A Statement on Dana White’s Remarks

Apr 4, 2009
UFC President Dana White responded Wednesday to a Sherdog.com report about backstage access for fighter representatives by posting a video blog that attacked the article and Sherdog.com News Editor Loretta Hunt.

The article is accurate, and we stand by it.

White argued that the UFC’s policy on giving fighter representatives backstage access has not changed. However, he did not refute that select representatives have recently lost access the UFC used to grant them as representatives. These individuals can still get backstage through an athletic commission as cornermen, which is noted in the article, but not all managers believe this is a reasonable remedy when fighters typically only get three cornermen and the roles are best suited for actual cornermen.

Ken Pavia is one agent recently denied access by the UFC. He spoke on the record in the article about why managers should be allowed backstage and why they should not have to apply as cornermen to be there.

Sherdog.com sought comment from multiple UFC representatives and gave them more than three full days to respond. The company chose not to respond prior to the report’s publication and instead issued White’s video blog several hours afterward.

Despite the UFC’s refusal to respond before publication, Sherdog.com included comments from managers and athletic commissioners who supported the UFC, expressed understanding and explained possible reasons.

White also criticized the use of anonymous sources in the story. However, in the current mixed martial arts climate, fighters and their representatives fear severe repercussions for challenging the UFC.

A recent example is Jon Fitch, who was a 17-3 world-class welterweight when he told Hardcore Sports Radio’s “Sports Rage” that he was cut from the promotion after he’d refused to sign an agreement that would have relinquished his likeness rights for a UFC video game.

“They basically kicked the door open, guns blazing, pointed it in our face and said, ‘Sign this or you’re going to pay,’” Fitch said after his release.

White told Yahoo Sports that the UFC was not just done with Fitch but also with the entire American Kickboxing Academy, where Fitch trains.

“We’re looking for guys who want to work with us and not against us, and frankly I’m just so [expletive] sick of this [expletive] it’s not even funny,” White said.

After phone conversations with UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta, Fitch signed the agreement and returned to the UFC.

This is not an environment where fighters or reps can challenge the UFC without consequence. The choice facing journalists, then, is whether or not they cover important stories that demand anonymity for individuals who cannot openly criticize the UFC. Some journalists do, some don’t.

This is a critical period for MMA. As the sport continues to become big business, at least for the UFC, many of the most important battles are being fought outside of the cage over who will get a slice of the pie and just how big the slice will be. Are fighters getting a fair deal concerning likeness rights? Does the UFC wield disproportionate power at the bargaining table? Is the company maneuvering for more control? If it is, are the maneuvers reasonable?

Without occasionally protecting a source’s identity, there would be little if any valuable reporting on these issues and others.

The UFC is not perfect. The UFC is not evil. Dana White has built the promotion into something it never could have been without him. Yet even with all of the good that the UFC has done, it remains a powerful business that should be watched and reported on.

Of course, journalists also face consequences for discussing the UFC in a way it does not desire. It is not something worth whining about, but it is something that should be made public.

The UFC began denying media credentials to Sherdog.com, and other MMA media outlets like Full Contact Fighter and MMA Weekly, in October 2005. It is not true that Sherdog.com’s credentials were pulled for disclosing the finalists of “The Ultimate Fighter 4.” The site was ousted nearly a year before the finalists were revealed in August 2006, and the UFC never offered an official explanation. Despite providing MMA content for ESPN.com, Sherdog.com is still denied access.

With that said, it doesn’t take a media credential to cover the UFC. The promotion can credential whomever it wants, and Sherdog.com can and does cover the UFC regardless.

Still, there are other repercussions for saying something the UFC does not want to hear. Fighters have shared with us over the years countless stories about UFC personnel attempting to discourage them from doing interviews with certain media outlets, including Sherdog.com. Similar efforts on behalf of the UFC could intensify as retaliation for the story we published Wednesday.

Reporting on the UFC can also make you the subject of a personal tirade from White like the one he aimed at Loretta Hunt. As White’s rant gets negative national attention, though, he is being reminded that journalists will cover the UFC no matter what he calls them.

And more importantly, the coverage will not always be what he wants.

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