Mike Tyson never fought Floyd Mayweather in the ring, and he doesn’t want to fight him for the title of Biggest Celebrity Taken in by a Cryptocurrency Scam.
Mayweather and DJ Khalid were fined more than $750,000 by the SEC in November 2018 for promoting Centra Tech’s 2017 initial coin offering, shortly after the Securities & Exchange Commission’s DAO Report announced it considered cryptocurrency sales to be securities offerings.
Now the former boxing champion is embroiled in a dispute with Fight to Fame (in Chinese: 一战成名), a blockchain startup which has been very publicly claiming that he not only endorsed the company and its planned “Tyson Token” cryptocurrency, but that he is a co-founder and active member of the company. The company has said it plans to host a series of fights around the world, selecting the most popular fighters for a reality TV show and then Hollywood action movies. Tokens would be used by fans to vote for and bet on their favorite fighters, as well as support other projects.
It’s not a place Tyson wanted—or expected—to find himself, according to his wife and manager, Lakiha Tyson.
In a phone interview, she told Modern Consensus that while she and her husband had discussed working with the company with its founder several years ago, they have made “very clear [they] … are not involved with Fight to Fame.”
There’s a good reason for Tyson to steer well clear of the company. In an extensively researched report, Cointelligence founder and CEO On Yavin on May 26 called Fight to Fame a fraud. It linked the company to Shi Jianxiang (in Chinese: 施建祥), who is wanted in China for running a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme, according to a May 22 article in the Wall Street Journal [subscription required].
Now thanks to what she says is an incautiously signed but very preliminary agreement, a video filmed under false pretenses, and a product launch event disguised as a Chinese New Year’s party, Iron Mike finds himself scrambling to get the word out via social media that he is not part of what he and his wife fear will be a fraud that could cost Tyson’s fans dearly.
“We can’t let him use Mike’s name to con more people out of money,” said Mrs. Tyson on August 15. “In China, articles are still being written about Mike’s involvement. That’s why we also posted on his social media yesterday that Mike is no longer involved with Fight to Fame.”
Fight to Fame’s plans were heavily publicized this week after a VentureBeat interview on August 13 with Fight to Fame CEO Farzam Kamalabadi and Tim Smithe, whose LinkedIn page describes him as chairman of global operations. The VentureBeat story describes Smithe (or “Smythe”) as a two-time Emmy winner—the Television Academy’s website makes no mention of him under either spelling—who will handle the company’s television projects. It was picked up by Cointelegraph and Decrypt.
The latter took the story down on August 14, and VentureBeat updated its story that day with a denial by a Tyson spokesperson that he was involved. The Cointelegraph story remains online.
In response to Tyson’s spokesperson, Fight to Fame sent VentureBeat a statement calling Tyson “instrumental in shaping [its] vision… including promoting Fight to Fame in videos and events.”
It added, “We are confident any misunderstandings will be resolved promptly.”
Fight to Fame’s website, which is just a page promising that it is coming soon, began a 24-hour countdown clock on August 14, suggesting more news or even an ICO launch date was forthcoming. It was taken down by the next day.
Neither Smithe nor Fight to Fame’s press office has responded to several emails from Modern Consensus seeking comment.
Below the belt
For Mike Tyson and his wife, the Fight to Fame story began in 2014, she said. A chance meeting with Shi on a Paramount movie lot led to Tyson being cast in a Hong Kong martial arts film, Ip Man 3.
“He said that he was a big fan of Mike’s,” said Tyson. “He was going to rewrite the movie and put Mike in it. He got in touch with our agent who was with us and within two weeks we had a deal. We were highly impressed because we were already doing another deal with China, a movie, and it was a Chinese government-funded movie and they take a long time to get a deal done.”
It went off without a hitch, Tyson added: “He was true to his word. We did the movie, they treated us great. He just seemed like a really nice person.”
The Tysons stayed in touch until getting word that one of Shi’s companies was involved in a Ponzi scheme and he left the country, she said. They didn’t hear from Shi until 2017, when a mutual friend said Shi wanted to meet at the Tysons’ Las Vegas home. Telling them that he was still “working to clear his good name” in China, he pitched a new venture he wanted to get Mike Tyson involved in, she added.
