Saturday the news broke that the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission (PAC) wouldn't medically clear Nate Marquardt for his bout with Rick Story. The bout was to have been his welterweight debut and anticipation was high to see how the long-time middleweight contender would far in a new, smaller weight division.
Unfortunately he failed to supply Pennsylvania authorities with something they needed to see to allow him to fight.
The UFC was quick to announce that they were cutting Marquardt but both the UFC's Dana White and the PAC felt constrained by HIPAA rules that prevented them from discussing Marquardt's medical condition(s).
Marquardt for his part initially planned to make a statement to Versus on Sunday before the fights but changed his mind. Now he's planning to make comments today to MMA Fighting. That is a 72 hour gap between the time the story broke and Marquardt responding.
That's really really really bad public relations work.
In the absence of a statement from Marquardt, speculation has flourished. Mike Chiappetta thinks he's eliminated a drug test failure as part of the problem:
While most of the situation is still shrouded in mystery, at least one of those questions can be answered.
Gregory Sirb, the executive director of the state's athletic commission told MMA Fighting on Monday that Marquardt had indeed been granted a license to fight, pending medical clearance.
"He was licensed. He completed all his paperwork for licensing probably a week before," Sirb said.
All of the aforementioned test results are considered the fighter's private medical information and kept confidential under federal HIPAA laws. Federal or Pennsylvania state law does not, however, prohibit disclosure of a positive drug test result, nor the type of drug which led to a confirmed positive test.
Sirb confirmed that if Marquardt had failed a drug test, the commission would have released those findings.
"I've been here 22 years and we do not embarrass anybody," he said. "But we would have said, 'drug test.'"
MMA Payout is critical of Marquardt's PR approach:
The biggest storyline going into and coming out of the night was Nate Marquardt. Dana White was purposefully vague when addressing the issue on the pre-fight show on Versus. Marquardt won't address the issue until Tuesday. This seems way too long to wait to comment on the reasons for his termination from the UFC. From a public relations and personal reputation standpoint, you'd want to get your story out there to the media as soon as possible. Instead, he is waiting three days. What is more interesting is that Marquardt will be giving an exclusive interview with MMAFighting.com.
I'm not so sure what's "more interesting" about Marquardt going to MMA Fighting to tell his story. It's a large media outlet with a good reputation that isn't known for pushing for answers on hard questions. Perhaps they find the fact that Ariel Helwani also works for NBC and Versus -- who are very interested parties in the situation as the UFC's broadcast parter for the fight -- to be problematic.
Zach Arnold discusses the situation created by the info vacuum and some possible explanations for Marquardt's actions:
With interest so high in regards to what the mysterious circumstances of Nate's firing from the UFC, there has been a big vacuum created in the media space. Since Nate's camp has not handled the situation well at all from a public relations-perspective, it gave Dana White & Greg Sirb (Charles Jay-approved commissioner for Pennsylvania) the chance to take the lead and frame the issue the way they did.
Unfortunately, the vacuum also has created a scenario that I try to avoid at all costs in regards to media coverage. As an MMA writer, you can't publicly say, "Well, I know what the real story is but I can't tell it to you." The defense for such a stance is based on legalities, which is entirely plausible. With that said, you got to make the effort to not come across to readers as if you know something they don't and look as if you're taunting readers & that somehow because of your ‘disciplined' silence that you are remarkable or special. You're not.
In regards to when Nate Marquardt's camp will speak, the initial rumor is that the matter will be publicly addressed on Tuesday. As far as why it hasn't been addressed earlier on, perhaps Nate's camp got legal advice to shut up until the situation and timing is right. You never know with these matters. What works for PR sometimes doesn't work for legal issues.
I worked in PR and politics for 15 years and specialized in crisis communications -- as a rule clients were reluctant to come out with the truth when they had messed up. Marquardt clearly messed up and badly. He needs to get his story out there ASAP.
We'll find out today what he has to say for himself.
UPDATE: Kelly Crigger, Marquardt's spokesman gave me this statement:
We weighed all the options and presented them to Nate. We felt it was better to wait until he was comfortable. He'd just been fired. He lost a huge pay day. We wanted to respect his wishes and give him time to collect himself. He needed time to talk to his family and to inform his coaches and teammates. He'll tell the whole story today.
There's also this noteworthy Twitter exchange between Crigger and Dr. Johnny Benjamin:
UFC Nate Marquardt got suspended. I reviewed the PA medical forms. Most likely cause for the suspension is...Refusal to take drug test!!
Nate is innocent until proven guilty but the PA rules are quite clear and little else makes sense under this set of circumstances
@DrJCBenjamin You are a professional Doctor. Please stop speculating until Nate has a chance to speak today. Nate did not refuse any tests.