Defending Your Winning Ways
It is hard to discern whether the threats are real or not, but the MMA giant, UFC, and their parent company, WME-IMG, have clearly made it a prerogative to undermine their champions. Now, in recent weeks it has been reported that UFC Flyweight titleholder, Demetrious Johnson, has been struggling with bullying and threats. These extend as far as Dana White offering to expunge the 125-pound division. All of which, is due in part to the fact that White isn’t getting what he wants out of the young champ. Johnson, who has been the only reigning Flyweight titleholder, also has his qualms. He wouldn’t defend the title against White’s pick, perhaps, for no other reason than the fact that it’s not to his advantage. He’s not making the money, he’s not allowed to have input on his challengers, and he certainly isn’t being shown the respect that such old champs as Anderson Silva or modern ones, like Cody Garbrant, have garnered.
In his defense, Demetrious is a future Hall-of-Famer and arguably one of the most winningest athletes, let alone UFC champions so far. And when he sees not even Connor McGregor, but fighters further down the totem pole getting nice pay days and receiving points on pay-per-views, then it brings into question whether this company actually values what he’s achieved…let alone anyone else.
It should come as no surprise that this mistreatment extends far past their champions.
Cat Zingano has grown vocal in recent weeks, along with lesser-known fighter Kajan Johnson, who have interviews and video footage in which they voice their outrage at the mistreatment of fighters. Pay grade is pay grade and it makes a difference when a fighter can draw a crowd. What seems entirely inappropriate is the willingness of this sports conglomerate to portray themselves one way, while undercutting and even neglecting their roster. It’s abundantly clear that a majority of these people are not being taken care of. This, of course, is only the beginning when it comes to the combative relationship that is forming between the company, its employees, and the fans they want to entertain.
Now take it one step further and look at how the UFC has fragmented their weight classes with ubiquitous #1 contender matches and, even worse, interim belts. This undermines the guy or girl who has the title, the systems in which they were created, and the ability for fans to truly covet or hold value in such prized possessions. It weakens the belief of viewers and damages the UFC’s ability to create meaningful matches and fight cards.
But the question remains, to what ends? Is this a ploy to sell pay-per-views? It hardly seems reasonable, considering it rocks the very foundation of a viewer’s belief in the thrill of such an astounding sport. Integrity has always been an important value. But when Dana White starts threatening to eliminate weight classes, and thus jobs, for the single-fact that he’s not seeing it play out the way he wants – it becomes a major issue. Because then viewers and fighters alike are forced to reprioritize what MMA means and how they’ve come to appreciate it.
To that end, how can White expect Demetrious Johnson to give an inch? If he won’t budge, why should the champ? But if you can flippantly and derisively be ready to quash a title, then why not put together seemingly meaningless bouts, or end someone’s career based off personal biases?
As a fan, it’s hard to see the objective here. There’s a great, new sport with willing contestants who want to prove themselves above all else. But when there’s hardly any gravity or weight to the choices being made when it comes to title shots, let alone pay grades, you’re not only hurting MMA, but also the fan’s faith in the UFC brand.
We want to believe. We want exciting fights, with real consequences. Now, it seems up in the air whether the UFC intends to give us that true, visceral thrill of blood sport. Or if they are merely content to sell the idea, the façade of MMA. Let us hope integrity wins out.