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UFC 169: A Lesson in Appreciation

(Photo via Getty.)

By Thomas Anderson

“We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, ‘How can you sell this for such a low price?’ I say, ‘Because it’s total crap!’”

These were the famous words of business mogul Gerald Ratner at a 1991 institute of directors meeting. At the time he was the self-made owner of one of the world’s richest jewellery companies. By 1992 he had been deposed by his board of directors and the firm had all but collapsed.

Branding and image are everything in business; the quality of the product is second to the perception of that product. Ratner knew this only too well; he had built his entire business model on observations he had made as a boy in London’s street markets. It wasn’t the stall owners with the juiciest fruit and the freshest fish that dominated the sales; it was the ones with the loudest voices and the most tempting offers, the charming patter and the natural rapport. Yet in his folly he insulted not only his own products but the people who bought them. He laughed in the faces of those who made him rich and expected them to carry on filling his pockets. He thought he could play them for fools forever, but the man in the street is not so easily mocked and very soon Ratner was doomed.

Dana White’s words after UFC 169 and after a number of recent events brought this cautionary tale clearly to mind. Alistair Overeem’s clinical and ruthless domination of former champion Frank Mir led to a lopsided and well deserved decision win. He out struck Mir 139-5 in total strikes and 67-3 in significant strikes. When asked his opinion at the post-fight scrum White described the performance as ‘crappy.’ Not quite ‘total crap’ but well on the way.

He proceeded to call the event ‘a catastrophe with a cherry on top.’ He went on to criticise featherweight champion Jose Aldo’s dominant title defence, stating bitterly that ‘“When you talk about being the pound-for-pound best in the world, you can’t go five rounds with guys that it looks like you can defeat them in the second round.” The fact that his opponent Ricardo Llamas was still throwing with venom and eating Aldo’s famously vicious leg kicks like cookie dough at the close of round two seems to have escaped the boss’ notice.

The night ended with the still underrated (not to mention grossly underpaid) Renan Barao starching Urijah Faber with the second best right hand of the night and following up with a series of partially blocked hammer fists that led to an early stoppage. The main issue of discussion here rests understandably with the referee’s decision, (I discuss this controversy in a short article below) but could White summon a single word of praise for Barao’s blistering performance? The closest he came was to say that the champion had been screwed by the referee and so had his opponent.

White has ridden to huge success and notoriety, if not always popularity, on the back of an abrasive personality that acts as a refreshing antithesis to the hands off approach taken by most corporate presidents. However, there is a difference between telling it how it is and completely wiping your own ass with a pay per view that thousands of people have just coughed up $50 to watch.

The show itself was admittedly something of a turn off to the casual MMA fan who may have watched the event at a bar hoping for blood, guts and glory. However, it is not those people who bring in actual PPV buys. This falls to the true fans that are willing to part with the cash they have set aside for their weekend in order to see the greatest fighters in the world show their skills.

Just as real NFL fans do not expect Peyton Manning to throw a touchdown pass every time he touches the football, real MMA fans do not expect Diego Sanchez vs. Gilbert Melendez every time they watch a fight. We understand that events like UFC 169 happen; when you make close fights sometimes they are cagey and when the title is on the line the champion will often play it safe in order to keep the gold. We understood that Overeem was on a two fight losing streak and we weren’t apoplectic with rage when he chose not to hurl haymakers in the closing minutes of a fight where he was clearly ahead; one only has to see what Abel Trujillo was able to do to Varner earlier in the night to see why. We even understand that referees make mistakes in PPV main events. However, what I find hard to stomach is the President of the UFC making me feel like the proud new owner of a Ratner and Co. sherry decanter; an oblivious fool blithely handing over handfuls of dough for a product that not even he has faith in.

Unlike Ratner’s feted speech I don’t think White’s words will have too great an impact. Aldo will move up to lightweight and find himself pushed much harder by larger and stronger fighters, Overeem will be matched against someone in his own league and Herb Dean will probably put in a series of faultless performances that make his stoppage blunder a distant memory. As for the ten fights that went to a decision, they should be seen as mere unhappy coincidence rather than a catastrophe.

White will continue to reign as the UFC’s dictator in chief and his scolding words and brazen tweets will reap their share of praise and controversy across the MMA world. Somewhere though, many somewheres in fact, someone is listening to White’s words, looking at their paycheck and making the decision never to pay again.

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