MMA Column: How Dana White and Ronda Rousey became the UFC's new heels
By Josh Nason
This has been a befuddling and somewhat obnoxious week for MMA, hasn’t it? We had Rampage Jackson debut in Bellator last Friday in front of nearly 800,000 viewers. We had the final build and execution of the UFC’s 20th anniversary show, a show that ended up with more animosity than celebration. We had Georges St. Pierre saying stuff, Dana White getting mad about that stuff, and a slew of vitriol against White for his comments about his welterweight champion’s right to hang ‘em up...if that’s what he’s doing.
But despite the amount of events, I don’t think I’ve ever felt as exhausted to be a UFC fan than last Wednesday when a great pair of heels in White and women’s champ Ronda Rousey did their thing on Fox Sports 1.
Let’s tackle White first.
I’m not going to fully rehash and reheat the criticism lobbed at White since his post-fight tirade about how St. Pierre owes fans, Johny Hendricks and the UFC a rematch. Our Dave Meltzer hit it on the head earlier this week when he said White’s frustration boiled over because he didn’t know what was going on, and couldn’t answer the questions he was going to get.
Regardless, White is a grown man, a successful multi-millionaire and someone who has been in situations before where he had no answers or didn’t want to give answers. He knows the game well enough to say, “I don’t know.” Instead, we got a tirade and then his blocking of questions directed to St. Pierre about what he said. On a night meant to tip a cap to two decades of accomplishments, White took a dump in the cap instead.
But instead of letting things slide, White was on this week’s UFC Tonight and kept on the offensive
, saying GSP wasn’t retiring, would be back, and that he ‘made a big mistake’ in saying what he said. Perhaps, but he also had just been beat around by Hendricks for 25 minutes. Had he been a bit more clear-headed, we would likely know exactly what he meant.
White then railed against the critics who have told White that St. Pierre doesn’t owe him anything (which is true). White disagreed
: "When we talk about ‘GSP doesn't owe you anything,' You're wrong. Here's the reality. GSP took almost a year and a half off. And he's had two fights since then, since he tore his ACL out. When you fight in this sport, there's a small opportunity for people, and there's a lineup of people who want a shot at the UFC 170-pound title. You can't just say I'm going to put this on hold because you have personal problems. You can't do that. No, you cannot. You can't do that."
Sure, he can. If he wants to take a year off, he relinquishes the title or you create an interim belt. You talk to him and figure it out. It’s also the manner in which White delivered his message that bothered me: aggressive, unrelenting, without any compassion. While he’s the president of a group that legally puts people in a cage to fight, there are times to back down and at least acknowledge that his champ may be going through something.
This week was the time for White to back off, but he can’t help himself, won’t apologize for his methods and therefore lost an opportunity to appear human, even if just for a few minutes.
And now, a few words on Rousey.
In August, I was part of a press junket that got access to the TUF premiere in Boston. As part of the screening, Rousey, Miesha Tate and White were there answering questions. The tension was butcher knife thick and a clearly irritated Rousey didn’t want to be there, blaming her aggravation on her travel schedule.
Rousey didn’t seem to care for the TUF experience, almost acknowledging what was to come. This year, Rousey has come off like an overtrained, Type A caricature of a way too intense football coach. She’s grumbled at Tate, flipping her off during hand-shaking attempts and clearly doesn’t like her. The “she’s laughing at my girl’s pain” line from earlier this year remains among the most eye-rolling quotes I’ve ever heard an athlete say.
Wednesday’s TUF featured the coach’s challenge, a race up a rock climbing wall. Rousey won after a spirited race and within seconds, yelled, “F**k you, bitch!
” and flipped off Tate several times as they were let down from the top of the wall.
I’ve followed competitive sports most of my life and have had to endure the Bob Costases and Joe Bucks of the world attempt to give us morality lessons on how sports should be played. That’s not what I’m attempting to do here, but I can’t help but say Rousey’s reaction was a classless and pointless act.
Yeah, she’s competitive. Yeah, she was raised tough because her mother is a bad-ass judo champion who raised her tough. Yeah, she’s a “Diaz brother”. I really don’t care. It’s not an excuse and is a detriment, regardless of how talented she is or what her background is. Perhaps it was pent up frustration from the idiotic team Tate pranks and maybe because she can’t help herself, but she should try. Like it or not, she is a champion. Time to act like one.
In both cases, White and Rousey played up to the unwashed MMA masses, the ones that still hold the flag for ‘free speech’, that want the sport to stay just like it is, and that live on f-bombs being dropped at all times.
But there’s a reality in that the sport is still looking for mainstream eyes. Hiding behind the nature of the sport doesn’t cut it anymore. The UFC doesn’t have to be a group of Boy and Girl Scouts, but there’s a lot of growing up still to be done in order to get there.
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