The way I see it, the problem with MMA’s popularity (or “lack of” popularity from a mainstream sporting perspective) has absolutely nothing to do with accessibility. In other words, between Spike TV, Sportsnet, Facebook, and of course, UFC Pay-per-views (or illegal Internet streams of PPV’s—whichever suits your financial needs), I haven’t had to miss a single UFC event since long before I can even remember—minus the ones of course that I consciously chose to miss due to the occasional family or friend obligation. In fact, I have been a loyal fan of the UFC since the very beginning, which later prompted me to become a now somewhat infamous MMA sportswriter over the past two years for dozens of different websites.
Does this mean that I blindly love and respect all things related to the UFC? Of course not. I’m 38-years old with two teenage kids (athletes), and I have spent the better part of the past 28 years training in various forms of martial arts, but predominantly in Wado Kai karate. I love the values, the physical exercise, and the sense of family that I get from being a part of such a great organization. To me, martial arts has never been about fighting to see who is the toughest or what my belt rank is. It’s about being the best possible human that you can be in all aspects of your life. I sincerely thrive on helping others, and I never expect anything in return. I’m not saying this to sound perfect—I have flaws just like anyone else, but I accept my weaknesses as part of who I am, and I constantly work at improving them. I am proud to say that I have the discipline and the self-awareness to not only try and improve myself, but with the outward effect that I have on others as well.
What first attracted me to the UFC wasn’t its violence, but rather, it attempted to answer the old-age debate of which style could defeat which. Could a boxer defeat a Taekwondo guy? Could a karate guy beat a kung-fu guy? And in the end—could a small, unknown man from Brazil, who in my mind is the only true original (and last) pound-for-pound fighting champion on the planet, use his unique Jiu-Jitsu skills to defeat anyone and everyone, regardless of their fighting style or size?
And now we have what we have today, which isn’t even close to the same product in my opinion. We have seen this sport evolve—for good and for bad. Fans have craved and begged for mainstream acceptance (perhaps to remove the stigma that they carry around with them in society?), but in doing so, they forced the sport of MMA (the UFC) to compromise its original integrity (concept) in order to suit the needs and expectations of various athletic commissions and politicians. As a result, what he now have today is not what it was when it started out. The violence still exists, but the curiosity—the novelty—has slowly worn away. As a result, the UFC had to make additional changes to the ways in which the athletes promoted the fights in order to attract a new fanbase of curious onlookers. Enter Brock Lesnar and a younger generation of wrestling fans.
A good friend of mine, Scott Block (who I met purely by way of my writing) put it best I think, when he said:
“The problem with MMA is that the business model that’s used encourages a lack of respect from the fans. The UFC specifically creates an environment of violence without honour. The Twitter bonuses that each fighter is given is a perfect example of this type of behaviour. Encouraging fighters to be disrespectful just to hype a fight, and then rewarding them for that same behaviour. It sends a clear message to young fans that it is perfectly okay to act like an ass and then follow it up with violence. Don't get me wrong, I love violence myself, but it has to be presented in such a way that you maintain high levels of respect, discipline and honour. MMA is the opposite of what martial arts have been about for centuries. It actually puts a bad taste in my mouth to use the phrase “Mixed Martial Arts” because of what it has become over the course of time. MMA has become its own generic style of entertainment. It truly is the furthest thing from the root of martial arts.”
And I also think that my new, good friend—71-year old martial artist and MMA fighter, Dr. John Williams, put it best when he said:
“Mixed Martial Arts is all about feeding inflated egos, making exorbitant amounts of money, and getting as much media and fan attention as possible.”
So now from a “fan” perspective, I have to wonder what real difference or benefit it will make, now that the UFC has officially signed a multi-million dollar deal with Fox television, especially considering that here in Canada (Ontario), we don’t even get the FX channel (among others), and when we do finally do get it (projected to arrive in November of this year), I can almost guarantee that we will have to pay more money for it.
So much for accessibility I guess.
The new deal on Fox will certainly bring in more “guaranteed” money for the UFC—this is true, but what I still fail to recognize is how this is a direct benefit to the fans.
And what about the fighters? People have been going on and on all week about how great it’s going to be for the fighters, as the expectation is that they will now be able to start earning a lot more money, which I agree would be a very good thing. After all, they are the professional entertainers who are the ones who continuously put their health (and ability to support their families) on the line—not Dana White, and not the rest of the Zuffa Klan.
But here’s the question that had I asked to Dana White yesterday on Twitter (after he called me “the only dickhead in Canada”: Lots of people seem to think that now you [Dana] will pay your fighters more, but I can't help but to wonder, what has stopped you up until now?
His answer? Silence
It’s not really all that surprising actually that my question went unanswered, which sadly, in my experience with Dana has become quite typical, which is exactly why I was forced to act out a bit more than usual during these past few weeks in the hopes of garnering his attention. I guess when he’s not name-calling someone (that someone being ME—a loyal lifetime fan and ambassador of the UFC) and acting like a fifth grader, he’s a man of very few words (and expletives).
Honestly, I feel that this is a very legitimate question and one that I have been asking ever since I began writing over two years ago. But since Dana White is always too scared to answer any of my “tougher” questions, which would require legitimate and honest answers, I think the best guess is that it all comes down to “ratio.” The UFC has no problem paying their fighters thousands of dollars, so long as they are making millions in return. And now, with the new Fox deal, they will likely not have any issues paying their fighters millions of dollars, so long as they are raking in billions. And just to be clear, I do not believe that the UFC will change their business practices towards the treatment of their fighters just because they are now mainstream hotshots. Minus the very small percentage of “entertaining personas” that help to pull in additional attention and revenues, the majority of UFC fighters will still be fighting for their lives at a minimum salary. It’s not like they can’t just replace most of the fighters. That’s the benefit of a monopo....ahhh...nevermind. Old news.
