It is a Friday night and I am sitting on the balcony of my room at the Trade Winds Resort in St. Pete, Florida. We have driven down from Gainesville to take part in our annual family reunion and to enjoy a few days of rest, relaxation and guilt. The kids are finally asleep and, naturally, I’m enjoying a hot Arturo Fuente Gran Reserva and a tumbler of Knob Creek – no ice. I usually take ice but some jackanapes has put a flip flop in the receiving bin of the hotel’s icemaker. It does not take long for my thoughts to turn to Shakespeare (Othello, The Moor of Venice, in particular, this evening) and Mixed Martial Arts. I have an admittedly limited worldview.
Othello is one of my favorites for its brutality and poetry and lately I have been thinking about the great Moor of Venice and someone else – the Boor of Vegas – and wondering whether Dana White’s story will be written, in the end, as comedy or tragedy. I admire the work Mr. White and the Fertittas have done with Zuffa and the UFC. When I spoke with Jens Pulver last month for an interview we posted to this site, Jens made the point quite well – Dana and the Fertittas had the fortitude and vision to embrace MMA in its early days; they have weathered many storms; and, they deserve an incredible amount of respect from fans, fighters, and those who make a living on the periphery of the fight game.
You will recall that right before Othello stabs himself at the end of the play he says:
Soft you; a word or two before you go.
I have done the state some service, and they
No more of that. – I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
No set down aught in malice: then you must
Of one that loved not wisely, but too well; . . . . [He stabs himself.
I have underscored this line because, lately, it aptly describes Dana White’s love for mixed-martial arts, the UFC, and the fighters who have become a part of his family. Sometimes, a love like this becomes a smothering force. (Just moments before Othello stabs himself, of course, he killed his wife, Desdemona and Shakespeare’s stage direction simply provides the short but powerful parenthetical – [Smothers her)
UFC 97 was, in large part, an embarrassing outing for the world’s super MMA promotion. A packed Montreal house (and thousands more of us at home and at sports bars across the globe) booed the best pound for pound fighter on the planet. I even threw a half-eaten chicken wing at a television set. An HDTV that did not belong to me. A chicken wing not yet separated from the corpus of the chicken. I do not expect I will be invited to another neighborhood viewing party. But the fight was absurdly boring. I tried calling Zuffa between rounds to beg them to put Joe Silva in for Anderson. No luck.
In the weeks leading up to UFC 97, White made several significant errors in judgment as Zuffa’s President and spokesperson. The “Loretta Hunt” episode was telling both in White’s surprised reaction to the tempest his epithet triggered and in his defiant, defensive and ineffective posturing a few days later on Canadian television. The appearance did nothing to mute his critics in the gay community and he ostracized the entire new media world by demeaning legions of web-based sports writers.
And here’s the rub – White’s attack on less traditional sports media (the unwashed hordes of passionate bloggers and tweeters who chronicle every aspect of the sport’s breathtaking growth with near-religious fervor) is far more damaging to Zuffa and the UFC in the long run than the boorish term he used to characterize Ms. Hunt’s anonymous source. Can it be that Dana White, in some ways, is in dangerously over his head? Any other professional sports spokesperson’s post-controversy press appearance would have been a carefully scripted redemptive effort carefully drafted by the company’s lawyers.
So what, you say. What’s the big deal? Dana being Dana has worked pretty well so far. I concede the point. However, the media White disdains is in many ways the only media that really cares about things like whether Chuck will fight again, (I would like to see him fight either the person who put him in that Mandy Moore video or his barber) or who might be a worthy opponent for Silva, or any of the other million things we write about every day. ESPN? Sports Illustrated? NBC Sports? When the suits in these mahogany boardrooms hear the president of a major moneymaking enterprise like Zuffa call an anonymous source a “faggot”, they nervously smile, look around the room, and try to recall exactly how much ink they spilled on MMA in their latest publication. If they escape getting canned, they fire the guy who talked them into covering MMA in the first place. When I spoke with Jon Wertheim from Sports Illustrated a few months ago about his book, Blood in the Cage, Jon opined then that traditional sports news outlets like his were largely taking a wait-and-see approach. And that was then. This is now and Zuffa needs to conduct a very careful analysis of its next big move. It will not do for them to love MMA the same old way – unwisely and too well.