Viewpoint: Loyal to a Fault

By Tristen Critchfield Oct 9, 2012
UFC President Dana White sticks by his fighters. | Photo:

“Every card has drama now. Every day when I get up it’s like a big soap opera -- every day. This is my life. It sucks, but it’s part of it. When you have 475 guys under contract, from all over the world, s--- happens. And I’m the guy who deals with it.” -- UFC President Dana White

There are two sides to every story. And then there is the truth.

If you are a professional mixed martial artist under UFC contract, White has your back -- at least until those two sides intersect at an unsavory location.

Just hours before he was scheduled to compete against Yves Edwards on Friday at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Jeremy Stephens was arrested at his hotel in relation to a felony assault charge that took place last year in his hometown of Des Moines, Iowa.

“One thing that people have to understand is that these guys are all human beings. They’re heroes to many people, [but] they’re real people with real problems,” White said at the UFC on FX 5 press conference. “Depending on how severe the problem is or what they do, this is a company that gets behind and supports their people.”

Right up until heavyweight headliners Antonio Silva and Travis Browne stepped into the Octagon, White remained defiant in insisting that Stephens-Edwards -- originally set for the preliminary card -- would take place before the evening expired. He scoffed at media who dared suggest that the bout might be in jeopardy, and he maintained his stance during an interview on Fuel TV at the end of the preliminary card. And up until 35 minutes before the main event began, Yves Edwards was, as White put it, “wrapped up, warmed up and ready to fight.”

However, as UFC on FX 5 came and went, Stephens remained at the Hennepin County Public Safety Facility in downtown Minneapolis. It was not for a lack of trying on White’s part. The promotion figurehead described a series of back-and-forth negotiations with Iowa authorities, who, according to White, continued to up the ante for Stephens’ release.

“Every time they would lay out a new deal, I would accept it and they would change it,” White said. “They kept trying to make it harder and harder and harder. They finally get to a deal with me for an astronomical amount of money to bail him out, and I agree to it. And then they [change] it again.

“They’re gonna stick it to this kid big time when he gets down to Iowa,” he continued. “They don’t like him and they’re gonna stick it to him, and they rode me out all day playing games with me. People have gone on three-state killing sprees and get friggin’ bailed out of jail.”

On many levels, White’s unwavering sense of loyalty is admirable. Because he so staunchly backs his guys, most are willing to return the favor by fighting on short notice when the promotion comes calling in need of an injury replacement. A prime example of White’s devotion to his employees came a day earlier, when he elected to give Dennis Hallman his show and win money after the fighter missed weight for the second straight time. In that instance, White was firm -- Hallman was released -- yet still showed compassion and understanding toward a man who was working through some difficult personal issues.

The Stephens episode is a whole different ballgame. For one, referring to a 26-year-old adult as a “kid” suggests that Stephens’ age somehow makes him less responsible for his actions. Even worse, White seemed to trivialize the nature of an assault charge, as if Stephens was unfairly targeted for driving around Des Moines with a busted taillight for a month.

“Jeremy’s in a whole world of trouble,” White said. “That guy might be in Des Moines for the next two years. I’ve never seen a situation where a guy couldn’t get out on bail for an assault charge. It’s an assault charge. He didn’t murder three people; he didn’t kill 20 people in three states. He’s not wanted for any horrible crimes.”

No, Stephens did not go on a murderous rampage, but he is not a victim, either. If you look hard enough, you can find rumors circulating through various forums and message boards regarding the nature of the crime Stephens allegedly committed. It would be irresponsible to speculate on those rumors here, and Stephens deserves a chance to tell his side of the story, as well. No matter how White might spin it, assault is a serious charge. It becomes that much direr when the focus of the allegation is a person who fights for a living. Stephens, who has 14 knockout victories to his credit, has been getting paid to hit people for more than seven years now.

Imagine for a moment, that White got his way on Friday and Stephens was escorted to the arena from jail to fight Edwards. The UFC would be perpetuating the stereotype that its fighters are nothing more than lawless thugs. As it was, the sideshow of Stephens’ arrest -- and White’s attempt to bail him out -- overshadowed much of the action that took place at the Target Center. The UFC was fortunate the story did not receive more mainstream attention than it did. A busy weekend calendar that included the Major League Baseball playoffs, as well as a full slate of college and professional football, allowed the debacle to largely fly under the radar. That might have changed had Stephens surfaced in the Octagon.

“I was willing to have two armed police officers bring him from jail, come fight tonight and bring him back to jail,” White said. “Let’s do that. Let the kid get paid, because he’s gonna have to spend money on this thing anyway.”

Again, how in the name of rational thinking is that a good idea? Though it was not White’s decision, Stephens’ absence from UFC on FX 5 was the best possible outcome for the promotion. The entire situation needs to be sorted out and resolved before Stephens is allowed to compete again, and if he wants to, White can show his support by helping his fighter get through the legal process.

There are always two sides to every story. White felt that Stephens’ word alone was good enough for him on Friday. As one of the many cogs that helped the UFC get where it is today, White believes Stephens deserves at least that much.


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