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Is Dana White Not Evolving With MMA?

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I’ve never joined a fantasy sports league but I still sometimes fantasize about the way things could be in my favorite sports. For example, sometimes I fantasize about my favorite sports league – the UFC – being led by a professional who spends more time promoting its athletes than disparaging, threatening, and underpaying them.

A man can dream, can’t he?

In my UFC fantasy I imagine a very different lead-up to and follow-up from last week’s UFC 209. I imagine some of the ways UFC president Dana White could have promoted the headlining title rematch between Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson, the things he could have said instead of what he actually and embarrassingly did.

What Dana White could have said about the welterweight champion and his first epic fight against Thompson last November at UFC 205 in order to promote their immediate rematch:

Their first fight was a phenomenal, dramatic, and close one. In fact, it was one of the most evenly-fought title bouts the UFC has ever had, so we had to run it back. The champion faced his toughest challenge ever, then, but still came closest to finishing that contest on multiple occasions. Thompson deserves the rematch but Woodley deserves respect for hanging onto his belt.

Instead of remarking on that incredible first fight in such a way, White taunted Woodley that he should go finish fights instead of fighting to exciting, money-making draws as he did with Thompson.

What Dana White could have said about Woodley sometimes getting booed by fans when the champion brought it up:

I’m not sure why people boo Tyron. He does good, affable, and insightful work on television broadcasts. He’s up-and-coming in Hollywood doing movie work. Tyron is a positive force in his embattled community, a business owner, and an exciting fighter who has beaten some of the best fighters in the world, oftentimes by stoppage. If some fans don’t appreciate all that, that’s on them. We at the UFC are proud to have such a guy representing us as a champion.

What Dana White could have said in response to Woodley remarking on what the champ said he perceived as discrimination along racial lines occurring in MMA:

It matters to me as president when someone in my organization feels discriminated against. I personally, and the UFC as an organization values the contributions of all our athletes, regardless of their race. We’re proud to be an incredibly diverse, international organization with so many of the faces of our company representing different regions, nations, ethnicities, and races.

Instead, Dana White smugly Whitesplained to Woodley that fans don’t want to hear him talk about race, so that’s why he gets booed. White also told the mass of fighters, which includes Woodley, who have been trying actively to get higher profile fights, i.e. “Big Money” fights, to “shut up.”

What Dana White could have said about the close UFC 209 main event majority decision result which saw Woodley win and keep his crown:

Hey, it was a close fight and could have gone either way. I scored it for Thompson but Woodley is a champion and champions sometimes win blowouts and sometimes they just edge it out. You have to respect winning, period.

Instead, White didn’t show any such respect to Woodley and then the champion rightly pointed out that the executive has no idea what it is like to fight someone like Stephen Thompson.

In response to that, White, in full child blowhard mode effectively told Woodley to shut up, once more, because White “calls the shots.”

“There’s one guy around here who calls the shots,” he said. “As soon as you learn that, the better off you’ll be.”

White’s threatening statement is almost unbelievably unprofessional, and offensive in terms quite explicit, even for the often lewd WME-IMG executive.

Real shot-callers don’t point out that they call shots. Insecure people with limited and diminishing power do.

Leaving aside that it is not right for anyone to speak to another person in such a condescending and threatening manner, and that it is particularly strange for White to once more have fired-up yet another feud with an athlete in his company, there’s a reason he’s likely so desperate to propagate the idea that he is the big bad all-powerful boss in the UFC – because it is less true than it has ever been.

After his friends Chuck Liddell and Matt Hughes were let go from their loyalty executive jobs with the UFC, recently, by the new promotion owner WME-IMG, White admitted that he isn’t the one making decisions about how the UFC budgets its money, anymore. This is on top of a years-long trend under the previous majority owners where some of the UFC’s biggest stars refused to negotiate with White after bristling against his insulting, abrasive style of communication, choosing instead to work directly with his former boss, Lorenzo Fertitta.

More recently, White has had to back off of previously held hardline stances like not working with other promotions (the UFC decided working around the WWE’s needs was worth getting Brock Lesnar to fight at UFC 200 last summer), and refusing to let fighters make up their own promotional schedules (Ronda Rousey reportedly effectively negotiated the power to ignore usual UFC pre-fight promotional considerations and work before her comeback in 2016).

Athletic leagues and organizations are necessarily based on the athletes who compete in them. So, the athletes are always the most important pieces of a league, organization, or promotion.

In the UFC’s case, the athletes are not the most well-compensated parts of the organization. Tyron Woodley is just the latest fighter to express even polite dissatisfaction with how he is compensated, treated, and promoted.

Dana White, increasingly powerless in a changing business, doesn’t appear to be dealing very well with the UFC becoming a more professional operation. So, he’s lashing out.

For longtime observers, it isn’t very surprising. After all, this is the same guy who hurls profane insults at fans on social media.

This is the same guy that used company resources to produce an official video where he shouted homophobic and misogynistic slurs at a reporter who wrote a story he didn’t like. So, Dana White disparaging a UFC champion instead of promoting him, Dana White telling a UFC champion to shut up and work, know your place or else, isn’t surprising.

It is sad, wrong, and bad business. It is the same old Dana White.

The business of MMA is changing. Dana White isn’t doing a good job of showing he can adapt along with it.

About the author:
Elias Cepeda has served as a writer and editor covering mixed martial arts and combat sports, as well as public and cultural affairs, since 2005. He began as a staff writer for InsideFighting, and not long thereafter became publisher and editor of the page. Cepeda then went to write for Yahoo! Sports’ boxing and MMA pages, and edited their Cagewriter blog. He was hired away by FOX Sports, but after several years departed over philosophical differences with the executive leadership around important issues of journalism ethics. A student of and sometime competitor in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA since 1999, Elias brings a unique and vibrant presence to reporting, and enjoys trying to highlight shared humanity and connect common experiences from seemingly different worlds.

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Aaron Portier
Highly passionate MMA Journalist, and I've followed the sport ever since my favorite fighter, Vitor Belfort won the heavyweight tournament at UFC 12. After that I've tried to go to every local MMA event around the Gulf Coast and surrounding areas and decided to make it a point to have a career in some aspect in the fighting sport other than fighting in general (didn't want to ruin my face). I'm currently enrolled at Southeastern Louisiana University working towards a degree in Communication. I cover MMA, Boxing and Football for The Daily Star newspaper in my hometown of Hammond, Louisiana, in addition to working as a promotional writer for a local Boxing promotion known as BoxnCar and I cover boxing for 8countnews.com however SciFighting.com is my home. My main goal is to bring more publicity to MMA in my area and to the sport as a whole as all of us involved with the sport are merely scratching the surface and laying the foundation of what mixed martial arts competition will be further down the road.