared opponent, Elon Musk has spent his entire life bullying and threatening people, and has never once been shown the consequences of his actions. Zuckerberg had the chance to make this a less serious bout — a charity boxing match, a cage match where he acknowledged the difference between them and still obliterated him, and so on — but chose to take “the high road” against a pig that always seems capable of finding mud to roll in.

Kat Abu’s post of a classic It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia scene nailed what should’ve happened. Zuckerberg should have gladly accepted the bout and then publicly punished Musk. It doesn’t matter if Musk is sufficiently trained, or “prepared,” or “ready,” or whether it’s “fair,” because this is Elon Musk — a career charlatan that continually gets himself in too deep and then uses the power of money and status to escape consequences, with Twitter being one of the few cases where he failed to do so.

This fight was the other. While Musk — regardless of the result — would clearly state that there was some sort of unfairness to the proceedings, Zuckerberg had the ability to physically humiliate and dominate a man that has eluded justice his entire life. Zuckerberg has candidly used this opportunity to rehab his image from “guy who worked with US government to spy on citizens” and “guy who used social network to antagonize millions of people” to “thoughtful and caring martial artist,” all while escaping the responsibility of taking the world’s richest and most annoying man to the woodshed. If Zuckerberg believed that it was unfair or a bad thing to do to use his training to make Elon Musk squeal like a freshly-born calf, he should know that it’s equally unfair and bad to escape the opportunity to show that actions have consequences.

Musk has spent the best part of a year destroying one of the world’s most crucial information sources, empowering fascists, and creating a hostile world for people of color on what used to be the world’s town square. He has spouted anti-trans rhetoric, perpetuated racism, and sued a hate-speech research group because it annoyed him that they were using a brand researcher’s account, while also promising to pay the lawsuits of anyone who got fired because of their tweets — another limp promise he’ll likely welch on. He sued the law firm that closed the Twitter deal, and had to be sued to return over $735 million that he and the Tesla board were overpaid. He doesn’t pay his rent, or his staff, and uses his money and power to stymie regular people’s attempts to see justice and it always seems to work. He is effectively untouchable — despite being extremely easy to upset based on almost every tweet he’s ever made — and will never be made to face any consequences for his regularly putrid and upsetting actions.

And Zuckerberg, for the first and possibly the only time in history, had the chance to show him true consequences. I am not suggesting that Elon Musk must be beaten up, or wishing harm upon him at random. What I am suggesting is that Zuckerberg had the opportunity to finally show Musk — a man who has generally been smart enough to pick fights with weaker foes — what happens when someone walks up to someone stronger and “fight me.” He had a chance to pay his vast societal debt in the most valuable currency of all — schadenfreude.

Absolutely nobody can truly “get to” Musk, or scare Musk, or intimidate Musk, and that’s part of what has made him the noxious piece of shit he’s become today. Zuckerberg had the opportunity to truly show Musk that he’s just another arrogant, rich fifty-something, and provide a global catharsis of sorts.

To be clear, I know that this wouldn’t be a fair fight. Musk has started training, but like everything he does, he has done the bare minimum and doesn’t appear to have hired an actual, real trainer. He has had one practice bout with Lex Fridman, who is a podcaster rather than a mixed martial artist. Zuckerberg might worry that he’d really hurt Musk, but when has this man ever shown a deep concern for the human condition? Why does Mark Zuckerberg’s powerful sense of honor only seem to apply to another billionaire?

People didn’t want to see a fight. They wanted to see Musk, who had been boasting about lifting 50 pound weights, finally shown that one cannot bullshit forever, and that while he may have billions of dollars, he is still a sack of bones and blood and guts and horrible, horrible ideas. No amount of tweets or questions or newsletters or breathless coverage about how evil Elon Musk is will ever be more effective than the opportunity that was before Mark Zuckerberg to bring balance and humility to a man who so desperately needs it.

Nobody is under any illusions that this fight would be a heroic battle between two equally-matched opponents, as with Mike Tyson and Frank Bruno or George Foreman and Mohammed Ali. If it actually happened, it would be the equivalent of KSI’s farcical boxing match with the equally farcical human Logan Paul, albeit for the Patagonia Vest Brigade. But who cares? There’s something eminently satisfying about watching a bully getting trounced by another, larger bully.