Dana White thinks that I’m a “dickhead” because I dared to challenge his business ethics and motivation behind what I feel is a blatant exploitation of the martial arts (including the legend of Bruce Lee), and the fighters that he employs. But whatever Dana’s opinion of me is (or his many, many supporters), the way I see it, I’d have to be one hell of a scumbag to be admired by a person like Dana White (and the people that constantly worship and kiss up to him). So in that sense, I’m not at all bothered by his opinions of me, because frankly, not only don’t I respect Dana, thus making his opinions worthless, but he and I couldn’t be farther apart in our characters. In fact, one of the biggest differences between Dana White and I (although, there are many) is that he is only motivated by money and his own self-serving ambitions (seriously Dana...you called Bob Arum a greedy pig this week? Don’t you find that just a bit ironic?), why as personally, I gladly put myself out there for free for the betterment and preservation of sports, sportsmanship and the respectful treatment of all human beings—again, for FREE.
Sure I’ll die broke, but at least I can sleep at night knowing that I did my best during my time on this Earth.
You may think that you’re important Dana with your 1.5 million followers on Twitter (wow, imagine if we had the Internet when Hitler was still alive?), but I can promise you that in the grand scheme of things, you are grossly outnumbered in your selfish and narrow views on life. If Adolf were alive today, I’m sure he’d tell you the same thing.
And Dana, if you think I’m such a dickhead, and you ever want to match your “character” against mine, I’ll gladly take that Pepsi challenge any day of the friggin’ week, my friend. Any day.
In fact, I’ll start...I keep my promises. Because that’s what REAL men do.
Wladimir Alves: My brother, let me tell you, Will met with Dana White here in Rio. André Pederneiras called me and asked me to take Will to a press conference here in Brazil, in Botafogo a neighbourhood in the south zone of the city. I was at work and was not able to take Will. His nurse Cristiane, who takes care of Will at our home, was who ended up taking him to the place. Nobody gave Will any attention. They said he had no credentials. No one helped him with access to the place. I kept helping the nurse by phone. I told her exactly what she had to do to be able to go in with Will. She was courageous and spoke to a security guard—told him that Will was a fighter that needed help, and that his boss was inside, so he let Will go in, but he didn't have access to the other room where the press conference was being held. Will and the nurse stayed there waiting for one and a half hours, until they finally decided to leave. Many people saw Will, but pretended not to know him. Will and the nurse left the place, called a cab at the street, but at the last minute when the cab had already pulled over, the security guard called them back. The security guard said, “Will, Dana White is leaving.” Then Cristiane let the taxi go, and returned with Will to the place. Guess who was beside Dana White? Ed Soares, Will's agent. When he saw Will, he looked embarrassed and called him over. They all went into a room, and talked to Will. They promised him help. I don't know exactly what was discussed, as they spoke mainly in English, so Will did not understand, but Ed Soares promised he would try to put Will as a side referee at the UFC event in Rio. He said he would try, but that it wasn't for sure.
[Fast forward 8-months later...]
James Ryan: Hey Will, I have a question about the day that you sat down with UFC President, Dana White, and Ed Soares. Just curious—had you ever received any word back from either Dana or Ed regarding the possibility of you working as a side judge at the UFC 134 event in Rio?
Will Ribeiro: No, James. The last time that I spoke with Ed Soares and Dana White was here at the UFC media meeting in Brazil. Since then, they never spoke to me again.
All Will wants, and all that I have ever tried to discuss with you was the fact that Ed almost certainly lied to you about the situation involving Will (and his brother) when you both met with Will in Brazil last December. Will is a good kid who’s not looking for pity or a handout—he LOVES this sport, and sadly, he still wants to be with his former fiends (Nogueira, Silva, Aldo, etc.), even though they all abandoned him thanks to Jorge and Ed. Will wants to be remembered for the great athlete that he was, and to be given the opportunity to show the world (at least in Brazil) that he can still serve a useful purpose in this Industry. Unfortunately, in Brazil, he needs the help of someone like you in order for him to be respected again. A lot of fans respect you and as such, your opinions hold a lot of weight with them. By showing your support to Will, you will have opened many doors, not only for him, but for all people with a disability from around the world.
You can try to convince millions of people out there that I am a bad person for disrespecting you the way that I have been...I don’t care. I just want you to help Will, and you can do that by simply showing him the same level of respect that you would with any other fighter, even though now, Will is disabled and in a wheelchair.
Ed Soares and those guys not only abandoned him, but I’m telling you—they made up some pretty serious lies to cover their own asses. In the process, they severely hurt a really good young man. Please help him. I know those guys are your friends and you probably don’t want to get caught in the middle, but you are Will’s last hope.
In fact Dana, I’ll even make you a deal...if you agree to help Will in any capacity whatsoever, I promise that I will go away and retire from MMA Sportswriting for good. And yes, I am a man of my word.
If you want a free copy of my new book, Desolate Warrior, just send me your email at http://mrjamesryan.com/contact-james/ and it will be my pleasure to share it with you. That goes for any of my friends or acquaintances as well.
Book Reviews: www.desolatewarrior.com
And I’m sorry for any misunderstanding or for possibly hurting your feelings.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”—Gandhi