During the UFC Vegas 11 post-fight press conference, UFC president Dana White fielded a question about some things UFC fighters say. For instance, Colby Covington calling Tyron Woodley a “domestic terrorist sympathizer” or Covington asking Kamaru Usman if he got “a call from, freaking, your little tribe? Did they give you some smoke signals for you?”
“One of the things we’ve never done here in the UFC is stop people from expressing how they feel about certain things inside or outside the Octagon,” White replied. “Even if it’s me. If it’s about me. Who’s more about free speech than we are? We literally let our people do or say whatever it is they do. It’s normal.
“Everything that happened this week, I f—ng saw it coming a hundred miles away. I could write the entire script for you, what would’ve happened at that press conference. You guys know it too. Plus, you heard everything already. You heard all the talk. These guys wanted to fight, they hate each other, the whole deal.”
“My point in saying that is we’ve never stopped anybody from expressing themselves and saying how they feel,” White added. “My philosophy is always this is a fight. People are gonna say mean sh-t to each other. It’s like, ‘they shouldn’t be allowed to say that.’ They’re gonna f—ng punch each other in the face tomorrow.
“This is the fight game. I don’t believe in all that.”
All that sounds well and good, but it’s also easy to see White’s hands off approach as a cop-out. By not speaking up White allows fighters to get away with anything.
Here are some examples of things UFC fighters have said that went unremarked on or unpunished by the UFC.
In September 2019, Brian Ortega and Cain Velasquez took part in a crowd chant of “puto!” and posted a video of themselves doing so as Jeremy Stephens tried to recover from an eye poke delivered by Yair Rodriguez.
Not long after that, Stephens confronted Rodriguez at the fighter hotel and used a homophobic slur.
Other fighters who used that same slur were Andrei Arlovski, Donald Cerrone, Conor McGregor, Jorge Masvidal, Michael Bisping and Fabricio Werdum.
When asked about Werdum, the UFC told MMA Fighting, “The UFC organization is disappointed with recent comments made by Fabricio Werdum at a promotional event in Los Angeles. The nature and implication of his comments do not reflect UFC’s views and will not be tolerated, no matter the manner in which they are used.”
When TMZ asked White about possibly punishing McGregor, he said, “What else is he gonna do? If you apologize and that’s not enough, what else can you do, you know what I mean? You can donate money, you can. . . whatever. I don’t know.”
But White knew because before the above happened, the UFC fined Nate Diaz $20,000 for using that same slur on Twitter.
The above fighters all ran afoul of the UFC Code of Conduct, which states that “discipline may be imposed for misconduct, which includes…Derogatory or offensive conduct, including without limitation insulting language, symbols, or actions about a person’s ethnic background, heritage, color, race, national origin, age, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation.” Other than Diaz in the above examples, the UFC disciplined no fighters.
If White saw Covington’s remarks during UFC Vegas 11 coming, he could have stopped them. White could have told Covington to not use racist and xenophobic language. He didn’t. And by not enforcing the UFC Code of Conduct, White allowed Covington to spew hateful language that the UFC’s sponsors and broadcast partner have to respond to.
White’s hands off approach to what is by definition hate speech isn’t commendable or worth bragging about. It’s the exact opposite. It’s the easy way out. It’s a way for White to hide behind the idea that the UFC is some kind of paradise where people are free to say whatever they want without repercussion.
Allowing hate speech in the UFC isn’t heroism from White. It’s cowardice.
*ESPN was asked about a tweet that was sent, and later deleted, from the official ESPN MMA account that included video of Covington’s remarks to Usman. They have yet to respond at the time of publication.
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