Recently, Dana White gave a series of statements in which he defended the UFC pay scale and talked about what smart fighters, like Forrest Griffin, should be doing with their money. It was White's story about Forrest Griffin, how he still wears the same jacket and drives the same car as he has for the last decade or so, that got me thinking. Why isn't Griffin himself delivering this story? Why does it have to come from Dana?
Partially, the answer is easy. The former fighter turned UFC employee probably doesn't want to be involved in the debate. It doesn't help either that he isn't particularly gifted when it comes to making a lengthy argument on a controversial topic, but that's not necessarily White's strength either. All of which isn't to say that White is doing a bad job rhetorically at the moment, since his most recent statements are all pretty reasonable, but eventually him talking about frugality is a little like listening to a speech from Larry Flint on moral indecency. So while White may not be doing the worst job in a pure war of words, and while ex-fighters may want no part of this, it avoids a key reality. The UFC employs three former champions whose sole purpose is generating good PR. If they can't find some way to use that to change the nature of this debate they're not getting their money's worth.
I'm not implying that Matt Hughes, Forrest Griffin, or Chuck Liddell need to be out giving interviews or throwing their hats into the media scrum; I think that would do more harm than good. But it may be time to put together a few highlight packages talking about the value that hard work and determination played in their careers. The UFC just recently held its first ever MMA Combine at the Fan Expo prior to UFC 162. It might have been a good time to shoot some footage of a few old pros talking about the great opportunity that a UFC career presents. Beyond that a few tweets, a little public glad handing, and maybe even a couple of carefully programmed seminars on money management for athletes wouldn't go amiss.
I don't suggest all this because I believe that the UFC is ultimately in the right, paying it's fighters as little as they do. As others have pointed out, however, they have very little competition within their own sport to drive up their base pay. A fighter entering into the cage knows that their best chance for a good, consistent paycheck lies with Zuffa, and it leaves those fighters a bit over a barrel in a sport that naturally (and occasionally directly) dissuades unionization. In that spirit, where fighters are unlikely to see a much larger slice of the pie anytime soon, I find it interesting to see how this debate is being waged and what points are surfacing in the court of public opinion? At the moment, it appears to be a growing number of fighters on one side with a legitimate (and occasionally less than legitimate) series of problems, and Dana White on the other side, working consistently to misdirect opinion with equivocations.
That feels like a debate the UFC will ultimately lose because it pits a very wealthy few (or in this case one) against the struggling masses. I know to whom I find it easier to relate.