UFC president Dana White had a difficult time in Minneapolis for UFC on FX 5: Browne vs. Bigfoot. Not one but two fights had to be cancelled after the weigh-ins. First the Lightweight scrap between Dennis Hallman and Thiago Tavares was scrapped when Hallman failed to make weight and had to be sent home to Seattle to deal with some pressing personal issues.
"I don't want to say anything about Dennis Hallman's life and personal problems right now; he was in no shape whatsoever, mentally or physically, to fight," White said. "I should be f***ing hung from a tree by my f***ing ears and beat with a stick if I tried to put this guy out there to fight. He was in no shape to fight whatsoever; any way you could possibly be in shape, mentally, physically, emotionally, period.
"In almost 13 years of being in this business, I've never been in a situation like I was at the weigh-ins here on Thursday," White continued. "I literally told him, 'Go downstairs, start drinking and eating.' I called my people, and I said, 'Fly him home right now, and we'll pay him his entire purse,' which wasn't f***ing cheap on a card like this. $60,000. That's a big number. I basically felt like that was the right thing to do," said White.
That was just the prelude.
On Friday Lightweight Jeremy Stephens was arrested on an out-of-state warrent by Minneapolis authorities. This triggered an interesting set of events that were made much more interesting by White's behavior. When word of Stephens' arrest reached the internet, White tweeted angrily:
OMFG!!! YES Jeremy Stephens is fighting tonight! At no point did ANYONE from UFC say he wasn't. Some media jackasses said he wasn't— Dana White (@danawhite) October 5, 2012
Then when the preliminary fight card broadcast ended on Fuel TV, White took to the airwaves to declare that Stephens would still be fighting Yves Edwards that night. Edwards was finally told his fight was off with only minutes left in the FX broadcast.
White explained his take on the situation to Ariel Helwani on Fuel after the fights (transcription via Fight Opinion):
Dana White: "So, let me walk you through the whole story and how this went down. I get the call this morning at 10:30 that he was arrested, um... or 11, I don't remember what time. I went straight to the police station, the sheriff's department here in Minnesota where I've been all day, back-and-forth working on this thing.
"What happened is he has an assault charge (outstanding) that turned into a warrant back in 2011 in Iowa. So... I started working down in Iowa to get this thing, you know, bail him out... whatever it was going to take to get this thing done, we were going to do. I was absolutely 100% confident that he was going to get out today and that he was going to fight. Problem is, ahem... they don't like this kid in Iowa, OK? They... they're going to really stick it to him in Des Moines, Iowa when this kid shows up down there. They're going to extradite him and basically they gave me the original deal on how we would bail him out, I said no problem, we'll get it done. Then they changed the deal when we started to work on the deal and get it done. So, they changed the deal and I agreed to that deal. Start doing the work, they changed it again.
"Every time we would cut a deal with these guys, they would change the deal. First of all, he's been here since Monday. They arrested him Friday morning on purpose and for a reason... and all day from 11 o'clock, I just told Yves Edwards 35 minutes before the main event went on that he wasn't fighting. Yves Edwards has been here all night, warmed up, sitting in his locker room, hands wrapped, ready to go. This guy, Yves Edwards is a true professional, old-school guy, you know a lot of these guys, ‘My head's all messed up, I can't...' Wouldn't have done the fight. Yves Edwards has been here all night up until 35 minutes before the main event, ready to fight, and that's how long we've been working on the Jeremy Stephens thing when finally it's just like, you know, they're going to... he is not going to have a good time when he eventually gets to Iowa."
White's behavior drew some puzzled responses from media observers. MMA Fighting's Mike Chiappetta wrote:
What I don't understand though is why White was so insistent that Stephens go on with his UFC on FX 5 fight as scheduled? While I agree that everyone has a right to their day in court, this was a problem of Stephens' own doing exactly for the reason that he had skipped his.
White chose to have Stephens' back, and that's fine. He has a history of doing it. He did it with Rampage and Jones, and earlier this week, with Dennis Hallman, when he gave him his fight purse and win bonus even while cutting him due to personal problems the lightweight was dealing with. It's his prerogative to stand by his fighters, but he also needs to acknowledge when they screw up. Stevens put himself in this situation but White came off sounding like Stephens was the victim.
"I'm always going to believe my guy and support my guy until I'm proven wrong," White said.
That kind of loyalty is admirable. It can also be misguided. And sometimes, like Friday, it's both at the same time.
Jonathan Snowden at Bleacher Report also chimed in:
White's continued need to minimize the charges against Stephens, to cast the fighter (and himself) as the real victim, to needlessly compare the incident to a dissimilar situation with boxer Floyd Mayweather and plant conspiracy theories about the execution of a simple arrest warrant wasn't a good look for a company still trying to make its way in the wider world.
All in all it was a bizarre situation and Dana White's behavior and statements only served to make a top headline out of a story that should have been a footnote.