July 12, 2017

Amanda Nunes and the Irresponsible UFC 213 Fallout

By Raphael Garcia

The situation involving Amanda Nunes and UFC 213 is a perplexing one. The UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion withdrew from her main event bout hours before she was to step into the cage to face Valentina Shevchenko. The outcry was understandably quick and furious. However, it was interesting to see the amount of it that was levied by her promoter, the UFC itself. UFC President Dana White questioned the mental fortitude of his champion, causing damage to the reputation of an individual in whose continued success he should have a vested interest in.

About midday on Saturday, news broke that Nunes was pulling out of the fight scheduled for that night. This was after being medically cleared for the event and making weight to compete. According to reports, Nunes fell ill and was transported to the hospital, which effectively removed her from the scheduled headliner. The backlash was swift, as judgment came from her peers, her fans, and her promoter. And it’s that last entity that needs to be especially careful with how it responds to the fight’s cancellation. Because when you talk about Nunes’ “promoter," that term is synonymous with Dana White, who hasn’t pulled any punches talking about her withdrawal, most notably during the UFC 213 post-fight presser:

"This morning I hear that she’s not feeling well again and she’s probably not gonna fight. I asked the doctors what’s wrong, she was medically cleared, and they found nothing wrong with her. She just didn’t feel well...I think it was 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a situation like today where she was physically capable of fighting.”

There’s a lot to unpack there, and a lot of what he said can come back to haunt him in the future if not properly addressed.

First, let’s start with Nunes. With nearly a decade of professional fighting under her belt, she has never done this in her career. There are three documented times in which Nunes has been forced out of a bout due to an injury, and one of those times came in the UFC. Yet none of those cancellations included a last minute scratch that caused the entire bout to be nixed. The response to this matter seems like the type of response to someone who habitually crosses this line. (Remember, White stated that he would never main event Jon Jones due to his string of legal issues -- the same Jon Jones that is headlining UFC 214 later on this month, by the way.) It’s unfair and irresponsible to lump Nunes into that category.

Next, let’s look at the tactics that White employed after the cancellation was announced. He didn’t hesitate to paint the picture that Nunes could have fought but didn’t possess the mental fortitude to step into the cage. This is a woman who has fought in bigger moments, such as when she defeated Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, but according to White, it was a fight against an opponent she has already defeated that had her so rattled she decided not to fight. That doesn’t add up.

On top of that point, there’s the fact that Nunes is a champion within the UFC. At a time in which the organization is in need of fighters to develop into stars, what do they stand to gain from cutting her down so quickly? Nunes has the potential to be a trailblazer in diversity for the company, but the organization has continually failed to properly highlight the Brazilian. She’s doing her part with highlight reel victories and learning English so that she can connect to North American fans, but the UFC hasn’t done the best job of pushing her to forefront the way it has done with other female champions and competitors. Nunes released a statement about her condition that forced her from the bout. Taking to Instagram to talk about her medical status:

“I have chronic sinusitis. I have fought with it before but this time it didn’t work out. I was not feeling well enough to risk getting punched in the head with such pressure. I was taken to the hospital after weigh -ins and they only checked my blood and dehydration so cleared me based on that. The next day I went back and they did a CT scan and found a build-up and I was prescribed antibiotics and referred to a specialist.”

White making a statement that contradicts Nunes’ is irresponsible and plays into the bully-like persona that he and the company have developed over time. Fighters tend to step into the cage with a slew of injuries, often with injuries that are justified reasons to not fight. Here is one fighter, a champion, putting her health before the desires of the promotion. And she’s lambasted for it -- perhaps because of the lateness of the decision, perhaps due to the opponent -- but either way, the response by White is troubling, particularly because it is very different from how he’s reacted when other competitors have decided to back out of bouts.

There is a certain amount of care that should be used when speaking about an athlete’s health. Dana White and the UFC’s willingness to present statements and speculation designed to cast a negative light on one of the athletes that fight under their banner needs to be recognized by these men and women, who, lest we forget, are independent contractors. This is a situation that will not go unremembered, particularly as the MMA landscape continues to shift, and fighters continue to reevaluate their relationships with “promoters” who often do anything but.

UFC 213: Romero vs. Whittaker (formerly UFC 213: Nunes vs. Shevchenko) took place July 8, 2017 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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