Not long after Danilo Marques got his hand raised in victory for his win in the UFC 253 curtain jerker, UFC commentator Jon Anik said, “We are wicked excited to announce a big new project, ‘UFC: Fight Island Declassified,’ is the new original intense and emotional four-part docuseries exploring the UFC’s efforts to produce a major sporting event in the midst of a global pandemic.” A video preview followed Anik’s announcement.
The first recognizable face shown during the trailer was UFC president Dana White. Tension building music played in the background as White said, “I’ve secured an island. We’re going to do all of our fights on this island.” And with that, the eye rolling of those in the know began.
The island White referred to is “Fight Island,” a manmade island the UFC had visited before. “Fight Island” is Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. The UFC first held an event there in 2010. The promotion’s first stand in 2020 was financially sponsored by the local government and used to enhance economic opportunities in the emirate.
The abundance of White in the brief clip and the knowledge that Abu Dhabi largely paid the bill for the UFC’s trip to “Fight Island” inspired veteran MMA media member Dave Doyle to fear the docuseries will be full of clips of Dana White, as the preview said, “making history.”
The tweet was not unwarranted. The UFC has a history of featuring an overabundance of White in its promotional material. It also tends to exaggerate the influence White and the promotion have in the MMA world.
White, who has never had a high tolerance for criticism — especially from the media, — took that opportunity to lash out at Doyle. White’s rage was not unexpected.
The MMA media has been in White’s crosshairs this year. The UFC boss has taken umbrage with the way the promotion’s response to COVID-19 was covered. He imagined the media tried to get the UFC 249 pay-per-view cancelled. White then went on a lengthy kick where he called the MMA media the “wimpiest people on earth,” whenever he had the chance because he didn’t agree with the way the promotion was being covered. Ironically, White was doing this name calling while speaking to the media. During that same stretch, he also took to criticizing the physical appearance of media members, as if that had anything to do with job performance. White called me a bunch of profane names for having the gall to suggest he has a boss and he labelled Kevin Draper from the New York Times a “dickhead” for reporting on the promotion’s pandemic protocols ahead of its events in Florida in May.
White, who has bragged that the UFC has laid no one off during the pandemic, grinned when he told Yahoo Sports, “A lot of the media were going crazy about me trying to pull off the fight last weekend. A lot of the media are going to get laid off pretty soon. This is just the beginning. We haven’t even had talks about going back to normal yet. When we get back to ‘normal,’ it’s going to be a very long time before things are normal again.”
The UFC boss has never understood the role of the MMA media and if he does he has never acknowledged it. In White’s mind, the MMA media seems to exist as a promotional tool for the UFC. This became apparent when in another tirade he said, “You fucking idiots cover this sport. What do you think is gonna happen if there are no fights happening? What are you gonna cover? — I never wanna see anybody lose their job but it’s really hard for me to feel sorry for people because it’s coming. And you’re gonna see a lot of people in the media getting laid off over the next six months.”
Let’s not forget, this is the same man who recently said of his critics, “Listen, this is America. Everybody has their own opinions and their own choices. I know that sometimes people go after you because of whatever, but everybody knows what I’m about. I don’t give a shit.”
Giving White the benefit of the doubt, let’s say he really doesn’t care about his critics — including the MMA media — then why does White lash out at the media so often and so loudly?
The answer is White is a bully. White wants a compliant media. He wants the media to not ask tough or uncomfortable questions. He wants a big PR wing for the UFC that he doesn’t have to pay. If White can instill fear into the media through bluster and intimidation, he thinks he will get that compliance. It’s the same tactic White uses to keep UFC fighters from speaking up too loudly about their independent contractor status and their painfully low pay.
The sad thing is that White has had some success with his bombastic verbal abuse. He has gotten some media outlets to cave and cover the UFC in a mostly positive light. I understand that it’s not comfortable to be in Dana White’s spotlight, but the sooner the media stops caving to White’s bullying — which is all it is — the better off the sport of MMA will be.