I hate it when bloggers and columnists compare mixed martial arts to pro wrestling. It’s a symptom of the fact that many of the oldest web writers are from the pro wrestling scene originally, so that’s what they know. People naturally draw parallels to what they know. I come from the club promotion scene so I’m always doing the same thing … however I recognize that my perspective is skewed and try to see things objectively.
For the past years I’ve been hearing non-stop that the UFC is copying the WWE and that Dana White is just like Vince MacMahon. Bullshit, I say. If there’s a sport that the UFC is emulating, it comes much closer to boxing than pro wrestling. And while Dana White might have an ego, love the camera, and use Machiavellian tactics to crush his enemies, I don’t see it on par with Vince MacMahon, who’s hubris seems to blind him to the damage he does to his own company.
Until now that is.
Last week marked the premiere (and hopefully last) airing of ‘Bad Blood : Ortiz vs White’. For full disclosure, I am going to say this now : I did not watch this show so I am not going to comment on the specific content of the show, just the fallout. Tito Ortiz has started a little media tour, putting out a press release and making statements to the MMA community. It’s obvious that he’s pretty pissed about the situation, and he should be.
Removing all the tough guy rhetoric and machismo, the truth of the matter is that Tito Ortiz is one of the UFC’s most bankable assets. You can make an argument to say that many fighters are more popular, but I still believe Tito Ortiz is the best known. For five years he was the marketing jewel of an ailing UFC, the only star that average people knew or cared about.
2006 was a phenomenal year for both parties, as Tito Ortiz’s feud with Ken Shamrock generated the highest ratings and pay per view buyrates in the history of the company. This was followed up by Tito’s rematch with Chuck Liddell which destroyed the previous record PPV buyrates. There’s no denying that Ortiz was the single largest money maker for the UFC in 2006, no small feat considering the exposure generated by him was pushing the UFC further into the mainstream.
Both parties made a lot of money, but one has to ask why the UFC would repay Tito for all the good business they did by producing a 90 minute special taking him down a notch? From a business perspective, the Bad Blood show did nothing but damage Tito Ortiz’s reputation, which damages one of the most valuable assets the UFC has.
Not only that, but they have angered one of the only fighters that could really cause waves by leaving. While many have pointed out that Ortiz is chained to the UFC by his need for celebrity, I’m not so sure. I’ll bet that Ortiz (with only one fight left on his contract after Rashad Evans) will be paying very close attention to the K1/Pro Elite event in July. While there is no doubt that money and fame mean a lot to Ortiz, his wallet is full and he’s a regular feature on the Hollywood gossip pages already. If Tito Ortiz is feeling disrespected by the UFC, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him jump ship.
So now back to the original point. Up until this point I didn’t feel like you could compare Dana White to Vince MacMahon. But this time I will concede. Dana White has taken a valuable commodity and tarnished it to stroke his own ego. From a business perspective, the Bad Blood special made no sense. Abusing a famously hot-headed and not always rational fighter like Tito Ortiz could create long lasting issues for the company and possibly result in Ortiz leaving the UFC when his contract is up. This in turn could help a competing organization like K1 or Bodog get the foothold they need to become a legitimate competitor to the UFC.
And for what? To make Dana White look good? To put Tito Ortiz ‘in his place’? Perhaps Dana White feels like he has Ortiz in his pocket. Perhaps this is a manifestation of how Dana feels he can treat all his fighters. If this is the case, it’s a very dangerous assumption. In the 90′s, Vince MacMahon’s “Only Show in Town” attitude gave Ted Turner’s WCW show the leverage to steal away top talent. With several well-funded companies on the peripheral watching from the sidelines, the same potential exists now in MMA.
Dana White has often said he doesn’t want to be remembered as “a scumbag promoter who screws people over”. Well, he might want to reconsider what he’s doing in this case. While he may have came out looking like a tougher guy following last week’s special, history will treat him harshly if this ends up being the prelude to Tito Ortiz leaving the UFC.