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The Boor of Vegas

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

Know’t;-

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

Speak

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.

7 COMMENTS
  • Austin says:

    Not enough “fuck”s for Othello to be similar to Dana White.

  • lalo_g80 says:

    true that

  • orlis says:

    Part of the problem is that Dana and the F-bro’s don’t seem to realize they’ve finally accomplished what they set out to do: bring MMA from a personal business all the way to big a time industry. It’s no longer boxing’s little brother.

    MMA is on the fence now, and what they do from this point on may very well determine the future success of this industry. It’s time to pull up the bootstraps, realize MMA is more than Dana White and the UFC, and be professional. Period.

  • kidneybeans says:

    Great read, though I hated Othello in school and I still do. The camparison, however, was not lost on me. My guess is you will probably not make too many fans with this piece given the legions of moronic aspiring Dana White clones that are generally the biggest audience for mma websites, but I liked it and couldn’t agree more. I would love to see mma covered by more traditional media outlets such as ESPN, network television, or Sports Illustrated but sadly it isn’t going to happen unless the tough-guy stigma associated with the sport gets taken down a couple of notches.

  • Angry Mike says:

    Othello, eh? Personally I thought he came off as a bit of a doofus. Iago played him like a violin. Now Richard III was a proper villian. Nasty and smart.

  • mu_shin says:

    Impressive piece once again Mr. Wimsett. And doubly impressive that 5 oz. readers not only know Shakespeare, but do not disparage a writer for using the Bard to illustrate his point.

    I think orlis may have seen to the heart of this matter. Dana and the Fertitas have taken the UFC from forty million in debt to hundreds of millions per annum. Their business model has been very successful, bringing to mind the folk aphorism “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Thing is, if the business and the sport it promotes are to grow and expand from here, it may take strategies that go beyond those that brought the UFC to this juncture.

    Dana White is without a doubt the face and the voice of the UFC. What he and his partners may need to realize is that to make the next step, to go beyond the niche MMA and the UFC currently occupy, it may require a different voice, one that
    might have more in common with the tone of this article, and less association with rage and profanity. I’m a fan of Dana, I think he is a big part of the reason MMA has become so popular and the UFC has become a viable concern, but it may be time for the UFC to grow beyond him.

  • naturalist says:

    One of many unintended consequences.
    You’re right, his atttack of bloggers he definetly alienated the “legitimate” media that he is trying to court. If there is anything good to come of it . it may be the continued growth of the bloggers that White seems to disdain. You can only get your news form so many places so if it’s not at ESPN or CBS then the market for MMA information will be filled by other outlets. I’m fine with that. Even if major outlets covered them I think the UFC will still always be primarily a PPV business for theie revenue. If they keep getting awesome ratings on Spike then eventually they should start holding more free events to sort out contenders. MMA is still aslightly taboo world for ESPN. I hope they toughen their skin since in Dana’s world it’s perfectly accceptable to refer to reporters as F’n B’s.

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