One of the many contentious debates in MMA is the question of how our media can and does operate.
There's no question that the UFC rules our wild west landscape. But what many people question is how that rule echoes in the corners it should never corrupt. And so with that, Brian D'Souza asks the question of "why ethical journalism is so hard to come by."
It's incredible just how emphasized Dana White's presence is in relation to the sports of mixed martial arts. Not only has he branded the sport itself (who ever calls the UFC, MMA? Conversely, how many call MMA, the UFC?), but he's branded himself the sport's headquarters; in the process becoming a superstar himself.
To be sort of fair, I don't think it's necessarily by design. Dana is a brash individual, but he is incredibly emotional. While being emotional is not synonymous with being honest, it's often taken that way, and in a many cases it is precisely in line what others feel. We gravitate towards Dana with the kinship that reminds us of our high school friends and that's the persona Dana has framed for the public.
But high school qualities are defined as much by their qualities as their insecurities. UFC fans got a vivid taste of this when Dana pulled Sherdog's credentials in 2005. While there were always assumptions about why, D'Souza examines a more interesting fact:
Most fans know about the ongoing discord between current ESPN.com writer Josh Gross and Dana White, dating back to the first ban of Sherdog.com from being credentialed in 2005. The fact that just two weeks after banning Sherdog.com (where Gross was employed at the time), Dana White flew Gross into Las Vegas and offered him a $28,000 raise to run the UFC's website is a lesser known anecdote.
Gross turned the job offer down, but if other MMA journalists cultivate a friendly relationship with Zuffa, they always have the option of applying for a position at the UFC. Public relations positions are far more numerous, stable, and better-paying than most reporting jobs - facts that aren't lost on reporters who already have the required skill-set to do PR.
The image that develops is more than a little frightening: it sets the tone for media figures to behave in ways that contradict the purpose of journalism.
Of course, that journalism doesn't exactly operate like it should, or that journalists don't always engage in a conflict of interest isn't exactly a revelation. Remember the story of Armstrong Williams who was paid to "talk more about' the No Child Left Behind act? Hardly an astute point no matter who the characters are.
But for MMA, this is a sport still finding its legs. A sport that still isn't legal in each state. You can explicitly hear Dana's mantra "instead of asking relevant questions to prove your integrity as a journalist why aren't you helping me promote these fights this weekend instead of asking relevant questions to prove your integrity as a yournalist?!"
Well...maybe not word for word, but in his rant against Jake Rossen (which you can watch in the links below), Dana more or less implies it. This is one of many dilemmas the sport faces, not simply whether or not it's legal in each state. One hopes this change happens sooner rather than later, but don't bank on it.
After reaching out to Brian he had this to say:
"The Shill 'Em All series for CagePotato was the culmination of years of frustration from watching the MMA media repeatedly (intentionally) lob softballs and pander to the promoter's grandiosity. The MMA media is free to promote the next major card, but asking relevant questions about the direction of the sport is seen as a transgression. Those closest to the sport understand the need for legitimate rankings, more stringent drug testing and financial transparency-- but if they are coerced, co-opted or bought, they'll sing a different tune."
Brian D'Souza can be reached @Thracian_books.
The first entry in the Best MMA writing series can be read here.
The second entry in the Best MMA Writing series can be read here.