Will heavier scrutiny due to the UFC rise to legitimacy make cooler head prevail? (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
The lead-in to Thursday afternoon's press conference announcing the UFC's seven-year broadcasting deal with Fox began with a shocking discovery. Joe Rogan, the UFC's long-time color commentator, was wearing a blazer, a much more formal piece of attire that the part-time stand-up comedian wouldn't tell us is a mainstay in his closet. The image of Rogan standing to the right of the UFC on Fox logo, uncomfortably reading from the teleprompter and looking especially robotic in his stance, was a sight that triggered some feelings among a few fans that this is the beginning of major change.
That change, to those fans, was one that was negative. "The corporate giants have won!" and "The sport I so dearly loved will change for the worse!" were a few of the comments made. Running parallel to those thoughts, the body language that Rogan displayed was as if someone had forced him into the penguin suit, and his body was rebelling against it. Luckily, your typical Joe Rogan charm prevailed later, asking Dana White if the "Gladiator Man" introduction would go away after White discussed the upgrades that would be made to the UFC's graphic packages. Fans rejoiced on Twitter and other social media outlets when White confirmed that it would be sent to the graveyard.
Those images of Rogan could be construed as symbolic references to what might happen to the UFC on Fox. I'm not under that impression however. What will be the case is a subtle shift by the UFC to become more professional in the trenches, behind-the-scenes, and "off the field". Mainstream attention will bring mainstream scrutiny on the highest levels, and that type of scrutiny with that much impact can have a negative affect on the UFC with the general public. That could lead to a loss of sponsors and diminished ratings, although the former is more likely.
Most fans are focusing on the minor details of what this means. Joe Rogan will still rant and rave in all the vulgarity he cares to use on his weekly podcast. Dana White is still going to cuss like a sailor in interviews with the media. Those things won't be going away. They are a part of the alternative culture of this sport, as much as some people want it to go away. For many fans, it is those informal conversations that they connect with because they are real reactions, not PG-rated fluff.
The heavily scrutinized comments such as Dana White's criticism of Loretta Hunt won't be tolerated in a magnified environment however. Those situations, while minimal in their impact in the past climate, could be explosive in the face of media who has a larger reach. Fighters will be under the same scrutiny, and the creation of a policy that is more strict is surely on the horizon.
The larger issues revolve around the visibility of steroids in mixed martial arts and their effect on the perception of the sport. They have undoubtedly had an impact on Major League Baseball and the National Football League, but the connection between performance-enhancing drugs and beating on people for a living seems like it would have mobs of MMA-hating media asking for the sport to be put in front of a firing squad. Those situations would obviously need to be avoided.
Unfortunately, it isn't something that is controllable by anyone but the state athletic commissions, and I say that with a sarcastic smirk. Even those government bodies can't control it due to their insufficient funds and limited testing capabilities. The reaction to those positive tests, however, are where the UFC will likely need to take a stand, and Nate Marquardt's firing could be deemed a prediction of punishments to come.
New York Times reporter Richard Sandomir's question as to how this deal is at all important at the press conference yesterday tends to lend credence to my theory that many higher profile mainstream media sports' reporters will spit vitriol the UFC's way when something goes awry publicly. The UFC will undoubtedly have a moment within their seven-year run that will turn the magnifying glass their way. How will the UFC handle those situations in this new era? Dana White won't be telling us that Loretta Hunt is a... fill in the blank. Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson more than likely won't be harassing female reporters without some sort of repercussions. Is that a major shift? Not really, but it's a shift nonetheless.