UFC on Fuel 9: Lots of blame to go round for cancelled main event

Martin McNeil for SBNation

Looking back at the chain of events that led to the Swedish MMA federation forcing Alexander Gustafsson out of the main event of UFC on Fuel 9 and forcing Gegard Mousasi to face an unknown Ilir Latifi.

UFC president Dana White has made no secret of his displeasure with the Swedish MMA Federation whose medical board forced Light Heavyweight contender Alexander Gustafsson out of his scheduled UFC on Fuel 9 headliner against Gegard Mousasi.

Gareth Davies has details and reports that the Federation will be reviewing their internal procedures in light of the event. From the UK Telegram:

The Swedish MMA federation's medical committee had chosen at midnight last Tuesday to inform Gustafsson - a light heavyweight title contender in the mixed martial arts organization and a sports star in Sweden - that he was ineligible to fight because of concerns about a gash in his left eyelid, sustained in training a week earlier, which had required four stitches.

Normal practice would have been to wait until the medical checks three days later, after the weigh-ins, on the Friday.
Yet what exacerbated the situation was that by Wednesday last week, Gustafsson had had the four stitches removed, the cut had closed up, and he was ready to fight.

...

In fairness, his team cannot be blameless in the process, having "declared" the injury to the Swedish MMA federation.

Not that the UFC was completely without fault in the situation. Dave Meltzer pointed out two things they could have done differently at MMA Fighting:

If there is a lesson here, is it's a good idea to have at least one fight in the weight class on the undercard in case a last minute issue like this arises.

...

From a fan standpoint who didn't buy a ticket to the show, it absolutely weakens the show, which didn't have much of a marquee undercard. But it's a free television show on Fuel. Like any UFC event, if you don't like it, you can choose to skip it. While fans looking forward to Gusafsson vs. Mousasi as a match and real test for both men are disappointed, there has been little outcry. There shouldn't be.

For those who purchased tickets, it's a different situation. There are a lot of factors in play. As far as the key ticket selling match, there was a big drop off in value, in particular going from the country's biggest fighting star to a fellow countryman who had not even made the UFC roster. But UFC only comes once a year to Sweden.

UFC executive Garry Cook, who heads up the promotion's European outreach also came in for criticism for his performance with the press from Zach Arnold of Fight Opinion:

When you have a delicate situation on your hands like the cancellation of Alexander Gustafsson from the main event of UFC Sweden 2013, the fans are going to be very upset in Stockholm. It's largely a one-fight show to the masses and that fight just got canceled.

So, when you talk to the media about the fight cancellation, there's an important adage to follow: know your audience. When you speak to the press, you're speaking to intermediaries who then communicate your message to the fans.

Which means you probably don't want to communicate a message as tone-deaf as this.

"We looked at every option. I'll be very clear. We always look at all the options. The guys are great at that. It goes everything from should we cancel the whole event, should we move the date, and of course none of that makes any sense. What we really wanted to do was meet Mousasi's needs and what he wanted to do was fight. So, then it was case of, you know, who's best suited. Lorenzo Ferttita, I think, made one of the greatest statements when I said to him, ‘What do you think?' and he said, ‘Hey, great, another Swede.' "

I thought Garry did an OK job answer the press questions but it felt like he was missing the most important aspect of communicating news like this and that was what the paying fans think about how the situation is handled and what can be done for the fans. Replacing Gustafsson with a sparing partner doesn't cut it.

But no one came out of the fiasco with bigger damage to his credibility than UFC President Dana White who first insisted the fight would be taking place and then took out his frustrations on fans and media when it didn't. Jonathan Snowden documented the atrocities:

Using his favored media proxy, MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani, White attempted to ease fans' fears.

I just asked DW about Wand vs. Mousasi. His response: "Gus is still fighting! It's April fools. Stay of twitter and the net today!" :/

— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) April 1, 2013

"Gus is still fighting! It's April fools," he told Helwani. "Stay of twitter and the net today!"

Of course, that didn't end up being true. Despite White's casual nonchalance, Gustafsson's bad cut wasn't going anywhere, and it wasn't an April Fool's joke at all. White must have known that Gustafsson was cut by the time he spoke with Helwani on Monday-after all, media insiders and even most fans, thanks to the great Swedish site MMA NYTT, had known for a full day at that point.

But instead of honestly discussing the situation, the UFC chose to deflect and delay, costing themselves crucial credibility. The Swedish MMA Federation had already examined Gustafsson's cut over the weekend and declared with complete confidence that they would be cancelling the fight this week, saying the odds were "99% he will not be medically approved."

Rewind to October of last year. As widely reported at the time, UFC fighter Jeremy Stephens was arrested at his Minneapolis hotel for assault charges stemming from an altercation in Des Moines, Iowa. White responded to media reports that Stephens' fight with Yves Edwards that night would likely be cancelled with righteous anger.

Stephens didn't end up fighting that night. Nor should the UFC have bent over backwards to try to spring him from jail to compete in a cage fighting competition that very night. But that's a story for another day. For our purposes here, it was another sign of the degradation of trust between the UFC brass and their loyal fans. Dana White's word wasn't always bond.

For me personally Dana's low point came when he blasted veteran MMA and football reporter Michael David Smith in this exchange:


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