Each spring, the UFC holds their fighter summit to educate their fighters on various issues. From how to manage their finances to bringing in the much-lauded social media firm Digital Royalty to teach the platform to their stable of fighters, the summit is an invaluable education tool for the roster.
It has been almost a year since the last summit and in that time, it is apparent that Dana White and the Fertittas need to address fighter conduct outside of the Octagon.
Less than a month after last year's fighter summit, Rampage Jackson was lambasted in the media for his “motorboating” of reporter Karyn Bryant of MMA Heat. While Bryant declared that she was not offended by his actions, it still was not an appropriate action for the athlete.
It is not the proper forum for this kind of questionable humor. It only adds to the perception that combat athletes are, in general, misogynistic.
It is not just Rampage Jackson, however. Fast forward to November and Forrest Griffin found himself on various news outlets such as The Huffington Post for his offensive tweet. Griffin wrote, “Rape is the new missionary.” This on the heels of winning a UFC Twitter bonus for “Most Creative.”
Just a month after that incident, UFC bantamweight Miguel Torres found himself cut from the roster for his tweet that read, “If a rape van was called a surprise van more women would not mind going for rides in them. Everyone like surprises.” Torres has since been reinstated to the UFC and will fight at the upcoming UFC 145 PPV on April 21.
However, the issues go beyond the world of social media. Fans are consistently subjected to news about fighters' performance-enhancing drug use, from anabolic steroids to testosterone replacement therapy to recreational drugs. The stories pile atop one another.
And the need for a code of conduct does not stop there. There have been issues outside of the cage concerning violence. Most recently, heavyweight contender Alistair Overeem pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery after allegedly shoving a woman in the face in early January.
These much-ballyhooed incidents highlight the need for the UFC brass to put an emphasis on fighter conduct when the summit convenes in the near future.
A major issue is the ambiguity that Zuffa has in dealing with these issues. Fighters are left to guess, as there is no set guideline to follow. Let's give them one.
The “big four” sports in the United States all have conduct policies. It is time for the UFC to join the fold. They have taken the next step with FOX Sports; it is important to put their best foot forward with the public eye hovering over the organization.
In fact, it is even more important the UFC implement this change. First, combat sports already have the aforementioned negative perception from the public. Fighters are thought of as Neanderthals while the UFC has boasted for years that their fighters are more intelligent.
Then should they not show it by controlling their tempers when not locked inside the cage or giving the sport a black-eye by taking PEDs?
Secondly, unlike the other major sports, the UFC encourages their athletes to tweet at break-neck speed. While the NFL and others closely monitor their athletes and have restrictions on when they can tweet during contests, the UFC has been applauded for their efforts to utilize the social media platform.
Fighters should not take part in the sophomoric, embarrassing and flat-out offensive “jokes” that we have seen float across our timelines.
Now is the time for Dana White to take to the podium to inform the fighters that their actions will be monitored. Not in a Big Brother way, but rather to protect the fighters from hurting their personal brand, the UFC brand and the sport in general.
We all appreciate the rawness that the fighters deliver by not being bound by strict policies, but there comes a point where something must be put in place to show professionalism and restraint.
A structure of fines, suspensions and, yes, ultimately termination need to be laid out. No more ambiguity. Let the fighters know explicitly what consequences they face for acting before thinking.
The past 12 months should have given Zuffa cause to create the framework for a code of conduct. It is time to step up to the plate of professionalism and implement it for the benefit of the fighters, organization and the sport.