Some PR Advice for Dana White: Don't Act Like Vince McMahon if You Don't Want UFC To Be Compared to WWE

Where have we seen a promoter on the cover of a fitness magazine before? Oh yeah.

Steve Cofield breaks down what Dana could and should have done instead of blatantly lying about the Chuck vs Tito fight:

But upon reflecting a bit more, White and the promotion could have avoided a lot of this fan outrage by doing one of two things.

  1. Don't comment at all on the initial rumors. There were no need to tweet that the rumors of Franklin sliding into Tito's slot were untrue. Stay quiet and tell everyone to watch show.
  2. Even better, why not just come clean about Liddell v. Franklin and work it into the preseason promos and during the early weeks of the show? We were strung along on the "will Kimbo fight again or not" storyline. They couldn't drag out a "what happens to Tito" storyline? Each week suggesting some happened between the coaches, Tito got bad news from home or a castmates lost it on their coach? Is that fibbing, sure? But it would've been within the context of the show and more easily accepted. 
What was gained by violating the fan's trust and waiting three weeks? The UFC knew it had to announce the real matchup before putting the tickets on sale Vancouver.

It's that last bit I'd like all those who are defending Dana White to consider. Those who expect Dana to lie are in a different, more cynical camp. Here at BloodyElbow, we're willfully naive and want to see Dana and the UFC continue their amazing run of success, which really has been a great boon to the sport. 

At the same time, for those who think we need to "get on board" and "back Dana", I'd like to point you to a children's tale called "The Emperor's New Clothes" that expresses in a very succinct way how ill-served powerful people are by sycophants. 

Blatantly lying to the fans like this damages the heart of Dana White's personal brand -- his reputation for being forthright with the fans. As he told Jim Rome last night: "We're probably the most honest, open company, in sports. We let the fans and media know everything." 

Can anyone really believe that now?

And while we're talking cynical takes, it's always useful to check in with Cage Side Seats an interesting perspective about Dana's tactics:

Did he lie to everyone in the media or just the irresponsible MMA fan blogs and websites like Bloody Elbow and Sherdog?  Did a chosen few who could be trusted hold their tongues?  Did he lie to those who have his ear like Kevin Iole and Dave Meltzer of Yahoo! Sports?  Only they know for sure.  But anyone who has Dana's ear has had their credibility damaged by Dana's needless lies.  As Dave Meltzer admitted to Bryan Alvarez on his April 13th Observer Radio show:

If someone goes to you and goes to me, and just goes how can you believe anything Dana White says, I mean there's no answer other than you know, you're right.

And they go on to make a very telling comparison:

Who does this lack of credibility, short temper and bully boy tactics remind you of?  Why one Vince McMahon!  But even he couldn't control the wrestling media like Dana White controls the responsible MMA media, Yahoo! Sports.  Brock Lesnar's wrong, Dana White's bully boy tactics with the MMA media prove that the word ruthless is just as fitting to describe Dana White as it is Vince McMahon.

I was chatting with a veteran and respected MMA writer last night who pointed out the conundrum the UFC finds itself in. It's no secret that the UFC is modeled on the WWE as a business. The whole system of using cable TV to build an audience for PPV's was perfected by the WWE in the 1980s. Running the operation as a vertically integrated monopoly in which the promoter controls all aspects of event production -- announcing, production, even sometimes acting as the commission -- comes straight from the WWE.

And so does one other thing -- and this was Vince McMahon's real innovation -- transforming the management of the company into the public face of the promotion. Just as Vince McMahon is a bigger star than all but a handful of pro-wrestling legends, Dana White is far more popular with UFC fans than any single fighter.

But this creates a quandary for Dana and the UFC: when your model is a sports entertainment company and you're trying to run a sport, there are times when you must improvise.

As my writer friend wrote last night:

Problem is they don't really want to be a sport and don't want to be accused of being like wrestling.  So you don't see real rankings or any substantive talk about skills or tactics.You realize we are 17 years into this sport and our leading TV announcers break every fighter down as either having none of a certain skill or "world class" skill?

If they wanted to "be a sport" 100%, they would be open to deals with traditional sports networks like HBO or CBS who want to do things like control the production, hire their own announcers, have some semblance of independence from the promotion, etc.

UFC is in a betwixt and between place. MMA is definitely a sport, but the UFC is a promotion modeled on a sports entertainment company that wants to keep the virtues of pro wrestling and avoid the pitfalls of an uncontrolled sport like boxing.

Dana White has done a great job of building the UFC and with it, MMA, but when he blatantly lies, he plays into the perception among the traditional sports establishment that he is no more to be taken seriously than Vince McMahon. This exchange between ESPN's Drew Sharp and Jim Rome (via MMA Fighting) is to be noted:

"It's a sham," Sharp said of the UFC. "It's like WWF. It's becoming like that. White is becoming a Vince McMahon type or clone."

Jim Rome responded, correctly, that the comparison between the WWE and the UFC falls flat because the WWF is scripted and the UFC is a legitimate sport. If Vince McMahon says he's mad at a WWE wrestler, that's all part of an attempt to create drama. When White spoke said he was mad at Silva on Saturday, he was expressing real anger.

Sharp, however, said he thinks White is trying to make himself bigger than the UFC.

"In Dana White, though, you have a guy who's like Vince and figures that he's a bigger part of the show than the guys in the ring itself," Sharp said. "I don't think you can respect that as a sport."

And hell might be about to freeze over, because I'm going to quote Subo from Fightlinker in total agreement, if Dana White were to fire Anderson Silva then he's admitting the UFC is not a sport:

But Anderson Silva isn't Jon Fitch. Anderson Silva is 11-0 in the UFC and building, every day, on his record-shattering title run. If he beats Sonnen - and I don't care if he does it by majority decision because he lost a point every round 2-5 due to inactivity - he should be untouchable. If this entire enterprise is, in fact, about actual athletic competition within the scope of the Unified Rules, then Anderson Silva's job is safe. If it is not - and it's about entertainment, selling PPV's and changing the rules to kowtow to the ignorant majority of fans (I'm looking at you, K-1) - then it isn't.

The UFC walks a fine line between sport and entertainment - you cannot maintain Phil Baroni and Kimbo Slice if you're going to claim that a certain class of fighter need not apply, and in fact that is a claim that UFC doesn't make: Dana has said time and time again that fighters that leave it all in the cage and excite the crowd will have a job with his company. But if this is really about sport, then you can't cut Anderson Silva. You can't even threaten it. You can say you'll put in on free TV or you'll give him fights he doesn't want and suspend him if he refuses (can they do that?), but you cannot tell a successful champion that he must change his fighting style, provided the style is legal under the Unified Rules, no matter how much you might want to. And you know what? That's the way it should be.

In the full entry, there's a very interesting video interview of Dana White talking about how much he likes and respects Vince MacMahon. He also says that he thinks there is more cross-over between boxing fans and MMA fans than between WWE fans and UFC fans. I have to differ. HBO says there's only a 5% overlap between their boxing audience and UFC PPV buyers. And it's a fact that The Ultimate Fighter followed wrestling on Spike and brought over a huge chunk of the audience. Then there's Brock Lesnar. His fans are coming from WWE.

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