Mixed Martial Arts has a demanding and dynamic fanbase. That's not just a reflection on the excitement the sport generates, the pure visceral rush that hits you like a ton of bricks when you watch a fight. It's not even a product of how open and engaging the fighters are on Facebook and Twitter. No, MMA has an active and vocal fanbase due to necessity.
It wasn't that many years ago that following the sport of MMA was arduous and ludicrously difficult. Fights simply weren't available to most people. The UFC wasn't on PPV for most cable subscribers, there was no Youtube for Indy fights, and fights from Japan had to be shipped on VHS from, well, Japan. This resulted in something interesting: the MMA fans that followed the sport closely were hardcore with a capital "H." Ridiculously so. You won't find a more knowledgeable and educated fanbase anywhere in the world. And that, more than anything, explains the frustration and disdain many feel for MMA's professional journalists.
The fact is, the knowledge gap between the fans they serve and many journalists is enormous. How many of the reporters that cover the sport, event after event, really know much about the industry and its history? A handful? Ten? In some ways it's handy to see things from an outsiders point of view. After all, it's easy to miss something significant when you are too close to something to step back and see the big picture. Yet continuing ignorance also allows promoters to spin tales and rewrite history in any way they choose.
Take for example, this week's Mailbag from Yahoo scribe Kevin Iole. Iole, for those not in the know, is the dean of mixed martial arts reporters. A Dana White favorite, the long time boxing reporter is almost always the first reporter called on at the post fight press conference. Iole is a solid reporter and is a good source for the latest information regarding the UFC. I'm not putting him down at all, because in that role he is very good and a useful resource. But his unfamiliarity with the history of MMA often can turn an informational interview into an exercise in transcription.
The hot issue of the day is Dana White's immediate firing of Paul Daley after an ill advised cheap shot at UFC 113. You know the story, I won't belabor it here. White was attempting to draw a distinction between the UFC and his rivals at Strikeforce who allowed fighters to stay with the company after their wild brawl in Nashville. White told Iole that firing fighters that get out of hand is par for the course for the world's most successful MMA company.
“I cut Nick Diaz after he was fighting [Joe Riggs in an emergency room] at the hospital [in Las Vegas following a Feb. 4, 2006, fight]. People are sick and dying and you can’t be in the hospital fighting. I cut the guy even though I know he’s a very good fighter. But the thing with Jake Shields happened because someone wasn’t in control of the cage and let Mayhem in where he didn’t belong. That caused everything else.”
This sounds great doesn't it? It paints the picture of a company firmly in control of its fighters, handing down punishments to maintain order. The problem, of course, is that it is entirely untrue. Diaz wasn't cut after his fight with Riggs in the hospital. He was immediately booked into a high profile fight with Sean Sherk. When Diaz was eventually let go after the Sherk fight it was because he had lost three in a row, not for any disciplinary reason. That much was clear just months later when the UFC brought Diaz back on four days notice to replace Thiago Alves in a fight with Josh Neer after Alves dropped out of the fight for medical reasons.
In its own right this is a very minor mistake. But it's emblematic of the UFC's ability to influence the media narrative with patently false information. Imagine a football coach telling a sceptical media a falsehood like that? The problem is that the media is ignorant (although perhaps not willfully so) and they expect the fans to be so too.