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Tag: shill ‘em all

Shill ‘Em All, Part 5: Good Night and Good Luck


(Sixty years ago, we had Edward R. Murrow and Fred Friendly. Now, we’ve got these guys.)

To read previous installments of the award-winning “Shill ‘Em All” series, look here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

By Brian J. D’Souza

The class action lawsuit filed against the UFC by Cung Le, Nate Quarry and Jon Fitch has dramatically polarized the MMA sphere. Instead of debating the merits of the case, many are debating whether the lawsuit has a right to exist.

Chael Sonnen has characterized the lawsuit as a “shakedown”; others say that the plaintiffs are just bitter ex-fighters who have an axe to grind. It’s bizarre that so many are acting as if these events suddenly crept up quietly to ambush the UFC—and it’s also a symptom of the poor job done by the MMA media in reporting business concepts in a way fans can understand them.

A “USEFUL IDIOT”

Last month, Chael Sonnen sounded off on Ariel Helwani on his podcast, saying “You’re not a journalist, you’re a parrot.” The message wasn’t coming from a warm, fuzzy place inside Sonnen’s heart—the Oregonian wrestler was irate at Helwani’s handling of the steroid scandal Sonnen had been embroiled in, which lead to Sonnen’s exit from MMA competition.

FrontRowBrian—a Twitter personality who has the ability to scoop news stories and rumors that the mainstream media either doesn’t know about or is too scared to touch—added his own insight into the Helwani-UFC relationship, which hit a snag when Helwani was reported to be on the outs at UFC partner FoxSports in January 2014.

With his typically cheerful ginger candor, FrontRowBrian tweeted (then later, deleted) that Helwani was a “useful idiot,” and said that the UFC had temporarily fired him because they “just wanted to show him who is the boss and how they can end a career.”

Ariel Helwani is an extreme case of someone with overt dependence on the UFC. Like many media members, he knows what the key issues are between MMA promoters and the fighters, but he makes a conscious effort to restrain himself from fully developing very specific ideas in his reporting.

For example, when Nate Diaz’s complaints about pay made headlines in April, Helwani wrote a very detailed article for MMAFighting.com outlining Diaz’s points, as well as a succinct reply from Dana White. Carefully omitted from the article is any analysis of the revenue Nate Diaz generates for the UFC versus what he’s paid.

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Shill ‘Em All, Part 4: Hustlers, Marks, And the Long Con of Selling Media Coverage


(Look closely, and you can actually see suckers being born every minute. / Photo via Getty / For previous installments of Shill Em’ All, click here.)

By Brian J. D’Souza

Everyone has a vague idea of how three-card Monte works: a street hustler places three cards face-down. A mark is enticed into finding the money card. Using misdirection, subterfuge and distraction, the hustler dupes the mark into picking the wrong card over and over. Sometimes a “shill” aids the hustler by playing the game and making it appear winnable.

The fight game is a similar hustle where many MMA journalists often play the role of the shill. Rather than being independent, certain MMA outlets and journalists are working in concert with the promoter to achieve a specific aim. Often, the promoter is buying publicity for their product, which is fair game considering that running an MMA promotion is a brutal marketplace where only the fittest survive.

Speaking in direct reference to a then-SiriusXM radio personality Scott Ferrall being paid a talent fee to attend UFC shows, UFC president Dana White said, “Believe me, in building this business, we had to do some things.

It’s critical for an event promoter to spend money on the front end — including giving incentives to journalists — so that they can make money on the back end. Sports leagues require massive amounts of capital, as well as leaders capable of executing a clear vision; save for the spectacular Japanese league PRIDE FC that was backed by the yakuza and their dirty money, no one has done a better job of running an MMA promotion than casino magnates Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, the majority owners of the UFC.

If the mark happens to be the casual fan being steered into buying an MMA card, so be it. Colonel Tom Parker might have paid girls to scream at Elvis’s early shows, but his product held up to scrutiny over time. No one is holding a gun to anyone’s head and forcing them to buy watered down PPV’s or watch lackluster cards.

On the other end, when the mark happens to be the fighters, it’s a much more serious issue. Successful promotions earn tremendous amounts of revenue from pay-per-view buys, television licensing, live gate, merchandise, and other streams. MMA fighters who don’t know or understand their value will continue to be taken for a ride.

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Shill ‘Em All, Part 3: The ‘Almost Famous’ Fanboys of MMA Media


(“Jose Rosenberg, MMAFloorTurd.com. My question is for Johny Hendricks: Johny, will you please accept my friend request on Facebook?“)

To see the first two installments of Shill ‘Em All, click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

By Brian J. D’Souza

All serious music aficionados know the true-life origins of Cameron Crowe’s 2000 movie Almost Famous: Like the young protagonist of the movie, Crowe worked for Rolling Stone magazine, spending three weeks on the road with the Allman Brothers Band at the age of 18.

The ongoing theme of Almost Famous has to do with the loss of focus and objectivity 15-year old music journalist William Miller experiences when he gets up close and personal with fictional rock band Stillwater.

“Just make us look cool” the band tells Miller as they attempt to coerce favorable coverage that will further enhance their music career. This raises the question of personal bias in journalism — in our case, what happens when MMA reporters get too close to their subjects?

