By Matt Saccaro
A few years ago, Matt Brown’s recent, sexist comments about women’s MMA wouldn’t have rocked the boat much. Some people would’ve complained, citing such infractions of decency as the reason why the UFC wasn’t where the NFL was in terms of mainstream appeal. Dana White would’ve responded to any criticism with “Fuck you, dummy” or some other dismissive, useless remark. The UFC is cool, and it’s cool because the fighters aren’t corporate, generic, and anodyne. They’re as real as it gets, as opposed to the walking-press releases that are athletes in other major sports.
For proof, look no further than motorboat-gate. Rampage Jackson acted lecherously towards a female reporter (and this wasn’t the first time he’d done such a thing). Nothing happened. When Yahoo’s Maggie Hendricks lambasted Rampage and the MMA media, Joe Rogan called her “cunty” and MMA fans thought it was the cleverest comeback since Lord Palmerston verbally thrashed his enemies in parliament.
CagePotato’s own Ben Goldstein got to the crux of the issue:
Nine out of ten UFC fans will side with Quinton Jackson and Joe Rogan every time, because Rampage and Joe are awesome, and motorboating is hilarious, and who the fuck is Maggie Hendricks anyway? Seriously, here’s another representative comment from the UG thread from member ‘Bat21?:
“shitty cunty?!?!? BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAA!!!
Fuck, I’m still laughing after 5 minutes. You’re the man, Joe.”
Jesus. If this is the mindset of the average UFC fan, then good luck being taken seriously, guys.
A high-profile commentator for the NFL or NBA couldn’t get away with throwing around slurs like this in public forums. I know that the fast-and-loose quality of the UFC’s frontmen and fighters has been part of the brand’s great success to this point. But there will come a time (we hope) when MMA is so popular that guys like Rampage and Rogan will have to behave like gentlemen — so they may as well start practicing for it now.
Has this time finally come? Do UFC employees finally have to behave, as Ben Goldstein put it, like gentlemen?
On the surface, it appears that way.
Conor McGregor was forced to apologize after a particularly offensive tweet in which he said he wanted Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey to ride his dick and lick his toes. And recently, Matt Brown‘s podcast was pulled off the air for saying that he’d only pay to watch a women’s fight if the athletes were topless. He also issued an apology.
However, the UFC’s stance against moral turpitude might only be a veneer.
McGregor and Brown objectified and downplayed the importance of top female fighters—ones that the UFC is banking on, especially now that they’re adding a women’s strawweight division and devoting an entire season of TUF to it.
The UFC also ignores slights against cultural decorum if they’re perpetrated by upper echelon fighters/big draws.
Remember when Ronda Rousey tweeted the “interesting” Sandy Hook hoax video? People were understandably upset. Dana White didn’t demand an apology though; he derided critics as “pussies” and told them to “get a life.” A year later, how much has changed?
If we’re asking whether the UFC, in terms of conduct, is fast approaching the standards of the NFL and the other sports titans, the answer is no.
The UFC punishes people it can afford to. The major stars like Rousey can say whatever they want, and if they cross the line, a manager or some other underling will issue a feeble non-apology in their name (the only exception to this rule is dissing a sponsor, which not even Brock Lesnar can get away with).
Furthermore, Dana White buries his own fighters (a lot) and offers insultingly laconic explanations for important actions like raising PPV prices. The general public doesn’t expect such conduct from the figurehead of a major sports organization. Of course, some might argue that this unabashed predilection towards crass “honesty” is part of the UFC’s success (as I did way back in the day). But what helps it thrive on the fringes might be what keeps it from entering the realms of the mainstream, a feat which even Dana White said the UFC hadn’t accomplished yet.
For the time being, the UFC, save for a few forced apologies, is as real as it gets—even if that means we see some of the warts.