MMA Ratings Podcast

October 21, 2019

Ultimate Inaction: UFC Stance On Fighter Misconduct Is Both Troubling and Telling

By Raphael Garcia

The professional sports world is a place where the mantra “boys will be boys” has exacerbated many of society’s worst issues; this is particularly the case when it comes to combat sports. The Ultimate Fighting Championship is the largest organization in the mixed martial arts space, and can in many ways be looked at as the trendsetter. Yet one unsettling trend is the organization's continuing involvement with men who have committed harm against women, and have been alleged to have done so. The company’s leadership has failed to take any action against those individuals, and it doesn't look like that will change anytime soon.

Remember the UFC Personal Conduct Policy? It was meant to govern its athletes’ actions outside of the cage and lay out the UFC’s ability to “punish” wrongdoing. However, that policy has rarely been mentioned, even as incidents involving UFC fighters continue to pop up in the news. Most believe this is due to the UFC’s stance that fighters are independent contractors rather than employees, even though there are many examples of the UFC exercising its power over fighters when it suits them to do so.

But even though the UFC has remained quiet regarding most incidents, there are some serious situations swirling in the news that must be addressed by leadership. Just last week, the New York Times reported that Conor McGregor, the most recognizable name in MMA, is facing a sexual assault investigation in Dublin, Ireland – the second in less than 12 months. McGregor has been wrapped up in more legal battles than Octagon battles as of late, and UFC President Dana White, one of the most vocal personalities in the sport, usually doesn’t have much to say about McGregor’s antics, but when he does speak out, it often seems like its in support of the big-name fighter.

“I know zero about that,” White responded back in August when asked about the first sexual assault allegation. “To be honest with you, the back and forth that I’ve had with him about that, it’s not him. It’s somebody else so I don’t know.”

As more and more situations abound with McGregor, White has yet to take a hardline stance about how the organization he heads up will deal with the former champion. But that may not be far off, as these issues continue to mount.

Another fighter for whom incidents continue to mount is Jon Jones, who earlier this month pleaded No Contest in a New Mexico court to charges related to an incident where he was alleged to have assaulted a cocktail waitress at an Albuquerque strip club this past April. No stranger to court battles himself, Jones was able to avoid jail with a plea deal that did not include an admission of wrongdoing. Even still, the accusations -- which included allegations that Jones slapped the victim in the genital region, pulled her down into his lap, kissed her neck, picked her up off the ground, and put her in a chokehold -- were troubling to say the least.

Neither McGregor nor Jones are expected to face any sanctions from the UFC. In fact, if you look at how the UFC deals with individuals found to be guilty of crimes against women, look no further than former NFL player Greg Hardy, whose 2014 assault conviction was later dismissed and expunged, but whose record of wrongdoing was laid out out in the public space in the form of dozens of photographs of his battered and bruised victim. However, the UFC has continued to try to point a picture of Hardy having suffered just as much as the victim, and this past weekend at UFC Boston, the play-by-play commentators talked about the ways that Hardy has overcome "adversity," even as yet another fight of his was mired in controversy. Only time will tell whether Hardy will outlast these discussions about his past as UFC career continues, but its clear that the UFC is using its promotional muscle to try to rehabilitate the image of a fighter that much of the public despises, rather than cut ties with one that hasn’t shown he’s worth the trouble. And if the promotion will do that for Hardy, imagine what it would do for champions who have generated millions of dollars for the company.

Additionally, there are the issues and accusations surrounding Ali Abdelaziz, perhaps the most powerful manager in the sport. Abdelaziz has figured prominently in many controversial moments in the sport, such as the post-fight brawl between McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov, brawling with fans in the crowd at other MMA events, and his recent ban from PFL events related to pending battery charges. Abdelaziz has been subject to much criticism, but his access to fighters as their representation brings him a wealth of power. Some of the biggest names in the UFC are a part of his camp, and it’s hard to believe the UFC will take action against him, even as more troubling rumors continue to swirl.

The UFC is a force within the sport, but as with other industries with big organizations in power, public outcry can often force that organization to make changes and acknowledge its missteps. Thus far, the UFC hasn’t been forced to do that. Even when fans and media vocally criticize it, the UFC's leadership doubles down on its stance and inaction. But at some point there’s going to be a situation that requires a swift and firm response from the UFC, and unfortunately, there isn’t anything in the company's track record that suggests the UFC is ready to react when all eyes are watching it.

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