“He was telling us about Fight to Fame,” she said. “He was talking about how they were going to do something with blockchain, how they wanted to do a Tyson Token, and this was going to be a way to promote Fight to Fame and the idea all seemed pretty cool.”
On July 12, 2018, they were presented with a term sheet less than two pages long that briefly outlined a deal between Tyson and the U.S.-China Motion Picture Association (UCMPA) and its strategic partner, Moregain Pictures. Both companies are controlled by Shi.
The term sheet, which Modern Consensus has seen, said that Tyson would be made chair of the Fight to Fame Committee and be one of three mentors to the fighters participating in the reality TV show. It also gave him a percentage of the company, and specified that Fight to Fame intended to use a blockchain platform and issue “Tyson Tokens.”
That’s when the couple made their first mistake. With his wife/manager’s approval, Tyson signed it—but not before Lakiha Tyson amended the clause specifying that as a “partner and co-founder Tyson will cooperate fully with UCMPA.” Circling “cooperate fully,” she hand-wrote “as per agreed in writing at a later date.” This was initialed by Tyson and Jesse Weiner, then a partner and authorized representative of Fight to Fame.
“I never sent this term sheet for review to our attorney,” Lakiha Tyson said. “I was waiting for the real agreement with all the terms spelled out for that negotiation. Mike just signed this in good faith because at the time it seemed like a good idea—one we would learn to regret months later.”
Weiner, who is currently suing Shi for several issues including wrongful termination, told Modern Consensus that he “was a little surprised” that Tyson signed it. But, he added, the amendment made him feel comfortable that the couple wasn’t committing Tyson to anything over-hastily.
“Clearly our term sheets said that [the Tysons] were going to have to approve any of the cooperation steps going forward,” Weiner said.
“It was a very clever and well played con,” said Mrs. Tyson. “This is why Dr. Shi was able to con people out of $5.8 billion and is a wanted fugitive in China. This entire experience has been a huge wake up call for me.”
The Fight to Fame term sheet also specified that a press conference to announce the project would be held that August. It never happened.
The Tysons heard nothing more until the winter, she said, when Shi got in touch to invite them to a Chinese New Year’s party on February 8. Shi also asked for a favor, Tyson said. He wanted her husband to record a brief video message to be played at the party. The proposed script was very innocuous, so she approved it.
It read: “Greetings to my friends in China: Hello, my Chinese friends! I am your friend Mike Tyson. I’ve long heard that ‘WU LING FENG’ is the most influential reality combat television show in China. I am expecting to see you guys in ‘Wu Lin Feng’ as soon as possible, and I also wish a successful co-operation between ‘Fight to Fame’ and ‘Wu Lin Feng.’”
Yet when Tyson was presented with the script to read at the filming, it was very different, his wife said. As he hadn’t seen the original, the boxer simply called his wife and asked if the script was approved. Assuming it was the same one, she told him to go ahead.
This one read: “Hi everyone, Mike Tyson here, the Chairman of the organizing committee of Fight to Fame–Global Film Action Star Competition. Open to global sports lovers and through our unique ‘Blockchain+Movie+Sports’ business model, the ‘6+1 subcommittees established by our ‘Fight to Fame’ organization committee, aims to provide sports enthusiasts a path to becoming Hollywood action movie stars through decentralized selections and competitions to win champion titles in ‘Fight to Fame.’ I sincerely hope that you will support Fight to Fame, support Tyson Token and support me!”
Mrs. Tyson discovered the change when the video was played at the “party,” which she said was more like an award show set placed in a warehouse.
“We had no idea that this was a way to launch this Tyson Token,” Tyson said. “We didn’t agree to this. I was fuming at this point.”
Go to the cards
That’s when the Tysons went to attorney Martin Singer of Lavely & Singer, a well-known Hollywood firm. On February 12, Singer sent a “cease-and-desist” to Shi, Weiner, and Moregain Capital Group demanding that they stop using Tyson as a spokesperson for the “purported ‘Tyson Token’-branded cryptocurrency.”
Modern Consensus was provided a copy of the letter, which at six pages is far longer than the term sheet connecting Mike Tyson to Fight to Fame.
Calling Shi “a methodical con-artist,” Mrs. Tyson said, “We trusted he had good intentions but once the token was revealed we knew he didn’t. “
Updated August 19, 12:45 pm ET to correct Chinese characters of Shi Jianxiang’s name.