The UFC has scheduled a pre-fight press conference for UFC 246. At that event – which takes place on Thursday, January 15th – the headlining fighters on the card, Conor McGregor and Donald Cerrone will sit in front of what can only be assumed will be a plethora of MMA and mainstream reporters. And while the UFC can be criticized for many things, one thing the promotion has always been very good at during these pre-fight events is controlling the access media.
The UFC sometimes uses threats to control the people covering their events live. Those threats can be implied or stated outright. I’ll use myself as an example of the latter. In 2019 I wrote a story that a UFC employee did not appreciate. I did agree that I should have added context to that story. So I did. When the update was not sufficient for this PR person, he threatened me via email. Below is the final email that was sent to me before I stopped replying:
“You barely updated this post. The headline is still misleading. WTF? I know you were credentialed for one of our events this year. If this is going to be your approach to coverage, don’t even bother asking next time.”
True to its word, the UFC denied my two most recent requests for credentials. Let me rephrase that. I was told – less than 24 hours before the event – that my first request was denied due to space constraints. My second request sat in “submitted” status until the day after the fight card when it magically disappeared. I have not requested credentials since. (You can read a more detailed story here)
The MMA media that craves access knows this happens. They know if they refuse to play nice, they might join Josh Gross, Loretta Hunt, Jonathan Snowden and myself on the list of folks who can’t get credentialed to a UFC event for whatever silly reason.
The UFC has also reportedly told media members not to ask certain questions. This situation most notably occurred at the UFC 231 press conference in 2018, when the UFC announced the booking of Greg Hardy on the same upcoming card (UFC on ESPN+ 1) as domestic abuse survivor Rachael Ostovich. The obvious question was how could the UFC book Hardy, who a judge found guilty of assault and communicating threats to his former partner (charges were later dropped when the victim failed to appear in court, charges were later expunged) on the same card as Ostovich, who is a domestic abuse survivor. No questions were asked about Hardy at the press conference, however. Later it was revealed that a UFC employee gave the media the impression that they were to ask only questions about UFC 231. A media member who was in attendance said this request was made very close to the event and that timing prevented them from reaching out to their editors or the Mixed Martial Arts Journalists Association.
The MMAJA asked the UFC about the incident. The UFC claimed it was a miscommunication.
After reports from media on site today at the UFC 231 press conference, the MMAJA is looking into a situation in which reporters felt they were unable to freely ask questions.
MMAJA has been in touch with UFC PR, which said their intention was for reporters to focus their questions on Saturday’s card and away from other topics.
UFC said they did not direct the media to avoid specific subjects, but that was the impression felt by several MMAJA members credentialed for the event.
Given the miscommunication MMAJA is seeking to secure a remedy with the UFC.
Any journalist covering a mixed martial arts event, whether they are a member of MMAJA or not, should be able to ask relevant questions during public media events, particularly regarding newsworthy items.
Though the media on-site followed UFC’s message, which was issued moments before the start of the press conference, MMAJA wants to make it clear that any media member would have been well within their rights to do otherwise.
This organization exists to help working journalists in the MMA space. Fundamental to that is ensuring access to the subjects they have been assigned to cover.
We trust the UFC understands that facilitating the work of reporters is a much better option than restricting the work of reporters, and will take care to express its intentions to the MMA media with this in mind.
UFC president Dana White and some UFC fighters have also berated media members when asked questions they did not like. A not so subtle form of media intimidation.
Which brings us back to the UFC 246 pre-fight press conference and McGregor.
McGregor has not spoken about the two sexual assault investigations that are focused on him in Ireland. The UFC knows that question could be the first one to arise at Thursday’s event. But there’s an excellent chance the UFC will get in front of that issue. One way the UFC could do that is by giving ESPN access to McGregor before the event so he can answer the question. Seeing as that interview, if it does happen, would take place in a controlled environment with McGregor knowing the question is coming, any response there would have to be considered a calculated PR move involving McGrgeor, the UFC and ESPN—the UFC’s broadcast partner.
If McGregor answers the question in that environment, the UFC could shut down anyone asking that same question at the UFC 246 pre-fight press conference. The promotion and McGregor could claim he already gave an answer and that his response is not going to change.
And while that may be the case, if such a situation does arise, someone from the MMA media still needs to ask that question. A more or less scripted question asked in a safe and friendly environment might not get the same response in an arena full of media and fans, some of who might not be fans of McGregor.
I want to see McGregor answer the question in that environment because I believe we all, fans and media alike, deserve to hear his words and see his reaction in a high-pressure ‘real’ situation. It’s also important to see and hear how he handles any follow up questions.
The MMA access media needs to be more than transcriptionists for what the fighters and the UFC say. The media need to do the hard work and ask the hard questions, especially those who call themselves journalists. On Thursday, those hard questions need to focus on Conor McGregor.