When the World Series of Fighting chose to fill time at the end of their inaugural NBC broadcast with Dustin Holyko's prelim loss to Neiman Gracie, they unwittingly put a fighter with a shockingly lengthy rap sheet and neo-Nazi tattoos on broadcast network air.
We previously covered Holyko's criminal record and tattoos, but a recent response to the controversy by Holyko--since released by the promotion--and WSOF executives was quite bizarre.
Holyko explained his tattoos to MMA Junkie by stating, ""When I was 18, I went to prison, and I got white pride tattooed on my arms because prison is pretty racially separated...I am proud of my race, but I’m not racist or any kind of Nazi."
Of course, he is now ten years older, clearly has had more tattoo work done, and didn't get them covered up or altered. And, as many fans did following the release of the original story, his explanation ignores the clearly more intricate tattoo choices, such as the Nazi "SS" lightning bolts on his back, which make the "hey, just a guy who is proud of his race and made a prison decision at 18," claims a little more difficult to swallow.
He also tried to explain away the criminal record with attempts to distance himself from the past, "I’d like to sit here and make excuses here and there, but I did what I did. I made a lot of mistakes. I was a dumb kid. Until a few years ago, I turned my life around. I’m still not perfect."
Of course, he has arrests for domestic violence charges in both 2012 and 2013. So it may be a little hard to swallow the idea that his is the criminal record that resulted from a wild youth.
Meanwhile, WSOF cut ties with Holyko following the story going public, leading to this quote inthe MMA Junkie piece by WSOF matchmaker Ali Abdelaziz:
"We don’t do background checks on people. But if something comes up, and it’s something we need to know about, I believe us and the media are all part of the team. If the guy who wrote the story knew about the information, he should have told us before the fight. I know it’s not his job, but to protect our sport and grow, if anybody has information about this kind of behavior, they should let us know. We don’t tolerate this; we had no idea this kid had this behavior or a tattoo or an affiliation, but he will never fight for the WSOF again. It’s embarrassing, and that will never happen again."
First of all, I didn't know anything about Holyko prior to the event. Even if I had, it is not the media's job to assist in the business dealings of a fight promotion. Quite the opposite, in fact.
A simple Google search of Holyko's name would have been enough to have tipped him off to his criminal history, at the very least. The front page of Google was loaded with news stories about his arrests or related searches about crimes in the surrounding area.
I reached out to NBC to get their thoughts on Abdelaziz's statement that they "don't do background checks," and if NBC was comfortable with the risks that are presented through putting men on network TV airwaves with no research into their history.
"We're aware of the situation and we're addressing it with all parties involved," said an NBC Sports spokesperson. "Steps will be taken to ensure this doesn't happen in the future."
I also had the chance to speak (via e-mail) with Mark Pitcavage, Director of Investigative Research for the Anti-Defamation League about the situation.
Pitcavage discussed the draw of MMA for white supremacists or those who exist on the fringe of the white supremacy movement--use tattoos, language, etc that is common in such movements:
Many white supremacists are fans of Mixed Martial Arts and some aspire to or actually have become MMA fighters or trainers over the years. So situations such as the recent one involving Dustin Holyko come up from time to time.
For example, there is the case of Andrew Lee Patterson in Gold Hill, Oregon. Patterson is a former neo-Nazi who now runs a martial arts and "underground MMA" training studio. Patterson claims not to be a white supremacist any more. I do not know what is in his heart, or the hearts of others in similar situations who claim to no longer be white supremacist, and whether they may be sincere or not. I do notice that the logo to his business contains a Valknot, which is a symbol that many white supremacists use (though it is not exclusive to white supremacists). (Ed note: You can read about the situation here)
There is also the case of Jason Tankersley of Maryland. Tankersley was the founder and leader of the Maryland Skinheads, a white supremacist with many swastika and other white supremacist tattoos on his body, who also founded the white power record company Label 56. He was also a mixed martial arts fighter. In the 2000s, he opened up an MMA training facility and by 2010 had turned it into a MMA training facility/fitness center called Exile Fitness in Rosedale, Maryland. For whatever reason, in the past couple of years, Tankersley has not been as active in the white supremacist movement and—unlike Mr. Holyko—has had "cover-up" tattoo work done to hide the more blatant of his white supremacist tattoos. He also trains many non-white students, which may mean that his decisions were done primarily for business reasons. Again, I cannot say what is in his heart.
Another MMA training place was Buell Fighting Systems in Anthem, Arizona, run by Michael Buell, also a white supremacist, circa 2008-2009. I believe that is defunct now.
In 2012, Ohio MMA fighter Brandon Saling got brief notoriety for his own white supremacist tattoo (and criminal past). I believe his license was eventually revoked because of those aspects.
Doug Sonier was another MMA fighter with a lot of white supremacist ties (and criminal past) in the 2000s. He’s done MMA stuff in MD and PA. From the same area, so too was Richard "Rick" Desper. In California in 2009, the San Diego chapter of the National Socialist Movement announced that "NSM member and good comrade" Jimmy Collins, a boxer and MMA cage fighter, would be a guest speaker.
If I went further back in my files, I could come up with more examples dating further back. It is something we see and have seen on a semi-regular basis.
Pitcavage also explained the importance of actually doing the necessary background checks:
Because of the popularity of mixed martial arts, cagefighting, etc., among white supremacists, it is natural that some white supremacists try to get into the sport at one or another level, officially or unofficially. Any mixed martial arts gym or organization or league or promoter or sponsor ought to be concerned about this trend, and the public relations effect this phenomenon can have on their sport, and should take whatever steps are needed to screen for white supremacists, including carefully examining tattoos, logos, etc.
White supremacists have long been tied to mixed martial arts. It was a sport that, for a great deal of time, saw white men in top spots. The days of Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell atop the sport in America were an especially fertile time for the movement's involvement with the sport as they had "dominant white champions" that they identified strongly with (if you don't believe me, ruin your day by looking at white supremacist message boards from that period).
The good news, on the mainstream level anyway, is that most of the white supremacist "fight clubs" often are ways for guys to fight in backyards and pretend that they're training for the coming race wars. Meanwhile, very few of them make any noise in the game. Brandon Saling got to Strikeforce and had to suffer the consequences of his decisions when he was released, Melvin Costa and his swastika tattoos got to the top ten of King of the Cage and then fell off the face of the earth.
Holyko may not be actively a member of the neo-Nazi, white supremacist, white nationalist..etc. movements. But he sports tattoos that are directly, indisputably tied to those ideals and thus needs to own the consequences. If you're "not any kind of Nazi," it's a good idea to not get Nazi insignia etched into your skin. And, if you realize that these aren't the ideals that you want your name associated with, take the steps of getting cover-up work done.
As for WSOF, you got your TV deal and then even improved on it by getting NBC to put you on the mothership national broadcast network.
You have to up your game appropriately. "We don't do background checks" isn't good enough. And you're playing with fire if you continue to invite these situations into your promotion.