I’ve never really understood why the four letter word, ESPN, seems to hate the UFC and MMA. Why is that? The buy rates for pay per view fights are good, from what I can tell, the fans are packed into the shows like sardines, tens of thousands of them at a time, and the sport in general seems to be growing by leaps and bounds. To make it all more puzzling, more and more people seem to be working at careers in this sport. Why is it that I can follow bowling (hello 1978) on ESPN, but not MMA? Why in the world does ESPN hate the UFC and mixed martial arts?
The following reasons I can come up with are based primarily on facts, my personal opinions, and personal observations over the years.
ESPN Is Owned By Disney
The land of cartoon mice and children’s storybook adventures, Disney, owns 80% of ESPN. MMA is certainly not a fancy and frilly sport for really young kids and you probably won’t see it coming to schools anytime soon, like football, baseball, basketball, or even wrestling, but it is certainly a legitimate, regulated sport.
So much has been done over the years to improve the sport. While I’m not a fanatic, I’m also more than a casual fan, dating back to UFC 1, back in the tournament days, when it was basically no rules, with the exception of biting and eye gouging. Now, there are timed rounds, rules of combat, which by the way, vary depending on location to accommodate different states and athletic commissions, and doctors checking the men to make sure they can continue safely in the fights of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
ESPN Cannot Control MMA
I’m not going to go so far as to say ESPN controls what football and basketball do, but they contribute greatly to rule changes, public sentiment, and other things.
While I cannot claim to know Dana White, Lorenzo Fertitta, or anyone else associated with the UFC or MMA, from what I can tell, they do their own thing. Maybe you could say this is a bad thing, but I just don’t see it that way. Why should an organization of any kind allow a sports reporting, money making giant dictate what they do? Would you let ESPN dictate anything to your business?
ESPN, in my opinion, is leading the charge for change in other sports, sometimes for the good of the fan, but often for the good of the pocketbook. I love, for example, how they rail on the BCS college football system and promote the need for a playoff system, which I think would be great for fans, but do not fool myself into thinking it’s not about ratings and money.
Wrong Type of Controversy
I have seen some of the most ludicrous cases of making a mountain out of a molehill on ESPN on various sports. There’s much ado about nothing, quite often, from what I can tell after decades of watching.
Fighting itself is controversial, even in an organized sport, like MMA. It’s not ‘human cockfighting’ as some politicians wanted you to believe a few years back. It’s not so much that ESPN doesn’t want to cover the controversy of fighting, it’s just that it’s not money generating, make up a story and go with it controversy. After all, if they covered ‘fighting’ as a sport, a little old lady in Iowa might complain. The fact is, it’s not PG rated, like the bulk of the other sports, so someone might be upset if it’s shown.
Lack of Headline-Making Controversy
I know people have beefs with judges and refs in all sports and MMA is no different. That said, if you are an avid sports fan, have you seen an NBA game officiated poorly? How about football? Boxing certainly has had its share of controversial decisions and rulings. There are actually few solid examples of the judges just plain getting it wrong it the UFC. Now, I personally think it happens at times. But, honestly, in a closely contested fight is it so impossible to think different people would score two rounds for one guy, but the next judge would only score one of three? It’s not that hard to imagine. Heck, I’ve had heated debates with other fans over the ‘real’ winner of the fight. If we cannot agree, why would judges be different? I would say, from day one, the judges in MMA, even though not perfect, are far superior to the judges in boxing.
The lack of controversy, in my opinion, stems from good officials as well. Perhaps the most controversial decision you’ll find is the official stopping a bout too early to reduce injury to a fighter. That’s not exactly headline news….ESPN reporting an MMA official stops a fight to protect them from injury after 3 undefended punches to the head, not 5! That doesn’t sound like something which will sell well. You’ll find more cases of this than cases of fights being stopped way too late. This, by almost any sane person’s logic, is a good problem to have.
ESPN Is Too Involved With Boxing
Skip Bayless will talk your ear off about Manny Pacquiao, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say the names Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Brock Lesnar, or Georges St-Pierre. Why is that? I actually like Bayless and many of the other ESPN commentators for their commentary on the other sports, but few of the talking heads will even mutter UFC, MMA, or the names of anyone associated with the sport, unless it’s to rail on them for some perceived wrong-doing.
My guess, for what it’s worth from a more than casual, but not quite hysterical fan, is that there’s not enough money for ESPN to make right now in MMA, but there is in boxing.
Attached is a rather interesting video of a response from Dana White, involving a ‘report’ on fighter salaries in the UFC. I would guess some of the low level guys are very underpaid, when you look at what they’re doing, but how much to guys in AAA baseball make? Did the NFL Europe players (when it was going) make anywhere near the salaries of the guys in the NFL? No. The UFC pays guys just starting out very little, but they give them opportunity to make it to the big time, just as in other sports.
Pay special attention at the 8:49 mark when Lorezo Fertitta puts the reporter on the spot for ESPN boxers making a few hundred dollars for televised fights (much less than UFC fighters). It’s priceless!