Even the best promoters can go through rough patches.
P.T. Barnum, the greatest of them all, went bankrupt in the 1850s. Vince McMahon, the legendary WWE impresario, struggled to make ends meet in the early 1990s. Even evil geniuses like boxing czar Don King have gone years between high-profile bouts.
The UFC's tumultuous times are happening right now—and by comparison are fairly gentle. Dana White and his partners are still making money hand over fist, even if business is down in the last two years compared to the glory days of Brock Lesnar's brief tenure.
White, however, isn't handling the adversity well.
He spent an amazing few minutes during a press conference following the Jon Jones versus Vitor Belfort title fight running Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons through the mud for a column in the local paper that (rightly) suggested the UFC's business had seen better days.
He saved plenty of vitriol for the fans, both those in attendance and the ones watching at home on pay-per-view.
During the co-main event—a flyweight title fight between Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez that went the full 25 minutes—boos rained down from the physical crowd and the virtual one on Twitter.
White was incensed (via MMAFighting.com):
"Let me tell you what: If you didn't like that flyweight fight, please, I'm begging you, don't ever buy another UFC pay-per-view again," the UFC President said. "Don't ever buy another one. I don't want your money. You’re a moron, you don't like fighting and you don't appreciate great talent or heart if you didn't like that flyweight fight."
To me, that hit close to home.
I've purchased—either on pay-per-view or home video—every UFC event since White came on board in 2001. After all the struggles the sport went through over the years just to make it to the big time, I figured I owed White, Fertitta brothers and the fighters at least that much.
This is my reward?
I will raise my hand and admit what many of the MMA cognoscenti won't, especially after White's rant: I didn't enjoy the flyweight fight much.
Although I can appreciate the skill of the athletes, it just didn't provide the visceral thrill I want from my cage fights. If that makes me a moron, someone please drop a drool bucket off at the house, because I refuse to pretend that was the kind of fight I want to spend 30 minutes of my life watching.
Those who enjoyed the flyweight fight, or claimed they did, pointed to the technique on display. But supporters could offer few specifics about which techniques they enjoyed so darn much.
Benavidez spent much of the fight winging punches and failing at takedowns. Johnson did a bit better, but mostly by treating the bout like it was an elaborate bull fight, with Benavidez as the bull.
The fight was primarily a defensive contest, and the technique that stood out was Johnson's amazing footwork. If that's your thing, so be it, but Rex Ryan I am not.
When a bout is defined by one of the fighters' ability to avoid contact and the takedown, boos shouldn't surprise anyone. That's not what many people pay to see, and booing is their right.
For all of Johnson's vaunted "technique," I didn't see him execute a single move that was designed to end the fight. Not one in 25 minutes of action.
To those who have studied the sport carefully, the fan reaction was expected. Fans haven't embraced the smaller fighters in the UFC, and compared to Benavidez and Johnson, guys like featherweights Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar are virtual giants.
The flyweight division is so small that Johnson, at 125 pounds, is almost 40 pounds lighter than the average American woman!
Is it any wonder fans raised on Brock Lesnar, Chuck Liddell and waiting for Jon Jones to do his thing didn't have much patience for two munchkins scampering around what looked like an enormous cage?
Not to me. But White was aghast:
I wasn't surprised; I was horrified by the booing. But you know what? I tell these guys after weigh-ins, the way this relationship works, these guys are our partners. We go out and do this, that and everything else, and these guys go out and deliver. And guess what? In every fight you see in the UFC, two guys aren't going to run at each other and just start swinging like mad men. These two guys have worked their entire lives to get to this point, and it's a five-round title fight. If they can get the knockout and submission real quick, sure they're going to go for it, but if the guys are so talented? You have now the world champion and the second-best guy in the world. It's just insane. It drives me crazy.
I don't believe in the tired maxim that "the customer is always right." Judging by the comments to every article on the Internet, the customer is a quasi-literate jerk. But White would do well not to bite the many hands that feed him, even if we are all, indeed, morons.
If the UFC lost every customer who enjoys a good slugfest more than a Soul Train-style dance-off like we saw in the flyweight fight, if we stopped buying his shows like White has demanded, the promotion's current struggles at the box office will look like a speed bump compared to what's coming.
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