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Editorial: Gaslighting fans and fighters key part of UFC negotiation strategy

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The UFC President tries to create false narratives around Nate Diaz, Kayla Harrison, and other people they want to negotiate with.

Dana White is using old UFC negotiation tactics against Nate Diaz.
Dana White is trying to gaslight Nate Diaz, Kayla Harrison and UFC fans
Photo by Michael Owens/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC

UFC president Dana White worked in two of the UFC’s favorite negotiating tactics into a single interview. Neither strategy was new, but to hear and see White use them back-to-back in discussing Nate Diaz and Kayla Harrison was a little jarring in its brazenness.

Nate Diaz, who White once referred to as “not a needle mover” to downplay Diaz’s popularity and degrade the fighter’s negotiating power, has one fight left on his UFC contract. It appears Diaz, who is one of the company’s biggest draws, plans to fight out his deal and see what the free market brings to the table.

The UFC usually tries to dissuade fighters from taking that route. The promotion likes to re-sign fighters when they have one or more fights on their deals. When the fighters complete their contracts, the UFC often tries to control the narrative and cheapen the fighters’ accomplishments and standing with the UFC fans.

White attempted just that with Diaz. When Aaron Bronsteter of TSN asked the UFC boss what he saw for his future, White lit the gas lamp.

“That’s up to him. That’s a decision he needs to make,” White said. “Listen, for a lot of these guys… there’s no secret about it. If you believe that you are one of the best in the world, and if you believe that you can win a world title here, or hang with the top five, then this is where you should be. The minute you start doubting that that’s the case, you gotta start looking at other options.”

The thing about the 36-year-old Diaz, who is not in the UFC rankings at lightweight or welterweight, is that he seems more interested in getting paid what he’s worth than fighting his way up the rankings and earning a title shot. That’s not to say Diaz doesn’t want a shot at UFC gold. I’m sure he would be happy to get another title fight under the UFC banner, but that’s not his primary goal at this point in his career, getting paid is.

This is prizefighting after all.

White trying to move the conversation from Diaz getting paid what he’s worth toward one of competition is trying to change the narrative. It’s a tactic the UFC uses often. In fact, White tried to do the same thing when Bronsteter brought up Harrison, but White approached that discussion from a different angle.

“They pay her an obscene amount of money to fight over there,” White said of the PFL and Harrison, “If I was her, I’d stay right where she is and keep picking off the people over (there). When you come here… Amanda Nunes is no joke. Shevchenko is no joke. Rose Namajunas is no… these are all the best women in the world. These are the best female fighters in the world.

“I don’t blame her, I would stay there and keep fighting the type of women she’s fighting there before I would come here and fight Amanda Nunes.”

Harrison collected her second million-dollar check for winning the PFL lightweight championship tournament on Wednesday night

What White is doing with Harrison is trying to appeal to her competitive nature and get her to sign a deal with the UFC that does not pay her as much as what she’s worth and can command.

The UFC boss, who has never been known for being subtle, is implying that a two-time Olympic gold medalist in Harrison, can’t hang with the women at the top of the UFC. When talking about sub par opponents, it’s also worth pointing out that the UFC featherweight rankings are literally empty and they similarly struggle to find contenders for Nunes.

This is all a cheap and transparent ploy, but it’s one that can work on the type of person who has a chip on their shoulder and an obsession with proving doubters wrong. As evidenced with the many other times this strategy was used on other former UFC stars, it can also work on turning some fans against those that “don’t want to fight.”

The UFC is great at gaslighting fighters and fans, but with the number of options for combat athletes today, the promotion’s influence seems to be waning. That’s a positive. After all, the name of the game is prize fighting. The prize is the biggest paycheck out there, not a trinket anyone can purchase online at the UFC Store.