(I look at this photo and think, “now there’s a guy who just wants to open up a dialogue and find some common ground.” / Photo by Cindy Schultz for Times Union)
Last week, former UFC middleweight Nate Quarry went on the Underground Forum to discuss the low pay and sponsorship limitations he encountered while fighting for the promotion. As he saw it, the UFC viewed its fighters as “just a product to use and discard.”
Normally, this is the point where UFC president Dana White would find the nearest video-camera and call Quarry a [expletive] loser crybaby who never did anything for the promotion and is lying about how much money he made in the first place. Instead, Yahoo!’s Kevin Iole asked UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta how he felt about Quarry’s remarks. Here’s what the UFC’s less-visible, more level-headed frontman had to say:
“This sport is in its infancy, and I’ll admit that there is so much more to be done, but the media is focusing so much on the negative and there are far more positives out there in terms of what we have done for the sport and the fighters,” Fertitta said. “You come to work every day and you kind of feel beaten down because it’s something new [to complain about] every day…
“I’m not going to argue or counter every specific claim made by Nate Quarry on some website,” Fertitta said. “I’m super proud of what we have done for our athletes, this sport and this company. Our track record is darn good as a whole and we have nothing to be embarrassed about.
“This fight Nate is talking about was so long ago and clearly the business wasn’t where it is today. It was in its infancy and we were coming out of a period where we suffered millions upon millions in losses. It wasn’t an insignificant amount of money. And I’ll tell you this, Nate is a smart guy. Absolutely he is. He knew when he signed his contract exactly what he’d be paid….
“[F]ighter compensation has increased multiples upon multiples since we’ve gotten into the business and built it up to where it is today. We’re very proud of what our athletes make. Granted, back in 2004, 2005, it was a different world. We weren’t getting the revenues back then that we are today. We feel the fighters are getting their fair share, if not more…
“[Fighter payroll] has gone up significantly, and though I don’t have it at the tip of my fingers, I can tell you it’s gone up faster than the percentage of revenue growth.” he said. “Fighter comp is growing at a faster rate than revenues.”
See what Fertitta did there? He responded to sharp criticism and defended his company’s labor practices, but didn’t resort to personal attacks. He didn’t publicly bury a guy who fought his heart out and risked his health while under contract with the UFC. He didn’t get so vein-bulgingly mad that he started dropping F-bombs every fourth word. (Did you notice that Fertitta even said “darn good” instead of “damn good”? Holy shit, you guys.)
Last month, Georges St-Pierre — one of the most successful and well-known UFC champions of all-time — blasted the promotion for not doing enough to address the sport’s PED problem, and even called the UFC a “monopoly.” Fertitta said he was “disappointed” by the comments. (“We’ve always had an open line of communication with him and I’d like to know why he feels that way,” he told Iole.) Again, no rage-fueled theatrics, and no personal attacks aimed at a guy who used to make him money.
Man. Wouldn’t it be nice if this was the public face of the UFC instead of Dana White, a shrieking, sweating WWF manager who insults his own employees for not living up to his unreasonable expectations? White helped lead Zuffa through its first ten rocky years, and he deserves a great deal of credit for that. His street-smart, take-no-crap approach won him respect and admiration among the UFC’s fanbase. But now that the UFC has entered the network television/global expansion phase of its existence, it doesn’t need a tough-guy caricature out front. In fact, Dana’s continued presence — from his angry outbursts at reporters, to his now-constant criticism of his own fighters — has become a distraction.
Dana White is the living embodiment of the old UFC logo: a furious bald white man, pounding down on the world. Personally, I prefer the respectful guy in the suit.