In a recent interview with Ariel Helwani, Dana White was forced to eat crow.
The (brief) backstory: a reporter asked Dana White about a recent report from Dave Meltzer that claimed there was a list of Strikeforce fighters that were never, under any circumstances, allowed to sign with the UFC. Dana vehemently denied it and said that Meltzer was “making shit up.” Showtime released a statement on it also claiming that the story was complete bunk.
But that isn’t what Meltzer said. What he actually said was that there was a stipulation that prohibits any Strikeforce fighter, at the end of their deal, from signing with the UFC as long as Strikeforce fights are being shown on Showtime. Which is exactly the case, and what Dana White admitted before a flabbergasted press at the UFC 149 pre-fight presser yesterday.
I’ve speculated for some time that this was the case with Strikeforce fighters and why we haven’t seen more of them in the UFC. Overeem is the most obvious exception, but he was “released” from Strikeforce and, from what I understand, the deal that was signed was actually with Golden Glory rather than Overeem himself (though I’m not 100% on that).
This unfortunately happens a lot with Meltzer due to his business model. Unlike other reporters, Meltzer publishes his own periodical and sells it as a subscription. For decades, he exclusively covered professional wrestling. But he’s always been a martial arts and grappling enthusiast and has been a booster of MMA from the beginning, even serving in the past as a judge at ringside. In recent years the Observer has become almost equal parts pro wrestling and MMA. Because Meltzer puts out his news on his own subscription based service, his information is often re-reported online second, third, and fourth hand. These are the reports, often erroneous, that get to Dana White, et al. It’s basically a shitty game of telephone aided by a small handful of sloppy reporters and a lot of shitty bloggers (hi guys!).
As for Showtime’s claims that they don’t interfere with fighter contracts, that was simply them nit-picking on the phrasing that was being used. No, they don’t actively prevent fighters from signing with the UFC. But that clause undeniably exists.
See Dana White get asked about this whole ordeal by Ariel Helwani for MMAFighting.com in the video below, starting at the 6:38 mark. I’ve transcribed it because a lot of what he says is revelatory and at times even absurd.
Dana: “So this whole Dave Meltzer thing: when I was in Australia, somebody hit me about Meltzer saying—Meltzer said that even if the deal is over at Showtime, that these guys can’t sign. I said ‘that’s crazy, that’s not true at all.’ But apparently what Meltzer said was if a guy’s contract comes up while he’s at Strikefroce, he can’t sign with the UFC. That’s absolutely true. I’ve said that a million times.”
Ariel: “Guys like Melendez, Rockhold…they can never go to the UFC as long as Zuffa has a deal with Showtime?”
Dana: “Exactly. And everybody knows that.”
Okay, let’s back up before going any further.
This is the first time Dana’s ever said this specifically. Him saying that he’s said this “a million times” is bunk, and thankfully Ariel doesn’t let him off the hook for that (as you’ll see). His claim that “everybody knows that” doesn’t hold up when guys like Helwani, Cofield, and others all but screamed “WHAT?!” out loud at the press conference when Dana mentioned it. He sort of just blithely dropped it out there, and his tact now seems to be that he was simply denying that it would always be the case even if Strikeforce left Showtime. That’s…an interesting approach, and no way was it going to work.
Now, here’s the thing: I’m no journalist, but I’ve always SPECULATED that something like this was the case with certain fighters. I based it on what I read about some of the wonkiness behind Strikeforce’s business dealings with Showtime, the continued incredulity over Gilbert Melendez not being brought into the UFC despite being a pretty clear top five fighter in his weight class, and the fact that the UFC got Strikeforce for a song. That doesn’t mean it was public knowledge by any stretch, and while I’m sure journalists reached the same conclusion, their chosen field demands they go on things like facts instead of hunches and assumptions.
Ariel: “That’s a bummer for them, no?”
Dana: “Everybody—that’s always been the deal. Everybody’s known that.”
Ariel: “I don’t think it was public information.”
Dana: “Oh it was definitely public information. Yeah, that’s been known. I said, these guys are Strikeforce fighters.”
Ariel: “They’re depressed about this. You know that, right?”
Dana: “They shouldn’t be.”
Ariel: *silence, obvious disbelief*
I’m not exaggerating there. You have to watch the video to see Ariel’s reaction, which was the same as mine.
Dana: “They shouldn’t be.”
Ariel: “…on the–”
Dana: (interrupting) “Just like the guy that got down on his knees and said ‘hey, we’re part of the family—”
Ariel: “I wanted to ask you about that.”
Dana: “—and we want the big fight bonuses, too. It’s a completely different deal. That deal is completely different than the deal with the UFC. Obviously, uh…there’s a lot of guys in Strikeforce that were getting paid crazy money. They make really good money over there. And, you know—it’s completely different than the UFC model. There’s money—Strikeforce is its own entity. It runs as its own business. Um, and, it’s—it’s not structured the same as the UFC.”
Ariel: “How do you keep their morale up, though? How do you let them know that we’re going to take care of you even though they’re not the best competitors for them over there, the most challenges for them?”
Dana: “Keep the morale up?! I mean, these guys are the champions, they’re the stars of this organization, Showtime is behind them—Showtime does amazing commercials, really helps promote these guys, um…they have nothing to be depressed about. It’s just—it’s ridiculous.”
Firstly, fighters don’t always do it for money. There are people – it may seem crazy to many of you reading this but it’s absolutely true – for whom there are things more important than money. Guys like Luke Rockhold and Tim Kennedy in particular could make fine money doing what they do in Strikeforce. But they also want to prove that they are as good as they believe themselves to be, and as competitors they’re desperate for the opportunity to prove themselves on a larger stage and against the best competition out there. Which is in the UFC.
That said, not everybody in Strikeforce is a millionaire, and even if their deals offer bigger downsides, Lorenz Larkin’s public plea last Saturday was for bonuses. There’s the money that a guy gets for being with the UFC and showing up to fight, then there’s the bonuses, some of which are announced and some of which aren’t. I’m sure it’s true that there’s a handful of Strikeforce fighters that make an exorbitant amount on their downsides, but when you consider that downsides are all they’re making, in the end they’d be making more money in the UFC.
Especially when you consider that Strikeforce pulls in lousy gates and no money for pay-per-view, which brings us to the point he made about Showtime. Showtime does an alright job with the promotional hype videos, but their decision-making during broadcasts is astounding. I’ve sat through “Strikeforce: Challengers” shows that don’t even mention that they have a major card coming up for them (in one case the very next week!) until the tail end of the broadcast. Then they have a guy like Jason High, who is probably a fight away from a title shot, jerking the curtain off the air. Giving them praise for their production is one thing, but their promotion is…I’ll be kind and say it’s sorely lacking.
And the numbers don’t lie. Something like 420,000 people watched Kennedy and Rockhold. Much of that is because of all the increased attention granted to them by the Zuffa acquisition, mentions on UFC broadcasts, and the strengths of those two guys in terms of being very likable draws (particularly Kennedy who has the added boost of being the only active duty soldier in the United States military competing for a major promotion). But can you imagine what that number would have drawn on Fox?
So in short: my homeboy Meltzer (I’m unabashed longtime fan; deal with it) was right all along, Dana’s stretching it a bit to say “everyone knew,” and there’s absolutely no reason to believe he’s being sincere in his incredulity over his champions in Strikeforce chomping at the bit to prove that they’re the best in the world.
Oh, and what on Earth does this mean for Daniel Cormier?