Sometimes I worry about UFC President Dana White. A legendary workaholic, he often looks like he's a botched Starbucks order away from a complete and epic meltdown.
When White blows his top, it's not a pretty picture. Expletives fly, publicly and loudly.
They say not to sweat the small stuff. At UFC on FX 5, the small stuff was all White could think about.
John Dodson earned a shot at the flyweight title. Antonio Silva re-announced himself to fans who may have forgotten his win over Fedor Emelianenko. Jake Ellenberger took another step towards a hard earned pay-per-view main event.
And, oh, by the way, an undercard fighter named Jeremy Stephens—an athlete who sports a middling 7-7 record in Octagon action—spent the day in jail and had his fight cancelled.
Guess which story dominated news coverage of the event? Guess which stole the bulk of White's attention?
Covering the UFC requires one to be an expert in any number of esoteric areas. The effects of testosterone on the human body? Got it. More details than anyone should ever know about a culinary union? They are packed in my head. The dangers and pitfalls of social media (as well as the benefits)? Well schooled.
Now add "outstanding arrest warrant" to the list.
Stephens was picked up and held by Minnesota police because of a felony assault warrant from Des Moines, Iowa. Rather than offering legal assistance or the services of his high-powered legal team, White jumped to the rescue himself (via MMAFighting.com):
I go straight to the police, the sheriff's department here, and start putting the pieces together on what's going on and how to fix it. I'm sure you saw from my tweeting, I was 100 percent confident I was going to get him out and he was going to fight. Basically what happened is, they do not like him in Des Moines, Iowa, where this warrant is from.
Basically, he's in one of those situations where they're going to extradite him or not. We'll see what happens with this whole thing. The kid's been here since Monday, they arrest him almost at noon time on Friday after he weighs-in and everything else happens. In my opinion, they did this on purpose. (emphasis added).
Think about this for a minute: Not only did the president of a major company spend the day of a televised event haggling with police in two jurisdictions in an attempt to bail out a fighter charged with a serious assault, he also suggested a vast conspiracy to time the arrest to maximize suffering for both Stephens and the UFC show.
Think I might be reading too much into one line in a long press conference rant? White left little to the imagination when he took to the Underground, a legendary MMA message board, to explain the situation:
So here's the deal. I have been working since 11am to get him out of jail. the people in Iowa hate this kid and are going to stick it to him for SURE. Everytime I would cut a deal for bail they would change the deal and I was willing to do anything. They kept changing the deal thinking I would tapout and when I didn't they left me hangin changing it every 5 mins. People at Minn Sheriffs Dept were amazing and I wNt (sic) to thank them. He has been in town since Monday and they arrested him Friday at 11am for a reason to really f*ck him. (emphasis added).
It was the last of what was a day full of amazing displays of bad judgement by White. Leaving aside the question of whether it is entirely appropriate (or good for the UFC's image) to bail a fighter out of jail on an assault charge and then immediately turn him loose in the cage, White had earlier insisted Stephens was going to fight.
He took to Twitter and took on anyone in the media who suggested being arrested on fight day might put a crimp in plans for Stephens to fight veteran Yves Edwards.
Of course, when the Stephens fight was inevitably cancelled, no apology was forthcoming to the media boogiemen he had trounced on Twitter. Instead, White looked to explain his decision to devote so much of his time (both before the fight and during the press conference) to an undercard fight that didn't mean much in the scheme of things, stating at the post-fight presser:
Jeremy Stephens is a young kid, a young, dumb kid who made a mistake and made a bigger mistake by not taking care of it, but, he's got a side to this story, everybody's got their side of the story. I look at the problem and see what it is. I'm always going to believe my guy until I'm proven wrong. I'm always going to support the guys or girls who work for us.
Stephens may not be the best fighter to go to the mattresses for. He's played the "dumb kid" card once already. That's how UFC brass excused his 2010 Twitter outburst that saw the fighter refer to boxer Floyd Mayweather as a "f*ggot" and a "n*gga."
At 26, Stephens' dumb kid days are a relic of the past. He's a man, with a man's obligations and responsibilities. In some ways it's admirable that White stands up for his fighters, investing both his time and his company's credibility to support them, deserving or not.
But this is a classic case of an executive's need to delegate. There are others at the UFC not only better trained to assist Stephens, but better able to discuss the matter with the press if need be.
White's assistance? It didn't seem to help anyone much.
Stephens continued to sit in a jail cell, fighters who performed and fought their butts off were all but ignored as White and the UFC helped ignite a media brush fire and anyone with a functioning cerebral cortex questioned just what White was doing as he stood in front of the assembled media.
White's continued need to minimize the charges against Stephens, to cast the fighter (and himself) as the real victim, to needlessly compare the incident to a dissimilar situation with boxer Floyd Mayweather and plant conspiracy theories about the execution of a simple arrest warrant wasn't a good look for a company still trying to make its way in the wider world.