We’re not sure how powerful a punch Chinese billionaire Shi Jianxiang (in Chinese: 施建祥) can throw, but he’s threatening to go head to head with former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson—well, at the very least in a courtroom. That’s because the bout between Iron Mike and Shi’s sports-related blockchain project Fight To Fame (in Chinese: 一战成名) is heating up on the pages of Modern Consensus.
The dispute centers on the question of whether Tyson really agreed to endorse a “Tyson Token” being promoted by Fight To Fame. The blockchain startup seeks to create a global fight league, sending its most popular stars onto a reality television show and Hollywood action movies. The Tyson Tokens would be used by fans to bet on and support
In a statement sent to Modern Consensus on August 17, Fight to Fame says he did, and threatened to sue Tyson. It also accused him of being “unprofessional” and “lying,” as well as an unfit role model for its fighters.
It’s a fast turnaround for a company that reached out to press all over the world—particularly in China and the U.S.—on August 13, touting Tyson’s involvement in Fight to Fame as an executive and mentor to its fighters. VentureBeat picked it up (“Mike Tyson’s latest startup mixes entertainment, games, fighting, and blockchain”), interviewing Fight To Fame’s CEO Farzam Kamalabadi and global operations chief Tim Smithe (spelling his name “Smythe”). There was even a statement said to be by Tyson himself, reading in part, “Building this global platform for them is a passion of mine.”
Given the regurgitative nature of online journalism, several outlets such as Cointelegraph and Decrypt did their own version of the story.
Tyson, who quite often knocked out his opponents in first few seconds of a fight, was quick to respond. Well, at least his team was. His publicist Jo Mignano told Modern Consensus Senior Editor Leo Jakobson that Tyson never joined the company. During Jakobson’s discussion with Mignano, Tyson’s wife, Lakiha “Kiki” Tyson—who doubles as his manager—texted that the boxer, “never had a deal with them.”
In a separate interview with Jakobson, Mrs. Tyson detailed how the former champ ended up in talks with Shi about a potential reality show. A term sheet citing Tyson as a “partner and co-founder” was signed but with Kiki’s handwritten addition that full cooperation would be done “as per agreed in writing at a later date.” No contract was drafted and Tyson’s lawyers never even received the term sheet. Nonetheless, it wasn’t the last time the two parties tried to work together.
Over the winter, Shi contacted Mike Tyson about recording a video greeting for a Chinese New Year’s party he had agreed to attend. The script seemed mundane and Kiki approved it, she told Jakobson. But right before Mike was to record the video, a new script was presented. He telephoned Kiki who, thinking it was the same script she had seen previously, gave her husband her blessing for him to read it. Rather than a simple New Year’s greeting, Tyson went on camera to talk blockchain.
On February 12—just a few days after the video was unveiled to great fanfare at the New Year’s Party, which Mrs. Tyson said was actually more of a launch announcement for Fight to Fame—Tyson turned to his attorneys. Lavely & Singer sent Moregain Capital Group—essentially, Fight To Fame’s parent company—a six-page cease and desist letter which right away calls any “Tyson Token” the company may be pitching an “illegal product” that exposes the former champ to “millions of dollars in damages.”
That poor quality, 38-second video has been used by Fight To Fame as proof of Tyson’s involvement, such as when the company’s publicist, Xenia von Wedel of PulpPR, sent it to us in an email on Friday, August 16, saying, “Please see attached video where Tyson talks about his involvement with Fight To Fame.”
Nor is the company isn’t backing down despite objections from Tyson’s camp. Instead, they are promising to go toe to toe with the fearsome fighter.
Fight To Fame’s press team forwarded to Modern Consensus a statement that in part read:
“We were astonished to learn that Mr. Tyson, with his renowned status as an international boxing champion, would deny his involvement and choose to conduct his business in such a questionable and unprofessional manner. His denial of contractual commitments is in direct breach of the terms of his contract with Fight To Fame, which includes misleading the public through the media.”
They then added this little bite:
“Fight To Fame is a global organization, with professionals and champions from all over the world working together to bring about a new platform powered by Blockchain technology. As such, we are within our right to exercise legal action against any behavior that violates contracts signed with us. We believe that every Fight To Fame Champion should possess the character and comportment of a role model, and lying and defamation do not fit these requirements. Therefore, we will be taking strong legal action in order to rectify this situation immediately.” [Emphasis theirs.]
Using the courts is an interesting approach, given some of the legal worries found Shi is facing. According to a detailed report by Cointelligence, the entire enterprise is “another blockchain fraud.” What’s more, founder Shi is, according to the Wall Street Journal, hiding from Chinese authorities and Interpol outside of Los Angeles, living under the name Morgan Shi in a sprawling $3 million mansion.
It remains to be seen who exactly sues Tyson and how.