In case you missed it somehow on Saturday night, Joe Rogan wants you to know that Lyoto Machida is elusive. And because he doesn’t trust your ability to pick up on this right away, he relies on repetition to get the point across. Conveniently, this viewpoint — the one that deems Machida elusive and Tito Ortiz hopelessly confounded by that elusiveness — is right in line with the plans of the UFC brass. Funny how that works, isn’t it?
I’m not saying that Rogan doesn’t truly feel this way about Machida. For all I know, he does. But the mere fact that the UFC was looking toward a future with one of the fighters in the Ortiz-Machida bout and probably not counting on any such future with the other really makes it difficult to take what we hear at face value.
If it had been Ortiz circling cautiously away for most of the fight, relying on a few sporadic fits of action to win a decision, would Rogan have praised him for being so elusive? Or would he have suggested, in some roundabout way, that Ortiz was avoiding the fight?
The point is, we don’t know. We can’t know. But what we do know, what we’ve learned over the years, is the UFC does not cast off talent lightly. They have a way of shoving it out the door, and that alone gives us reason to wonder if what we’re hearing on a broadcast is a genuine perspective from Rogan or whether it’s the company line. Like it or not, that’s a problem.
To his credit, Rogan seems like an honest man who prizes his autonomy on some level. Mike Goldberg, on the other hand, seems like he’d say anything the UFC asked him to without even thinking about it long enough to understand what the words mean. But the fact that we have cause to ask these questions at all is troubling.
How you feel about Machida’s fighting style seems to be a personality test of some sort. Does his strategy of avoiding the action until he can engage on his terms make him boring, or does it make him tactical? Has he figured out a style that takes a lot of the risk out of MMA, or has he merely figured out a way of not fighting and still winning?
You could make an argument for both perspectives, so it’s not as if we can accuse Rogan of trying to put over an undeserving fighter with pro wrestling-style hyperbole. At the same time, this is something that’s fairly unique to MMA right now. The NFL doesn’t get to choose the broadcasters for its games, and while you may get a healthy dose of bias watching your local baseball team on TV, it’s so overdone and understood that it doesn’t have much impact.
Fighting is a different sport that way. The commentary, particularly in a fight that goes to a decision, can shape the way we view it. It’s a lot like watching a “Rocky” movie with the sound off — suddenly you become acutely aware of just how fake it is.
Imagine the effect that a glowing commentary can have on fans who are newer to the sport, who aren’t sure whether what they’re seeing is good or bad. A close decision can easily be made to seem more lopsided. A boring fighter might even seem a little more exciting. So much can be changed by having someone in your ear telling you what to make of it.
I’m not sure what the answer is for this problem. Part of Rogan’s job is to express an informed opinion, so on some level we’re either willing to trust that he’s being forthright with it or we aren’t. Maybe the solution is for the UFC to work on a more even-handed approach with their fighters, even the ones they want to get rid of. There’s no need to make it personal. If they don’t want someone on their roster, it’s fine to let them go. They don’t have to discredit them or make them look bad to justify the decision.
Hopefully the UFC learns this soon, and then we can go back to assuming that opinions expressed by Joe Rogan are his alone, even if we disagree.