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Will Elon and Zuck (Please) Have a Real Fistfight?

Adult men love to tussle, and that’s not a bad thing

illustration of Elon vs. Musk in boxing ring
The Arrow

There’s something inherently ridiculous about two grown men challenging each other to fight. And yet, here we are, waiting to see if tech titans Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg actually follow through on their threats and settle their differences in a cage match.

We may pretend to be shocked and even amused by what The New York Times called a “melee of the middle-aged men.” But deep down, in the recesses of our male souls, we get it. They’ve simply rediscovered what men have known for generations: If you want to earn someone’s respect, you need to glove up and get it sorted.

Most Gen Xers discovered this in grade school, when getting together with friends almost always involved competitive violence disguised as sport. We had hours-long games of kill the carrier that regularly bloodied noses and chipped teeth. Even the noncontact games could get rough. I once participated in a game of beach volleyball that turned into a WrestleMania-worthy 10-man battle royal with headbutts and body slams.

It’s part of the reason I love jiujitsu — the same sport, coincidentally, that Zuckerberg has embraced this year, winning two medals last May in his first ever jiujitsu tournament. On any given weekend, I’ll be dry-swallowing three extra-strength Advil just to spar with friends in a series of five-minute rounds, where we attempt to bend each other’s limbs the wrong way.

After a good hour or two of this, you’d think we’d limp away in pain, snarling over our shoulders at our opponents like wounded pit bulls. But it’s the opposite. We end with laughter, busting each other’s chops, celebrating the connection only understood by those who have bonded through mutually administered misery.

Is that what will happen if (or when) Zuck and Musk face off in the Vegas Octagon or wherever their eventual cage match takes place? I certainly hope so. Otherwise, what’s the point?

That is what’s often missed by those who attempt to decipher the male psyche: Opening a can of whup-ass is not necessarily about being the top dog. I mean, maybe it is between Musk and Zuckerberg. But when Elon jokes on Twitter that his best move is something called The Walrus, “where I just lie on top of my opponent & do nothing,” it’s obvious that at least one of the billionaires isn’t taking this too seriously.

The reason men feel so compelled to tussle is marrow-deep. It served our ancestors when their job was (quite literally) to defend the cave entrance. Now, when our chief concerns include lawn care and flat-screen dimensions, the competitive impulses of most men still simmer. Put us in a game of pickup basketball, touch football, even slow-pitch softball, and they can quickly boil over.

A Harvard study found that men, unlike women, grow closer after a brutal competition. “In males you see these very warm handshakes and embraces, even in boxing after they've almost killed each other,” wrote the study’s lead author, Harvard biologist Joyce Beneson. The reasons go back to the days when humans were barely walking upright. We fought each other first to prove we were worth keeping on the team ― because being on the team was what kept the tribe alive.

That’s a tough innate impulse to shake, and a big reason why friendships evolve in a shared competitive state of being ready to confirm whether we still have the stuff, whatever the hell that stuff is or ever was.

Personally, I’m rooting for a Zuck-Musk showdown. Because whoever wins, it’s going to be the healthiest, least crazy thing either of those two men does all year. And it might just make them fast allies. Some of the best-tasting beers I’ve ever had were handed to me by someone who just knocked the crap out of me. Incidental contact leads to intentional high-fives and handshakes. The losing team gets the first round, but that’s just it. The winners get the second, and soon everyone’s air-guitaring to “Back in Black.”

This is how lasting friendships are forged. Even a couple of billionaire knuckleheads understand that.

Photo credits: Zuckerberg: Bloomburg/Getty Images; Musk: Joel Sagat/Getty Images; Boxing ring: D. Hurst/Alamy Stock Photo
Follow Article Topics: Health-&-Fitness