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Wednesday, May 13, 2009
ESPN Segment on Dana White Prompts Questions about Long-Term Growth Potential of UFC
Editorial by Ivan Trembow

One could get a sense of how much homework the producers of the ESPN show "E:60" had actually done fairly early in the segment about UFC president Dana White when correspondent Tom Farrey said that "the MMA" has exploded in popularity (as opposed to, "MMA has exploded in popularity").

The show's credibility didn't improve very much from there, as there was no questioning of White's claim, "I built this business without help from anybody."

Additionally, the segment did not even mention the Dana White/AKA debacle of late 2008, where it was not a journalist, but multiple UFC fighters who were on the receiving end of a bullying tirade that would have gotten the public face of any legitimately mainstream sport fired in under a day. White made those statements about Jon Fitch and other AKA fighters in an impromptu interview with Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole.

The segment also failed to mention an important point that is closely related to the AKA explosion, which is the fact that the managers of UFC fighters, and even some of the fighters themselves, are actually terrified of White because of the publicly demonstrated consequences for any manager or fighter who criticizes White in public or doesn't sign something (ie, anything) that he wants them to sign. (Part 1 of my coverage of the AKA mess; Part 2 of my coverage of the AKA mess).

During the E:60 segment, Farrey also reacted with a shocked facial expression to White's oft-repeated claim that the UFC will be the biggest sport in the world ten years from now. If Farrey had done more research, he wouldn't have been so shocked to hear that from White because he would have known that White has been saying that on a regular basis since 2007.

There was also the fact that The Zuffa Myth about Dana White changing the sport's rules was repeated and not refuted. Farrey also repeated The Zuffa Myth once again during an interview with the Orlando Sentinel.

Even more than The Zuffa Myth, this segment (and the promotion of it) put forward what one might call, "The Dana White Myth." The commercials on ESPN that hyped this particular episode of E:60 said, "Meet the brain behind the fastest-growing sport in the world!"

If The Zuffa Myth is that Zuffa created the rules of MMA, then The Dana White Myth is that White is some kind of super-genius and that nobody else could run the UFC without him, ignoring the fact that Lorenzo Fertitta already makes most of the big business decisions, and ignoring the fact that Joe Silva already does the matchmaking.

Not surprisingly, White remained completely unremorseful for his tirade against Loretta Hunt during the E:60 segment. I say "not surprisingly" because I don't know how that could be surprising to anyone at this point. Pressure from an organization with as much influence as GLAAD meant that White essentially had no choice but to apologize for his use of an anti-gay slur, regardless of whether or not he would have otherwise done so.

White was not forced to apologize for anything else that he said, and he's never going to do so. From White's perspective, why should he? If nothing else, White's tirade against Hunt (and the lack of consequences for that tirade other than those that were self-imposed) clearly served to demonstrate that White can say literally anything he wants, because Fertitta is never going to assert any consequences for White's behavior.

After all, as Iole said in an interview shortly after publishing White's tirade against AKA, it was Lorenzo Fertitta who could be heard in the background during that tirade, acting "just as impassioned" as White and strongly backing what White was saying.

Near the end of the E:60 segment, Farrey asked the only question of the segment that could be classified as anything even close to a "tough question," as he essentially asked White if the UFC could ever be truly mainstream with someone like White as its president. White's response was, "Maybe not." Somehow, there was no follow-up question along the lines of, "Wait a minute... but you said earlier that the UFC is going to be the biggest sport in the world in ten years."

It continues to amaze me that media outlets like E:60 continue to fail to pick up on the obvious contradictions of Dana White and the long-term growth potential of the UFC.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the fact that "This is going to be the biggest sport in the world in ten years" is a statement that is incongruous with the obscene tirade that White publicly directed towards Loretta Hunt.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that "This is going to be the biggest sport in the world in ten years" is a statement that is incongruous with the obscene tirade that White publicly directed towards AKA's fighters.

The fact of the matter is that the UFC is never going to be "the biggest sport in the world" or even a truly "mainstream" entity as long as it has a president that behaves like a vulgar, dogmatic bully.

Maybe it will take two more obscene public tirades for more people to come to that realization, maybe it will take four more obscene public tirades, or maybe some people will never come to that realization, particularly if they remain ignorant of just how much of a role Lorenzo Fertitta and Joe Silva already have in running the UFC.

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