While Musk would have likely walked away from the beatdown with some sort of cover story — Zuckerberg cheated, Musk was injured, the weather was bad, he just found out that Scrappy Doo was killed in Miami, and so on — there is no doubt in my mind that Musk would have been irrevocably, unquestionably humiliated, right down to his core.

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When I was watching everything unfold this weekend, I thought about what Henry Rollins wrote about weight lifting:

I think a lot of inwardly and outwardly directed contempt passes itself off as self-respect: the idea of raising yourself by stepping on someone’s shoulders instead of doing it yourself. When I see guys working out for cosmetic reasons, I see vanity exposing them in the worst way, as cartoon characters, billboards for imbalance and insecurity. Strength reveals itself through character.

Musk has spent years lifting himself on the shoulders of others — the designs of Franz von Holzhausen at Tesla, the work of SpaceX COO and President Gwynne Shotwell, and the memes that he steals almost every day — and this was the one case where he alone would be responsible for the outcome. He’d undoubtedly try to triangulate, shifting the blame to circumstance or those around him (his trainer, or a nutritionist, or Zuck himself), but with each hook and jab captured in 4K detail, nobody would buy it. His protests would be discredited by a frame-by-frame forensic analysis of his technique and fitness, where no doubt he would emerge utterly deficient.

While it may seem a little fantastical to consider this fight a lesson in accountability, I truly believe that this was an opportunity for the world to experience a global catharsis — to see someone disgraceful, arrogant, and putrid face tangible and visceral consequences for their actions. Musk is a deeply insecure coward that loves to make threats knowing that nobody can realistically retaliate.

And Zuckerberg is a coward too, hiding behind a new-found morality that requires him to only fight “fair,” as if the fight at its core was not unfair based on his years of training. And that’s without mentioning the 13-year age difference between the pair.

Musk could never have caught up, and while Zuckerberg may have wanted to avoid what seemed as a merciless beatdown, he also refused to meet Musk exactly where he was. He could have said “okay, cool. Six weeks, UFC Apex, train hard and meet me there.” When Musk said that he needed surgery and then immediately threatened to show up at his door, Zuckerberg could have agreed to the practice bout, had it videoed, and immediately shown Musk — who would have shown up in a black shirt and jeans — why you don’t threaten people at random. Nobody else in the world could make this happen.

He won’t, because he wants to be “above it all,” and on some level maintain the status quo. This isn’t about Musk “not taking it seriously” — he waived due diligence on acquiring Twitter for $44 billion and then tried (and failed) to get out of it — but rather  about Zuckerberg trying to be “the good guy” as a six foot one inch goblin with more money than God tweeting “you sir are an epic chicken” until the story loses its luster.

One might even argue that he’s acting exactly like Musk is, using this as an opportunity to promote his own failing social network, all without — in classic Facebook style — delivering anything that people actually asked for.

Zuckerberg had the only chance to inflict real consequences upon Elon Musk, and he blew it.

The excitement around this fight was so powerful because it gave us all the hope to see two men who are largely disconnected from the world meet in a way that any two men can.

Violence — though, to be clear, I abhor it — is a great equalizer. Although its distribution is inherently unequal, its effects aren’t. Money, status, power and popularity cannot reduce the pain of a punch or put more oxygen in your lungs after being thrown on your back. And if anyone needed to be equalized — or, more accurately, dropped down a few pegs — it was Musk.

For far too long, Musk has fucked around but never found out. His purchase of Twitter will inevitably prove a costly misadventure, but it’s unlikely to change his lifestyle in a meaningful way. He’ll never be the world’s richest man again, but he’ll still enjoy a life of unabashed opulence that most will never know. When the SEC charged him with stock manipulation, the punishment was little more than a slap on the wrist. As was also the case when a California judge ruled Musk and other Tesla executives had illegally tried to stop workers unionizing at its Fremont factory.

This was an opportunity to show Musk the consequences that most people face for half-assing and bloviating as often as he does — and Zuckerberg has rejected his one chance to use his power and strength for something useful or fun.

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