November 19, 2017

UFC: The Time Is Now To Address Bad Behavior From Fighters

By Raphael Garcia

It must be difficult to rein in a roster full of men and women who are paid to fight in a steel cage, as in recent weeks there have been a multitude of incidents that these athletes have had to apologize for. Whether it’s jumping into cages, offending countries, or using derogatory slurs, the UFC has to be asking itself how much out-of-cage misbehavior it should let slide before punishing fighters for their actions. And the organization may find itself forced to answer for it if it isn't addressed in the near future.

In the last few weeks, the news surrounding the UFC has contained nearly as much conflict outside the Octagon as within it. Conor McGregor’s confrontation with referee Marc Goddard at Bellator 187 caused a lot of commotion and led to an eventual apology from the UFC Lightweight Champion. Colby Covington was “assaulted” by Fabricio Werdum for his derogatory comments about Brazil, which led to him dropping the “f-bomb” (and not the four-letter version) on his Facebook page. These are just the most recent examples of UFC fighters acting out in less than stellar fashion. But what is even more telling is the UFC’s lack of response to these matters.

This isn’t the same UFC that fired Miguel Torres for his “rape van” joke back in 2011. Even though he was brought back to the promotion less than a month later, a message was sent when he was cut for making an offensive joke. There’s also the example of Jason High, who was cut for shoving referee Kevin Mulhall after he was defeated by Rafael Dos Anjos. UFC President Dana White drew a line in the sand that pushing a referee was not going to fly in any way. So how will he address what McGregor did, albeit under another promotional banner? It’s been more than seven days since the incident, and the company has yet to respond. That lack of response is troubling. It would be wrong to say that leadership within the UFC doesn’t care what their athletes are doing in their daily lives, and it’s nearly impossible to govern all the men and women on the roster, but some steps need to be taken before situations become even worse.

The NBA and NFL have something called a "rookie summit," which is designed to teach players how to deal with their transition to the major leagues in their respective sports. It would be difficult for the UFC to do something similar with all of its new signees, but in recent years the promotion has established the UFC Training Center and an annual fighter summit, so certain moves on behalf of the collective are possible. Regardless, the powers that be must make decisions about what is and isn't tolerable from the athletes on the UFC roster, and they have to make sure those standards are upheld across the board. It’s not OK for fighters to continue to use derogatory language, particularly at a time when the UFC is trying to expand its fan base and move into new markets. The time is now for the company to address these issues before they become even more damaging.

Mixed martial arts is still in its infant stages compared to other major sports. But that doesn’t explain away the idea that it’s an organization's responsibility to address when its athletes behave in a poor fashion. Before these incidents start to happen more frequently and spread across social media, it’s time for the UFC to make it known that bad behavior will not be accepted.

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