Opinion: Part 2 – Crime, But No Punishment In MMA
By Jesse Heitz
In the previous installment of “Crime, But No Punishment for MMA Fighters”, the focus laid on the MMA flagship promotion, the UFC, and its refusal to punish its fighters for criminal transgressions in contrast to other sports organizations, namely the NFL. Our follow-up will shift its focus to the UFC’s response to actions committed by its fighters that are legal, but nonetheless detrimental to the reputation of the UFC and the sport in general.
While the unlawful behavior of fighters like Chael Sonnen, “Rampage” Jackson, and Jon Jones, doesn’t garner any promotion based punishment, the UFC has on several occasions punished its fighters for infractions that have been hazardous to MMA and the UFC’s continually progressing march toward the mainstream.
On June 26, 2011, Nate Marquardt was supposed to headline UFC on Versus 4 with a much anticipated welterweight bout against Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. Shortly before the fight Marquardt was forced from the card after failing his pre-fight physical, due to abnormally high testosterone levels. While Rick Story filled in, Dana White was irate and Marquardt was released.
Anthony “Rumble” Johnson himself was cut loose by the UFC following UFC 142 when he came in 11 pounds overweight for his bout with Vitor Belfort. To compound his troubles, he took to the always dangerous social media outlets to vent his frustration. This came after missed weight occurrences at UFC 76 and UFC 104. His conduct following UFC 142 sealed his fate, securing his release by the UFC.
More infamously we have the post-fight sucker punch of Josh Koscheck by Paul Daley at UFC 113 in May of 2010. Commenting on the situation Dana White said “He’ll never come back, I don’t care if he’s the best 170-pounder in the world. He’s never coming back here. There’s no excuse for that. You never hit a guy like that after the bell.” Daley was duly fired.
In December of 2011, Miguel Torres made his ill-advised and highly controversial “rape van” joke on Twitter, which led to his dismissal on the 8th of that month when fallout from the tweet reached the Zuffa brass.
Perhaps most famously, and the incident that might very well have drew the most ire from fight fans, the Kalib Starnes “running man” act from his UFC 83 bout against Nate Quarry in April of 2008. Needless to say, Starnes was dismissed.
On its face, these examples seem to prove that the UFC is indeed taking a hard-line when it comes to punishing fighters who conduct themselves in a fashion detrimental to the UFC’s reputation. However, looks can be deceiving.
Certainly, the Starnes and Johnson firings were deserved and consistent, yet the same cannot be said of its other firings which focused on bigger draw fighters, which saw exceptionally poor follow through by the UFC.
While dismissed for embarrassing the company in June of 2011, Marquardt found a home in Strikeforce in July of 2012, which had been purchased in March of 2011 by the UFC’s parent company Zuffa—a company in which Dana White serves as president, fighting for the vacant welterweight title against Tyron Woodley.
Daley likewise found a home in the Zuffa-owned Strikeforce, having fought for the welterweight title in April of 2011 against Nick Diaz. Following his loss to Diaz he has had two more bouts in Strikeforce.
Torres is perhaps a more unusual case. Having fought as recently as UFC 139 on November 19, 2011, he was released a few weeks later on the 8th of December. Yet, he was brought back to the UFC only 20 days later with White commenting that “Torres handled his business like a man and nobody told him to do it.”
Torres’ next fight came in April of 2012; his brief stretch of unemployment didn’t cost him a single fight.
In all of these cases, the UFC made the right call in punishing its troublesome fighters, but for its most high-profile cases, the punishment had virtually no real effect. Its prominent fighters that were still big draws or could serve as contenders, were either rehired by the UFC itself, or found opportunities in the Zuffa subsidiary of Strikeforce.
The UFC’s policy is beyond inconsistent. It levied no punishment against Brock Lesnar after his atrocious behavior following his victory over Frank Mir at UFC 100 in which his post-fight shenanigans bordered on over-the-top even for professional wrestling, going so far as to insult the fans by giving them the finger, insulting the Pay-Per-View’s top sponsor, laughing in the face of his defeated opponent, and making a lewd comment about his wife.
Yet, Lesnar saw no punishment, other than pressure to apologize during the post-fight press conference. Conversely, Matt Lindland was fired after UFC 54 for wearing apparel bearing the web address of SportsBook.com, which was not on the approved sponsor list. A questionable reaction to be sure.
It is here that it could be argued that the UFC demonstrates its glaring inconsistency with regards to how it reprimands its fighters. It routinely fires, or for the more sports oriented and pleasant term, “cuts” fighters for poor performance, which is simply part of the MMA business model. Yet the fighters that, particularly those that can fill the coffers, degrade the reputation and mainstream acceptance of the sport and its most recognizable organization, in practice go unpunished.
While this sport makes great strides toward mainstream acceptance, flagrant attacks on the sport’s reputation must be consistently rebuked. When the sport’s most prominent promotion takes an erratic, inconsistent, and wholly feeble approach to punishing its fighters for albeit legal misconduct, the whole sport suffers.
In the end, it is good for the sport and each and every promotion therein to punish the fighters whose actions undermine the conduct of their predecessors which have dutifully paved the way for the sport’s progress. The four mainstream sports and their constituent teams have no problems suspending, releasing, or altogether banning players who break the rules, or who showcase an attitude detrimental to the reputation of the team or game. It’s time for the highly visible UFC to lead the way for MMA.