UFC: Will Chope and Avoiding the Headaches of Bad PR

Matthew RyderFeatured ColumnistApril 1, 2014

SINGAPORE - JANUARY 04: Will Chope reacts after losing to Max Holloway  during their UFC Fight Night Singapore featherweight bout at Marina Bay Sands on January 4, 2014 in Singapore.  (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images)
Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images

A little over a week ago, Will Chope stepped off the scale after hitting his mark and lined up opposite Diego Brandao. He was to take on Brandao at Fight Night 38, hoping to build on an 0-1 UFC record against the former Ultimate Fighter winner.

Twenty-four hours later, he was out of a job without having set foot in the cage.

Funny how this world works sometimes.

After some information came to light about Chope and a history of domestic violence, the promotion unceremoniously cut him, offering a statement on the UFC's hard line towards such behavior.

That's a fundamentally great approach to take to building the roster for any sport, be it the list of guys in the UFC or a squad in a team sport, but it's definitely not an accurate representation of the way the UFC actually does business.

In fact, guys like Abel Trujillo and Anthony Johnson are presently on the roster despite similar pasts.

Former champion Quinton Jackson and current featherweight Jeremy Stephens were aggressively lobbied for by Dana White, himself, while they were in the slammer; White chasing them to their holding cells and throwing bail money at anyone who'd take it in an effort to get his guys out of the can.

So no, the UFC doesn't take a true hard line on domestic violence or other varieties of criminal behavior by its athletes. It takes a hard line on guys like Will Chope, who are basically irrelevant and can provide positive press when they're made an example of. It takes a hard line when it suits them.

But that's not what this is about.

It's not about Chope, or his apparent reformation and desire to return to the promotion one day. It's about the UFC's handling of him, and of other similar potential public relations disasters dealt to the UFC by its roster of talent.

Let's be realistic here: To fight in a cage for money, you have to be a little nutty. Not in a bad way or in a way that makes you a danger to society, but in a way that lets you ignore the dangers of your profession long enough to kill or be killed for 15 minutes on a Saturday night.

There's also the fact that, if you took a random sample of 400 non-cagefighting people, a large portion of them would have something in their past, present or future that would be cause for concern.

That's life.

Some people did something stupid when they were a kid, some are doing something stupid right now when they should be at work or school, some will do something stupid tomorrow or the next day.

Call it a human flaw.

When you add that natural proclivity for nuttiness in the average mixed martial artist and put together a roster of them that matches that random sample in size, you're going to come across some interesting issues.

The thing for the UFC is that, for all that it does well, its approach to such issues always seems to be reactive and never proactive. It's either finding out about a fighter's checkered past and having to react, or it's burying its head in the sand and waiting for it to all go away.

For a fight promotion that's increasingly trying to professionalize itself, (perhaps unjustifiably) comparing itself to major sports and describing itself as a league, this is simply not a sensible way to approach a reality that is unavoidable.

People will do stupid things. Fighters are people. Fighters will do stupid things.

If you're in charge of literally hundreds of them, you need to accept that equation and plan for it. If you don't, it's only a matter of time before one of them does something that you can't solve with a roster cut and a neatly manicured press release.

Many have argued for fighter background checks, which would be both costly and impractical but may be the best solution in a perfect world. The world isn't perfect though. Actually, that's the idea that serves as the foundation for this whole problem in the first place.

Perhaps it's more practical for the promotion to request a criminal record check and a vulnerable sector check (at least that's what it's called here in Canada) as many employers do in the real world.

A guy got busted with a few grams of pot as a college student in 2002? You're probably not too worried about rostering him.

Another guy hit a woman with a bottle in a bar six months ago? Maybe he's not UFC material right now, or ever.

That's a simple step, but it's inexpensive and practical. You could even put the cost on the incoming fighter, as it's not prohibitive by any stretch and it's pretty standard practice in the world of employment. In the same way that some companies test for drugs of recreation, others want to make sure you're not a violent offender or a danger to society before they put you in the corner cubicle.

What the UFC has on its hands is different than a team sport, and it needs to be treated as such. There is no collective bargaining agreement because fighters are independent contractors, but there still needs to be room for some behavioral guidelines similar to those seen in a collectively bargained sport.

For the sake of professionalism, and the sake of getting out in front of a problem even more serious than that of Will Chope before it comes to its door, the UFC needs to establish some sort of true policy for incoming talent.

Going without it could prove to be crippling to the promotion's image some day, be it when a fighter that didn't get due attention does something outlandish or when a particularly intrepid reporter goes digging for dirt from the past and finds it.

It's nice to focus on putting fights in Turkey and establishing TUF in India and go on talking about your global expansion plans, but sometimes the problems needing the most attention are right in your own yard.

Without that attention and an appropriate process in place, who knows what the UFC might wake up to find there the next time something like this comes up.


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