The first time I met Georges St-Pierre at the Tristar Gym in 2008, I was so in awe of his stature as a champion that I overlooked red flags concerning his management. I wrote a good story — a 2,000-word profile for a Canadian men’s magazine about his arc from bullied schoolboy to UFC champion. While I may have even elicited several good quotes about his childhood and time working as a garbage man, there were many grisly details that lay beneath the surface that I would discover in the coming years.

It’s easy for media members to project themselves onto MMA fighters. It starts with a delusion (“I could be him!”) and escalates into other false premises (“I am special, too!”). Numerous reporters have courted love affairs with fighters — both figurative and literal — and astute fans can spot the signs of favoritism from miles away: reporters using their platform to name-drop, rationalize a fighter’s flaws, or minimize criticism of said fighter.

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Shill ‘Em All, Part 2: The MMA Media’s Race to the Bottom


(The Baldfather advertises yet another media outlet that won’t be lobbing any critical coverage his way. / Photo via Getty)

By Brian J. D’Souza

Ideally, the relationship between professional sports organizations like the UFC and media members should be about interdependence, where both parties rely equally upon each other. In practice, many MMA media members and outlets often exist as the clingy, powerless co-dependent partners that put the needs of the UFC before the need for factual and accurate sports journalism.

Last week, a Twitter war-of-words erupted between Yahoo! Sports reporter Kevin Iole and UFC president Dana White over whether the UFC was hiding TRT-user Vitor Belfort in Brazil to avoid the scrutiny of an American athletic commission.


(Screencap via Reddit_MMA)

It’s understandable why White feels threatened by media scrutiny; Iole certainly hasn’t pulled any punches regarding the lack of consequences for using performance enhancers in boxing and MMA. While the New York Yankees and Major League Baseball could survive for 211 games without Alex Rodriguez (or the other disgraced players) in the wake of the Biogenesis scandal, the already watered-down cards promoted by the UFC would lose even more star power if known TRT-users (Vitor Belfort, Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen, Frank Mir — and counting) were culled from the promotion.

MMA fans on MixedMartialArts.com’s UG forum observed that Kevin Iole could be denied media credentials for his failure to toe the UFC’s company line. This is not an empty threat, as many different outlets and individuals including ESPN.com’s Josh Gross, SI.com’s Loretta Hunt, CagePotato.com and Deadspin.com are all barred from press row at UFC events.

(click screen-caps to enlarge)


The public needs to grasp the reality that being an MMA reporter isn’t just about having a nice buffet and a comped ticket at a fight card. It’s about access to prominent fighters, coaches, managers and promoters to get the inside scoop and flesh out stories not reported elsewhere. When newly-crowned UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman visited ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, Josh Gross was denied an opportunity to interview Weidman. Banned media members may also miss out on a PR mailing list where media outlets learn about breaking UFC news, conference calls that allow media to ask questions to the headliners of major pay-per-view shows, and other events that media can be invited to.

The fear of losing those perks remains a potent sanction by the UFC in ensuring media compliance. I reference Exhibit A: an e-mail written by Bleacher Report staffer Jeremy Botter (leaked by Deadspin.com) that outlined several ways for MMA writers to avoid conflict with the UFC, including the following points:

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Shill ‘Em All: Why Ethical MMA Journalism Is So Hard to Come By


(Dana White spends some quality time with his fans. / Photo via Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)

By Brian J. D’Souza

There are many contentious subjects in mixed martial arts, from the use of performance enhancing drugs to the corruption and ineptitude of various athletic commissions. Before the issues come into focus, they are often filtered by the entity that draws an epic amount of criticism within the sport itself — the so-called “MMA media.”

Yet far from being a homogonous group of “bloggers,” “hacks,” or “shills,” the public would be surprised to learn that there are actually different individuals that comprise the MMA media. Some were drawn to MMA because they love the sport, others were assigned to cover the UFC by their editors, but whether they’re writing as a hobby or as part of the special entourage of writers who get the best seats at shows and special events, the MMA media operates under circumstances that directly impedes their ability to report accurate and truthful stories.

Corruption and controversy have always been at the heart of mixed martial arts since the sport’s modern inception in the 1990s. Then again, maybe Mark Coleman (Olympian, UFC heavyweight champion and PRIDE open weight GP champion) didn’t throw his fight against professional wrestler/PRIDE founder Nobuhiko Takada (career record: 3-6-2) at PRIDE 5? And all the fighters who’ve tested positive for performance enhancers were maliciously framed by athletic commissions, or were taking legal (but tainted) supplements, or had the drugs administered by their doctor without their knowledge?

The media matters because they can bring attention and scrutiny to the dark corners of the sport. Greasing by an athlete? Suspicious judges’ decision? Rival promoter extorted at gunpoint for the rights of their fighter? There have to be news stories that shed light on the truth, especially when you consider that accurate information isn’t always volunteered by the fight promotions or state athletic commissions.

The current mixed martial arts landscape is dominated by the UFC. The question over the hold the UFC has over the media needs to be examined so fans understand the constraints that the MMA media works under.

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