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UFC Macau TV ads stir up controversy over content which could be seen as racist

A series of UFC Macau ads starring Dong Hyun Kim have caused a minor stir for being able to be potentially seen as racist. The ads feature Kim smashing watermelons and chicken ahead of his bout with Tyron Woodley.

Suhaimi Abdullah

A series of ads by Super Action (UFC's Korean TV broadcast partner) for UFC Macau were released recently which focus on Dong Hyun Kim ahead of his bout with Tyron Woodley. What stood out to some, and became the focus of a discussion on Twitter on Wednesday night, was that two of the ads could be seen as potentially racially insensitive.

In the first ad, Kim smashes a watermelon with a kick, in the second, he punches a chicken. There is a third in which he plays whack-a-mole. Obviously, the intent of the ads is comedy.

However, Woodley is African American and there is a long and ugly history of using caricatures of African Americans as lazy and obsessed with chicken and watermelon, this would seem to be a situation where it'd have helped to have someone step in and suggest other items be used for the ads. Rather than delve into it here, if you'd like to know the background and history of the "chicken and watermelon stereotype," this website goes into it quite deeply.

Fuzzy Zoeller and Sergio Garcia both made huge national news with comments--separated by a decade and a half, no less--about Tiger Woods and fried chicken and the stereotype became an ugly part of both of Barack Obama's campaigns for the presidency with racist photoshops of him with chicken and watermelon made the rounds. So, these ugly, hurtful stereotypes are not exactly buried 100 years in the past.

At this point I should note that I am not suggesting that Dong Hyun Kim or the makers of the ad were intentionally making racist advertisements targeting Woodley's race. It's entirely possible that, being as these are Korean ads, that cultural stereotype and the century plus long ugly history associated with it never once crossed the minds of those involved.

The larger questions are:

1) Did the UFC have the opportunity to review and approve the ad prior to it's release?

This is not a company known for being loose with it's brand. They go after people for making gifs and even for taking screenshots of an event. They don't often give up control of any use of their name or property to an absolute degree. Part of the issues with getting their big TV deal done (when they bounced around in negotiations with Fox, HBO, etc) was that they wanted control over how the product was presented

It's also worth remembering this poster from UFC 111:


The UFC photoshopped out a Buddhist prayer tattoo from Dan Hardy's abdomen for an event in New Jersey because, in Dana White's words, "I'm trying to get into China...I don't need anti-Chinese government stuff on my fighters." They were so worried about being offensive in this case that a completely non-offensive tattoo (which was in no way "anti-Chinese government") was taken completely off an ad.

So, was someone at the UFC in charge of approving the ads or at least offering opinion?

2) Will steps be taken to try to prevent the potentially offensive moments in the future?

The most relevant comparison is the UFC's handling of brands such as Hoelzer Reich. That company was actively sponsoring UFC fighters despite their merchandise heavily featuring neo-Nazi symbols and being closely tied to white power music and culture.

Once the "oversight" was brought to light, the UFC banned Hoelzer Reich from their broadcasts and it seems that the company died. It would seem that, if the UFC didn't have a hand in the ads, they may want to going forward.

There was also the controversy over "Rising Sun" imagery in the UFC, most notably when Chan Sung Jung asked Georges St. Pierre to not wear a gi that featured the Japanese Rising Sun flag. It was pointed out by Jung that westerners might not be aware of the war crimes associated with that flag and World War 2, but that ignorance led to "setting a bad example."

This is relevant in that it may be the exact reverse for the Kim ads. That the Koreans involved with making the ad had no ill intent or knowledge of the history but that ignorance could have led to an offensive situation and a potential PR nightmare.

Though, it does appear that some of these stereotypes have made their way to Korean popular culture:

"KyoChon Chicken ran a commercial in 2010 advertising that if you are ever washed up on a desert island full of angry black people who want to boil you in a pot, you should deter them by giving them some fried chicken."

"In November 2013, Miss A's Min was lambasted when she Photoshopped a picture of American rapper Rick Ross' head onto a female rapper's body, crawling toward an image of fried chicken, The Korea Times reported."

"Beast, Big Bang, Girls' Generation and Super Junior have all used blackface in their videos, on photo shoots or in comedy routines. In one comedy show in 2010, Beast member Lee Gi-kwang devoured a piece of watermelon while in blackface."

Bloody Elbow reached out to the UFC last night in an effort to get a statement on any involvement in the ad approval process as well as their take on the potentially offensive nature of the ads.

As of press time we have not received a response, but the story will be updated should one be provided.