UFC: Does the Future of the Sport Depend on the UFC's Image Not "Growing Up"?

Matt Saccaro@@mattsaccaroContributor IIIJune 2, 2011

Dana White's "dickhouse" shirt is demonstrative of the whole issue.
Dana White's "dickhouse" shirt is demonstrative of the whole issue.

The dust after UFC 130 could not settle due to the harsh winds of controversy. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson—former UFC and Pride champion as well as the night's main event winner—was at the source of the issue.

In a post-fight interview with MMAHeat.com's Karyn Bryant, Rampage acted in a way many would deem inappropriate, saying he wanted to "motorboat" Bryant while doing the motions and getting close enough to her to make it uncomfortable (although it is worthy to note that Bryant wasn't bothered).

Rampage, having done questionable things to female reporters in the past (see here and here), is no stranger to such actions.

Needless to say, Rampage's antics have created controversy amongst the MMA community...controversy about how there is no controversy!

Rampage's behavior was criticized by Cagewriter.com's Maggie Hendricks who concluded that Rampage's act was "old and tired" and that by giving him publicity the MMA media was making a mistake.

Her thoughts on Rampage's behavior made it to the infamous Underground forums where they were lambasted by rabid keyboard warriors and even UFC commentator and comedian Joe Rogan who said:

"I think Rampage occasionally gets out of line, and I think some of what he does in interviews in unfortunate. I also think that's a part of his charm. He's not a fucking dentist, he's a cage fighter, and he's one with a very unique personality. I don't think he should be given a free pass for some of the questionable things he does, but I do think that this woman in question is all kinds of cunty."

Joe Rogan too has gone "off the handle" at times in the past. Rogan's words have turned legions of MMA fans against Hendricks and in doing so have caused even more controversy.

Cage Potato's Ben Goldstein was not at all amused by Rampage's actions nor by Rogan's commentary on the situation. He expressed his angst at the lack of attention the whole incident was getting. He rightly summed up the reaction of the MMA community when he wrote:

"[T]he majority of sports fans don’t give a rat’s ass. It’s just not part of their conversation. Nine out of 10 UFC fans will side with Quinton Jackson and Joe Rogan every time, because Rampage and Joe are awesome, and motorboating is hilarious, and who the fuck is Maggie Hendricks anyway?"

In his last paragraph, Goldstein provided a warning: That the employees (be it athletes or commentators) of other sports organizations couldn't act in such a manner and that a time will come when those belonging to the UFC can't either so Rogan and Rampage better get their acts together soon.

Goldstein's ideas can be reiterated in one sentence: If the UFC wants to be considered a first-rate sports organization, its employees should act like they're part of one.

While no one can or would say that Rampage violating a reporter is commendable (and this article is in no way trying to endorse his actions or dismiss them), this particular situation highlights an issue of great importance that if often ignored in MMA, the issue of the UFC's image.

UFC President Dana White is heavily criticized by pundit and keyboard warrior alike for his brash personality and propensity for foul language ("Count the F-bombs" could be a drinking game when listening to White's interviews). Like-minded people criticize Rogan for similar reasons.

The argument is that the UFC can't ascend to the highest pinnacle of sports along with the NFL and other such sports organizations unless people like White and Rogan are kept quiet and replaced with more conservative figures that will "play the game" and act like a proper CEO or commentator.

However, this notion may not be true. The truth may actually be that the UFC can't ascend to the highest pinnacle of sports WITHOUT people like Dana White and Joe Rogan and the attitude and style they represent the company with.

The fact of the matter is this: The primary demographic for the UFC is males ages 18-34.

The lower half of that demographic is extremely receptive to the UFC in large part because the President of the UFC dresses like them (Dana White can often be seen sporting shirts that wouldn't be out of place in a college campus or a frat party) and talks like them.

To put it into perspective, if Dana White were so bad would he really have been invited to the prestigious Oxford Union Society?

Having Joe Rogan as commentator is also part of this appeal. He is a popular comedian for that age group and is also a well known marijuana advocate (which increases his stock with parts of the demographic considerably), not to mention his stint on Fear Factor.

Part of the reason that the UFC is so popular is that White and Rogan help to give it an edge that the NFL, nor the NBA, nor any major sports organizations have. The fans relate to the UFC because they see people more like themselves at the press conference and behind the commentator booth, not like their parents or grandparents.

This has lead to success in the past and is leading to success now. But can it lead to success in the future? Is Goldstein right when he says that the UFC will have to change its ways to be taken seriously?

The answer is a complicated one and may not be settled for a generation.

First, the UFC is swiftly becoming—if it hasn't already—a truly international sports organization and will therefore not be as subject to the whims of prude American society as it extends its reach over the globe.

Second, it is possible that the current generation of younger (lets say 18-24) UFC fans will become parents that don't mind behavior the likes of which can be seen by White and Rogan. If this is the case, the UFC's demographic will expand to the older parents as well as their children, since their parent's will have no qualms with the UFC unlike many of the older people do today.

If this is the case, the UFC will have almost all of society captivated. They will have the parents since they used to be fans. They will have the kids since the kids will be raised on the sport. And they will have the teens since the sport of fighting naturally appeals to testosterone laden youths.

Third, it is possible that the opposite happens and the fans of today become parents that are put off by the UFC's antics. If this happens, the UFC has two options. They can either maintain their image and stay with their traditional demographic. The other option is streamline their image and in doing so capture the current fans attention as they become true adults.

If this happens, the sport can still become popular since the NFL is popular with all male demographics and it doesn't have the "edge" the UFC has.

So, "at the end of the day, what is the answer" you ask? The short term future of the sport depends on the UFC's current image that appeals so strongly to the zeitgeist of the modern (American) male. It has fueled the companies growth and will continue to do so in the coming years. But in the long term, the answer remains to be seen and will not be known until the bulk of the current UFC fans start having babies.