By this point, we really should know better than to take UFC president Dana White’s promises as gospel.
The fast-talking fight promoter is, after all, in the business of building interest in his product, and “guaranteeing” a particular fight is going to happen probably tops the list, whether you mean it or not. Whenever a player in a stick-and-ball sport “guarantees” anything, we end up talking about it, and it’s no different when White puts his presidential stamp on a match-up, even if we know he often uses trick ink that fades within a couple weeks.
Nick Diaz was going to have to fight a top-10 welterweight before getting a title shot. Georges St-Pierre was going to fight Anderson Silva, most likely in May. Dan Henderson, Lyoto Machida, and Alexander Gustafsson are currently 1A, 1B, and 1C in the light-heavyweight division as far as contenders go, but the first two are fighting each other, and Chael Sonnen is fighting for the title.
I assume Jon Fitch is getting an amused laugh out of all this — the fuss being kicked up this year as “No. 1 contenders” get passed over and “title eliminator” bouts turn into just another fight when a better option appears on the horizon. Like many of the UFC’s elite, the American Kickboxing Academy welterweight has been down this road before himself, and knows all too well that “deserves” and “earned” are two words that don’t mean much when it comes to determining title challengers in the UFC.
Those of us in the MMA industry already know to take every “this fight is going to happen” and “he is absolutely next in line” with several grains of salt, but casual fans arriving to the sport through the UFC on FOX events or catching a pay-per-view for the first time aren’t similarly trained.
If they hear White or the UFC announce team of Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan proclaiming Johny Hendricks the No. 1 contender in the welterweight division and the next in line for a title shot, they’re going to be awfully confused when they see the poster for UFC 158 and find Diaz opposite GSP, not the bearded knockout artist they took a liking to back in November. What complicates matters even more is when Hendricks goes from winning a “No. 1 contender bout” in the co-main event of UFC 154 to landing opposite Jake Ellenberger in third position of next March’s return to Montreal — again on the same card as St-Pierre, but not against him.
The string of broken promises and hollow guarantees cast White as a used car salesman who is ready and willing to say whatever it takes to get you to drive off the lot with a car today. He’s going to tell you what you need to hear and what you want to hear, but mostly, he’s going to say whatever will bring him the most business and the most attention right now, and worry about the fallout from those unfulfilled promise somewhere down the line, usually by chastising or mocking anyone who brings up the bouts that didn’t come together as he said they would in the past.
After a year where myriad match-ups fell apart due to injury, teasing some of the biggest fights imaginable was a good way to start building some momentum heading into 2013. The problem is that instead of saying “We’re working on it” or “We’re hopeful that it will happen,” White always has to be definitive about things; as if there is no way that his wishes won’t come true. Unfortunately for the excitable and animated fight promoter, these aren’t “because I said so” situations.
White can’t force St-Pierre to share the cage with Anderson Silva, so there is absolutely no reason to guarantee it is going to happen. All it does it create false hope in the fans that still long to see the two champions square off, and disappoint them when the UFC fails to deliver.
The flipside of that is his constant proclaiming of a fighter being “next in line” or “the No. 1 contender,” both of with usually come with the word “absolutely” attached somewhere. Just as guaranteeing fights and failing to deliver is disheartening for fans, promising a fighter the opportunity they’ve worked their entire careers for and then pulling the rug out from under them is a quick way to build resentment and frustration within the work force.
I’m not saying we’re going to see a mass exodus from the UFC anytime soon, but it has to be trickier to convince someone to take a fight on short notice to help you out when you’ve broken promises to them in the past, and you have a history of coming up short on your guarantees.
At a certain point, people — fighters, fans, media — are just going to stop listening whenever White starts making guarantees and promises, deciding that it’s better to believe none of what he says and never be disappointed than trust his every word and constantly be let down.
What makes all this even more interesting — at least to me — is that none of it is necessary.
There’s no need for White to proclaim someone the “No. 1 contender” or guarantee certain fights are going to happen; just put together great fights and most everyone will be happy. If you don’t set the expectation in the first place, there is far less for people to get mad about when certain fights don’t come together.
Part of why the Diaz over Hendricks decision causes so many people to bristle is that White emphatically stated on multiple occasions that Diaz wouldn’t return to a title shot, and followed it up by singing Hendricks’ praises in Montreal in November after he won a fight the UFC president said would determine the next title challenger in the welterweight division.
If White wasn’t so emphatic about everything he said, they’re be far less backlash every time he had to pivot away from one of his promises because he can’t deliver.
Instead, we’re at a point now where almost everything the White says is met with a collective “we’ll see” from the MMA community. We’ve been built up and knocked down so many times that we can’t bring ourselves to believe much of what White has to say anymore when it comes to marquee match-ups.
Either stop making guarantees or start delivering on those promises — just don’t keep telling us we’re getting a new car for Christmas only to call us whiny ingrates when you hand us the keys to a five-star lemon instead.