Ultimate Fighting Championship, meet the real world.
The leading organization of combat sports has taken a couple of cold slaps to the face this week in response to its verbal forays into politics, sexuality and other arenas that can make what takes place inside the octagon seem genteel by comparison.
The first shot was dealt to the UFC by the National Center for Domestic and Sexual Violence, which on Monday
"We believe that the UFC contributes to a culture of violence against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people," executive director Deborah B. Tucker wrote. "Children, in particular, should not be exposed to the homophobic, misogynistic and violent language that has been permitted by the UFC."
This letter came just two days after UFC president Dana White had guaranteed that his company's tireless lobbying effort in the Empire State finally would pay off in 2012. Yes, guaranteed. "It's going to happen," he said in an interview Saturday with Fox Sports Radio, "and I guarantee you it's going to happen this year." White had a reason for his optimism that the tide was turning in New York, one of only three states with athletic commissions that do not regulate MMA. Last spring the State Senate passed a sanctioning bill, and while the proposed legislation never came up for a vote in the Assembly, the battleground seemed to be tilting in favor of the fight game like never before.
How much the anti-violence organization's dissenting voice will change the conversation is difficult to know. Politics is a fickle game, and those elected to play it tend to be wary around issues of discrimination and violence. A flurry of ardent constituent calls to the right legislators could scuttle or at least delay MMA legislation. That would be a shame.
Nothing against the National Center for Domestic and Sexual Violence, which is working to stamp out one of our culture's most vile epidemics, but I take issue with the organization's argument against MMA sanctioning. Tucker's letter charges that the UFC "has failed to demonstrate that it is willing to ensure its fighters behave in a socially responsible way, even as the company expressly markets its fights and fighters to children." The first part of that is sadly true, the second part not so much. (You don't see many kids at UFC events, and pay-per-views that start at 9 p.m. ET aren't exactly stealing adolescent viewers from Saturday morning cartoons.) But that's beside the point, or should be. It seems to me that the sanctioning decision should be based on safety -- not on the bad behavior of individual athletes or, as the sport's advocates counter, on the boon to the local economy that big-time MMA events could trigger.
I do think the National Center for Domestic and Sexual Violence will be fighting the good fight, though, if it takes its case to the UFC's sponsors, television outlets and other business partners. More light needs to be shed on the deplorable rape jokes of Forrest Griffin and Miguel Torres, on the shameful Rashad Evans trash talk that made light of the ongoing child molestation case at Penn State, and on the rampant use of anti-gay slurs by UFC fighters -- not all of the fighters, not even a majority, but enough to illustrate that this is an institutional problem. It's a problem that extends to off-color TV color man Joe Rogan, the guy in post-fight cage interviews who can't claim the excuse of having spoken while under the judiciousness-numbing influence of adrenaline. And, of course, the problem extends to the company president.
Dana White and his foul mouth are as lamentable as anyone in the UFC, even more so because he could lead by example and has the clout to enact a clear code of conduct that could rein in the offensive behavior. He refuses to do the latter, choosing to deal with transgressions on a case-by-case basis. To his credit, he's come down hard at times. But when he fires Torres for Twitter offensiveness (he's since been brought back) while letting Griffin off without even a slap on the wrist, fighters are left without consistent guidelines or specific consequences spelled out. "Use your common sense," White told MMAFighting.com, recounting his message to fighters while the Torres situation was unfolding. "You know what to say and what not to say." That's not good enough.
Now, some in the core MMA audience probably aren't bothered a bit by, say, "Rampage" Jackson's misogynistic antics and homophobic rants. Some rather enjoy them, if the odious rhetoric found on Internet message boards is to be believed. But I'd like to think it's just a vocal minority. And even if that's not the case, the UFC is a growing enterprise casting an ever-widening net in hopes of expanding its audience. Many in that broad target audience of sports fans
Of course, some bask in the limelight that's the byproduct of their insolence. Such seems to be the case with the week's other recipient of a cold slap from the real world: a UFC prelim fighter who's becoming higher-profile every time he fights ... and every time he opens his mouth afterward. Twice the guy has made trouble for himself with disparaging comments about Barack Obama. Most recently, at UFC 141 last month, he urged the President to schedule a "glassectomy," a procedure that theoretically would allow one to see where one is going while one's head is stuck where the sun don't shine. Funny, eh? Not to the Minnesota school district where this fighter is an assistant wrestling coach, as he was placed on administrative leave. Whereupon he cried misquote, telling MMAWeekly.com, "I never said that Obama needed a glassectomy. I said call me so he could schedule a glassectomy. I never said it was for him."
Um, right. That explanation clears everything up. Well, I just couldn't resist going on Twitter and opining that this fighter isn't the brightest bulb in the chandelier -- and tweaking his anti-Obama politics a little by adding, "Not Rick Perry dim, though." Within minutes a tweet came shooting back from the fighter. It started with his name, with "Dr." in front of it -- he's a chiropractor -- and a mention of all the press he's getting for his jabs at the President. "Not bad for a prelim," he went on. "Who's not too bright now?" Still you, Doc, still you.
Now, you'll notice I haven't mentioned the fighter's name. That's because either (a) I'm not bright enough to remember it or (b) while the man craves publicity, he doesn't deserve it. If you absolutely have to know, just Google "glassectomy." And "not too bright."
Other recent correspondence coming my way has been all Brock, all the time:
Strung together, these letters create a point-counterpoint of sorts, with little need for added commentary from me. But I'll toss in a little anyway.
Rico: The "Lesnar lookalike" characterization was meant not to bash Brock but rather to contrast the slower, weaker fighter we saw at UFC 141 to the raging bull he used to be.
Geoff: Maybe Lesnar was employing a "moderate and focused strategy," as you say, but a wrestler trying to kickbox against a world-class kickboxer is stirring up a recipe for disaster.
Ray: Lesnar's record in the octagon is only a minor factor in what made him a star attraction. Pay-per-view numbers don't lie.
Patrick: What will be, will be.
Jared: If size were all that mattered, Akebono would be UFC champ. And, by the way, it's unfair of you to throw out steroid charges against a guy who never once failed a drug test.
Lukas: Lesnar didn't have the Hall of Fame career that Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell did, but in the big picture of the sports world, he's a bigger name than either of them.
And lastly, there also was the flood of e-mails protesting one word I used in my account of Lesnar's final fight:
OK, I made up that last letter -- but only the last one, believe it or not. Rather than respond to the rest, allow me to instead out myself as a onetime True Believer. There was a time when my three favorite athletes were Bart Starr, Dave DeBusschere and Bruno, not in that order. Ah, childhood.