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For someone who fervently repeated that he had “no hate in his heart” towards Dana White, he sure did spend a lot of time calling the Ultimate Fighting Championship president names on his “Below the Belt” podcast this week. Amongst the terms used to describe White were “fat f***ing lobster,” “a d**k” and “a bully,” in between otherwise fair criticisms of White’s unnecessarily petty and vindictive attitude towards many fighters on his roster.
I am of course talking about former UFC heavyweight and budding comedian Brendan Schaub, whose recent war of words with his former boss caused quite the stir in the MMA community last week.
It started with an apparent misinterpretation on the part of streaking middleweight contender Israel Adesanya, who recently retired from a decorated career as a kickboxer to make MMA his full-time vocation. “The Last Stylebender” took exception to comments Schaub made about elite strikers failing to make a successful transition to the cage, and posted a video on his Instagram inviting Schaub, to use his exact words, to “Ssshhhh...”.
Before Schaub could correct the record -- he later clarified he was talking about fellow kickboxer-turned-UFC-fighter Gokhan Saki, as most people assumed -- the most powerful man in MMA chimed in to offer his thoughts. Never one to let his wealth -- let alone his age -- get in the way of a good ol’ fashioned social media trolling, White called Schaub a “f***ing tool,” an all-caps “MORON” and mocked his otherwise respectable 6-5 record in the promotion, which ended some three and a half years ago with a loss to Travis Browne at UFC 181.
Schaub responded by joking White had taken “a break from folding Ronda [Rousey’s] laundry”; White came back by suggesting Schaub’s success as a podcaster/entertainer was predicated on his relationship with UFC commentator Joe Rogan. Then the term “Eskimo brother” entered the MMA lexicon, and what would have been just another Twitter spat turned into something else entirely.
In the lengthy and venomous post that appears at the top of this column, Schaub then came at White with everything he had, claiming White “wouldn’t be s**t” if it weren’t for the Fertitta family’s bankroll and suggesting the UFC has become a “shell of itself” since Lorenzo Fertitta sold his shares in the company two years ago. More controversially, he heavily implied White had had a sexual relationship with former UFC bantamweight champion and current WWE performer Rousey -- whom Schaub formerly dated -- ending his post with by saying: “this is NO way Eskimo brothers should talk about one another.” For those who are unfamiliar with that frankly offensive term, UrbanDictonary.com is your friend.
For a sport that is proudly politically incorrect, the quarrel between White and Schaub represents a new low in the MMA discourse. While White’s combative persona may have been an asset to the UFC when MMA was still fighting for legitimacy and an “us versus them” mentality characterized how fighters and fans felt about the mainstream sports media, that time has long passed. The UFC made over $700M in revenues last year, is soon to be a staple of ESPN programming and is operated by one of the most powerful entertainment companies in the world. It also requires it athletes to abide by an 18-page promotional guidelines policy that includes the following stipulation:
[C]ontracted athletes shall conduct themselves in accordance with commonly accepted standards of decency, social conventions and morals, and will not commit any act or become involved in any situation or occurrence or make any statement which will reflect negatively upon or bring disrepute, contempt, scandal, ridicule, or disdain to the athlete or UFC.
This kind of hypocrisy -- not to mention immaturity -- from a senior executive wouldn’t be tolerated in any other sphere of entertainment, and frankly it’s getting a bit exhausting having to deal with a malevolent toddler as the UFC’s front man.
More problematic however was Schaub’s need to drag Rousey into the argument in one of the most misogynistic and cruel ways one could imagine for no other reason than to score points against a long-time critic.
Everything in Schaub’s “last warning” post before the final two sentences was fair game. White had been the one who started questioning Schaub’s credentials, and it was frankly refreshing to see the subject of one of White’s rants hit back for a change, something that isn’t possible for the many fighters on his payroll who have been in Schaub’s position. But bringing up the sexual history of White -- who, mind you, is married with children -- in a way he knew many in the MMA community would interpret to involve Rousey, was revolting.
Now before I go any further, I fully recognize that if White and Rousey were involved at one point, that’s a topic that is worthy of public scrutiny and debate. Especially in light of the #metoo movement, we should be alert to the possibility -- and inevitability -- of powerful men within the MMA industry using their status to coerce and manipulate women for sexual purposes. If a chapter in WMMA’s success is White sleeping with Rousey and then giving her preferable treatment over her peers then fans, the UFC’s parent company -- and most importantly fellow fighters -- have a right to that information.
The issue is that Schaub wasn’t intending to stimulate a debate on gendered power structures in combat sports. He was trying to impugn White’s reputation and didn’t mind dragging Rousey’s name through the mud if it helped his cause. The fact he then spent ten minutes applauding himself on his podcast for standing up to White’s bullying demonstrated the depth of his narcissism and obliviousness.
Schaub has always been a guy I’ve wanted to root for. In spite of his general meathead demeanour, he offers a rare example of a fighter who transitioned out of the face-punching industry to a wildly successful career in entertainment. But a pattern is emerging with these kind of inflammatory comments, and it does little to elevate MMA or the fighters Schaub swears he’s defending.
I wish I could finish this article a more insightful muse than “Dana White is not a good person and MMA is still unapologetically misogynistic,” but my deadline’s looming and I can’t think of a more epigrammatic way of signing off. I just wish guys like White and Schaub would stop giving people reasons to think that cage fighting is still the exclusive domain of insecure, over-testosteroned douche-bags, and we would all stop giving them a pass.