(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.
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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: