Many MMA fans noticed over the past weeks that the stomach tattoo of Dan Hardy has been missing from the promotional materials (posters, etc) for UFC 111. TSN has a bit on the reasons as explained by Dana White:
"I'm trying to get into China," he told fans at a question-and-answer session Tuesday. "I don't need anti-Chinese government stuff on my fighters."
Hardy, however, says the tattoo -- the fighter's favourite -- is a Tibetan Buddhist prayer written in Sanskrit.
"It's basically just like a prayer for focus," Hardy said. "It keeps me walking the path that I should be walking without veering off and distracting myself."
Apprised of that explanation, White said: "That's not what I heard."
The tattoo is the well known Buddhist mantra "Om mani padme hum" which has no political significance in relation to China. Well, unless we're talking about the continuing conflict between the Chinese government and the philosophy of Buddhism. There is not anything shocking about a Buddhist mantra just as there is nothing shocking about Jon Jones' "Phillipians 4:13" tattoo. In fact, given that Buddhism is more philosophical system than straight-up religion it should be considered even less controversial. The situation has even led to a Facebook group "Boycott the UFC - Dan Hardy's "Tibetan tattoo' wiped out to please China" springing up.
At the risk of sounding overly dramatic and critical of the UFC there are only two possibilities that I see here, neither of which is all that positive:
1) The UFC lacks adequate fact checking. I know this isn't the case with a company this size, especially one that is actively trying to expand it's global efforts. Is it possible that someone could tell Dana White "that's an anti-Chinese government tattoo" and White wouldn't bother to have someone check into it before going to the extreme of photoshopping it out of promotional materials?
Despite all evidence to the contrary many people still point to Cain Velasquez's "brown pride" tattoo as proof that he is a member of a vicious Latino street gang. The meanings of tattoos being mistaken has never caused them to be removed from advertising prior to this, I would assume because White has had the facts checked when it comes to men like Velasquez. Why would this not have been the case with Hardy?
2) The conflict between the Chinese government and Buddhists was enough by itself to motivate White and the UFC to have the ink removed from promotional materials. This would be borderline unforgivable in my eyes as it would be folding in to a history of oppression of a people to attempt to hold an event in China down the road.
If the promotion needs to photoshop harmless Buddhist mantras from it's fighters skin just to "get into China" is it really an area that needs to be expanded into?
I'm sure many MMA fans will say that it's "just a tattoo" and downplay the significance. But the real story is about much more than that. It's either the UFC falling into knee-jerk reactions to hearsay or it's a much more complex story of political maneuvering to appease an oppressive government and establish a new market. Either one is a problem that should be dealt with and not simply airbrushed away like so many Sanskrit characters.