You’re probably sick of us — Bloody Elbow or “MMA media” as a whole — taking aim at UFC president Dana White for the way he’s responded to the coronavirus pandemic as if this was an annoying inconvenience.
Well to quote White himself, “I don’t give a shit.” If you’re already annoyed that we’re doing another one of these pieces, there are tons of other articles and videos and podcasts for you to listen to as an alternative. Without even looking, I bet you there are several replies on the Bloody Elbow Twitter account from people who will lash out at us being Dana obsessives or SJWs or how we’re ungrateful because our livelihoods are dependent on UFC shows.
Once again, “I don’t give a shit.” Two can play at that game!
White is literally the only major sports figure at present who is trying to operate as closely to normal as possible at a time when life has been forcibly de-normalized. Even as global cases soar at remarkable rates, he’s as defiant (and ignorant) as ever in his most bizarre and stupid pissing match to date. He has gone from merely “obnoxious rich person who’s out of touch with reality” to actively harmful.
“I don’t give a shit about the Coronavirus. As far as I’m concerned we are gonna continue to run our business.” - UFC president Dana White to TSN’s Aaron Broensteter, March 7th
How quickly things can change.
At the time, the coronavirus hadn’t yet been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), major sports leagues were still operating as normal (but at least discussing contingency plans), and there were roughly 350 COVID-19 cases in the United States.
A mere three weeks later, virtually all sports organizations have ceased operations, increased testing has driven US cases north of 150,000 — it’s surely way more than that, but the lack of testing has been one of the defining issues of the Trump Administration’s handling of the crisis — global cases are beyond 720,000 (again, likely nowhere near the actual figure), and the death toll is at approximately 34,000 (exceeding the official death toll from the 2009-10 H1N1 pandemic) and rapidly rising.
“I think that the media has made this thing scary,” White said to Mike Tyson. “People are buying all of the toilet paper there is. If you just look at a lot of things that are going on, it’s wacky and totally driven by fear. It’s very weird.”
This is profoundly stupid and dangerous, much like his head-scratching declaration that you can’t hide from coronavirus or cancer. About half of the United States population has been ordered to stay at home and more will soon follow. Do you think state governments are making these decisions based on science and expert advice from qualified officials... or the FEAR-MONGERING of those pesky news networks? I thought so. Same applies to national governments around the world placing their entire countries on lockdown, such as Italy and Spain.
The notion that only high-risk people — older segments of the populace and those with compromised immune systems — should stay home is incredibly misguided. New evidence has shown that all age groups are vulnerable to not only getting the virus, but succumbing to it. Varying degrees of hospitalization and mortality rates that involve percentages higher than 0% mean this needs to be taken seriously. Having fewer people in public statistically reduces the risk of infection and “curbs the spread,” which is just basic math.
“Low-risk” is not no-risk and just because you have no symptoms doesn’t mean you aren’t both COVID-19 positive and thus capable of spreading it to others. This is not overblown media hype, this is tangible, scientific fact that you can either acknowledge or just ignore and instead subscribe to the idea that this is some vast government conspiracy theory.
There are major concerns about lives lost, jobs lost, collapsed economies, health care systems stretched to and beyond capacity, and how this could all impact societies moving forward when this pandemic subsides.
Meanwhile, White is straight-up telling media to promote UFC 249, which he wants to be the “baddest card” in MMA history. World f—king domination and all that jazz. Imagine Adam Silver telling NBA media to promote the potential restart of the regular season, which he’ll promise to be the most exciting playoff race in basketball history. Then again, I suppose much of White’s charm is that he isn’t like other sports league figures.
Throughout this ordeal, White has acted like someone who is only concerned about his bottom line and the overall well-being of the UFC, and the mere thought that his operations can be disrupted in this manner is simply unfathomable. Knowing the way White views the world, he genuinely might consider the UFC as bigger than the coronavirus itself. White wants to show everyone that his organization — the organization that has promoted a culture of having the toughest athletes in the world who are ready to fight anywhere, anytime — is the only one that can successfully run a makeshift event in the middle of the worst pandemic we have experienced in a century. Just think of the press and attention and new eyeballs we could have on the UFC!
Fortunately for Dana, he’s dealing mostly with the MMA media that he knows and loathes. The closest he’s come to mainstream contact are some short interviews on ESPN’s SportsCenter, which has seen him field zero questions about whether the athletes from those postponed shows would be paid, and whether he could promise everyone involved at UFC shows would be tested for COVID-19 (even that, evidently, doesn’t go far enough). The ghost of Walter Cronkite isn’t there to grill him on the CBS Evening News; he’s been remarkably sheltered (no pun intended) from those who could effectively challenge his assertions.
White’s persistence with keeping UFC 249 intact on the scheduled April 18th date is bordering on comical; he’s found venues but won’t reveal where, and if the athletes are being tested then he ain’t telling you. If this is held outside of the United States, how are the athletes going to travel when the US has issued a Level 4 travel advisory? What about foreign fighters who likely can’t leave their respective countries due to travel restrictions? How about flights back for fighters like John Makdessi and Randa Markos? How do they intend to arrange hotel accommodations? If the undercard gets a remodeling as he suggested, you’re looking at potentially several fighters accepting bouts with virtually no meaningful prep time and a lack of access to their own gyms. Oh, and they have to cut weight, which can definitely compromise your immune system.
Outside of the paycheck, on what planet is that fair to the fighters? Of course, fairness and understanding does not appear to be high priority when the expectation is that you will do whatever the company orders you to do. They’ve long conditioned a good portion of the fanbase that fighters should go above and beyond to save cards on a moment’s notice, and those who don’t are usually vilified on social media or called out by Dana himself.
I’ve seen support from some fans and fighters for White’s behavior as admirable and justifiable. This can easily be spun into White proving that he’s doing what he can to satisfy his
shareholders fans and make sure that his fighters are able to live their lives and do their jobs even during a worsening crisis. Frankly, fans even wanting these fights to happen seems less about supporting the fighters’ careers and more about the personal need to watch some UFC regardless of the circumstances. When a manager pushes for it... well there’s financial self-interest, he just won’t admit it. I have seldom seen the same vocal demand for boxing and other combat sports to resume under these same conditions.
I ask everyone, what logical argument can you make that MMA is somehow necessary to continue while other sports are halted? If you really think about it, singles tennis is a non-contact sport that requires only two players (who are physically distanced by more than two meters), ballboys/ballgirls, and an umpire who sits atop a really tall chair. I’m not really tuned into the tennis community but I assume they’re not loudly complaining that the French Open won’t happen at its usual date. What about opening up the bowling alleys? Have the bowlers practice physical distancing by competing several lanes apart. After all, competitive bowlers surely want to bowl right now.
Do I want to see live fights again? Absolutely! We’ve all been waiting for Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson for literally years. Do I need to see it happen on April 18th? Absolutely not. It isn’t practical and the risk is not worth the reward, especially not for fighters who will undergo anything but a normal fight week should this event proceed.
If a more level-headed person was in charge, UFC events would have already been shelved through at least the end of April or May, as we’ve seen with virtually every other notable MMA and boxing promotion. Instead, White has treated a global pandemic as his latest “UFC against the world” battle, a challenge that he needs to meet head-on and win at all costs.
Maybe there’s pressure from Endeavor as their finances are in a worrisome state, but I don’t want to speculate too much on that front. What is increasingly clear to me is that with each passing interview he conducts, he’s someone who doesn’t seem to understand what he’s up against.
Or maybe, just maybe, he truly doesn’t give a shit about the coronavirus. One can only hope that doesn’t prove catastrophic for the athletes.