Dana White's habit of berating people who displease him might do more harm than good when it comes to Georges St. Pierre. It could only end up painting White as even more fickle, spiteful and childish than usual—and at the expense of what should be better memory.
Since former UFC welterweight champion St. Pierre announced his unofficial retirement after UFC 167, the two men keep a steady back-and-forth.
GSP spoke in favor of better UFC drug testing and called the promotion a monopoly. He said his life was too high-pressure to continue as champion, which is reasonable considering the vitriol surrounding his UFC 167 fight against Johny Hendricks and the seven years of stardom preceding it.
He railed against the Hendricks decision. He railed against GSP's decision to take a hiatus, saying that GSP "owed" the UFC. He called St. Pierre "kooky," an insult he used again on Wednesday's Fox Sports Live after Freddie Roach came out in support of the champion's decisions.
This kind of venom deflates White's already-shaky credibility among fight fans.
Certainly, White rules the UFC world, and his word is more or less law; the basis for the UFC's success rests on internal control. The organization needs White's rigid, bombastic temperament to keep fighters in line. When White insults a fighter who left him for no other reason than the leaving, it looks more like a spurned lover's jealous anger than strong management.
St. Pierre has a well-earned reputation as the most gentlemanly fighter in MMA. He put a pleasant, accessible, marketable face on a sport where two caged men beat each other. He was dominant without a personality that scared off the casual fans whose dollars the UFC needs to grow. The whole time he stayed loyal to the UFC and showed a superhuman resolve to maintain his good-natured vibe even in the face of insulting opponents.
We could understand White's hatred for Tito Ortiz. Talking badly of GSP feels wrong, like insulting Bob Cratchit.
Furthermore, White undoes his own PR campaign. It was White who rallied behind St. Pierre as the biggest draw in the UFC. White and the unstoppable UFC press engine pumped us full of stats and praises about how dominant he was. They told us he was the best, and we agreed.
Then fans started lambasting him over his careful title defenses. Fans criticized him for not moving weight classes to fight Anderson Silva. Finally, he quit, complaining of headaches and lack of life perspective, and justifiably so. White might as well slap a shell-shocked soldier.
The UFC is about controlling its ranks and its message, but more and more the fans are siding with the fighters.
Issues like pay and labor rights come down harder on White than anyone. Getting mad at St. Pierre exposes the dependence of the UFC on keeping the fighters leashed, only now the fighters have more traction individually than years ago. If there were ever a precedent for fighters to leave voluntarily and call attention to organizational issues, GSP fits the bill.
We like Uncle Dana when he’s curmudgeonly, but not when he’s outright vengeful to someone we’ve been conditioned, by him, to love. A smarter move for White would be a public and (outwardly) sincere reconciliation with St. Pierre.
The UFC prides itself on fostering a bond between fighter and fan. It seems like a bad move to taint one of the purer bonds we had and reveal the deeply fixed control issues at the heart of the promotion.
The high road might be more self-preservation than public relations for White. It's unwise to turn your enemies into martyrs.
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