BOSTON - AUGUST 28: John Salter fights against Dan Miller during their UFC middleweight bout at the TD Garden on August 28 2010 in Boston Massachusetts. (Photo by Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
When Zuffa purchased Strikeforce from Scott Coker and Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment, Dana White insisted that things would remain "business as usual." Showtime would continue airing Strikeforce events and controlling broadcast production. Fighters would continue fighting under the Strikeforce banner -- at least until their contracts run out. Lorenzo Fertitta explained that the only change would be the immediate institution of the full Unified Rules.
The "business as usual" mantra doesn't apply to the media, however. Loretta Hunt tweeted earlier today:
The @ufc has denied me a credential to cover @strikeforce on Sat. for @CBSSports #MMA
I will still attend the weigh-ins today and the show as a spectator, but @CBSSports has dropped their planned coverage
No reason given for denial through @cbssports, other than form letter that said had a lot of applications, couldn't accommodate everyone
The big picture here is that the UFC is willing to deny credentials to a large media institution in order to perpetuate a beef with an individual reporter. The UFC still refuses Josh Gross, now with ESPN after a stint at Sports Illustrated, credentials for issues created during his tenure as the editor at Sherdog. ESPN, however, still has access via Franklin McNeil, MMA Live, and others.
Denying Hunt access, however, has caused CBS Sports to drop coverage of tomorrow night's Strikeforce event entirely. Something is wrong in a universe where an organization denies access to a member of the CBS Sports staff, but assists Bleacher Report in its quest to make a slide show mockery out of everything.
The issue extends past Zuffa's insatiable desire to perpetuate media feuds. The UFC denied Bloody Elbow editor emeritus Luke Thomas credentials for UFC 129 in Toronto. Thomas now runs the MMA section for the SB Nation parent site, a site which competes with ESPN and Yahoo! and other large-scale online sports media publications.
The message is clear: play by our rules or have fun on the outside looking in.
It's a curious policy, and one that prevents talented journalists from offering comprehensive coverage of the sport of MMA and Zuffa's MMA organizations. I don't believe the Zuffa is "wrong" for their media policy. They are within their rights to withhold access from any individual or organization that they see fit.
Zuffa wants coverage in which they can control the narrative to some degree, and they are willing to cut off legitimate sources in order to achieve that goal. It's an unwritten contract that regularly credentialed publications must live up to should they want to continue to receive direct access to UFC events.
Personally, I have no interest in receiving credentials should it also come with the need for self-censorship. I am not interested in writing press releases masquerading as news and op-ed pieces for the UFC. (I am, however, interested in writing straight press releases for the UFC should they pay me for it.) So, I am content sitting outside of the UFC's party, able to criticize or compliment as I see fit.
If the idea of media to you is provide the news in a timely fashion, this sort of policy won't have much of an effect on your enjoyment of the sport. It's those of us who that value critical thought, transparency, and honest discussion that suffer.
[Update 4:06 p.m. ET] - Sherdog, not surprisingly, has also been denied credentials to this weekend's Strikeforce event.
Also, Brent Brookhouse alerted me to a bit of humor that I missed. By denying Loretta Hunt credentials, and CBS Sports by extension, Zuffa has ostracized the network which owns the cable channel that will air the fights. Hilarity!