November 7, 2015
As many MMA fans watched Vitor Belfort battle Dan Henderson once again Saturday night, his dealings with the press leading up to UFC Fight Night 77 have been interesting to say the least. Belfort’s attempt to manage the media is just one of three interesting shots at controlling media perceptions.
Deadspin and Bloody Elbow released reports on Belfort that reflect abnormally high levels of testosterone in his system leading up to his title shot against Jon Jones in September 2013. Essentially, one might conclude from the articles that the UFC knew that Belfort was on TRT, yet it was not reported. Moreover, Jones was fighting a challenger that was on TRT although no one let the champion know.
Belfort was scheduled to do PR for his fight on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani last week but that interview was nixed due to the fact that Helwani wanted to ask about the reports.
Mr. @vitorbelfort will not be on the show today after all. His rep asked me about an 1 ago to not ask certain qs. I said I couldn’t do that…
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) October 26, 2015
… so they pulled him from the show. Disappointing, considering he was booked on Wednesday and they give this ultimatum now. Ah well. … — Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) October 26, 2015
Since The MMA Hour incident, Belfort has given interviews with the press but skirted the questions related to his TRT usage and the write-ups about it leading up to UFC 152.
Notably, Belfort has submitted to USADA testing twice under the new UFC-USADA drug protocol.
Still, Belfort’s legacy is likely tainted with his prior PED use and the Deadspin/BE revelations which implicate him as using TRT. Notwithstanding these issues, which may be out of his hands, Belfort’s PR efforts leading up to this fight reflect poor media relations.
Helwani was right to cancel the interview or willing to have the interview cancelled if he was not able to talk about the recent newsworthy items. It’s not the job of Helwani to amend his questioning here, but for Belfort’s media team to ready itself for the questions. Certainly, avoiding the interview altogether was an option, but promoting the fight (a part of his job as a contracted fighter for the UFC) was the impetus for the appearance.
Speaking of PR issues, Ronda Rousey hung up on a UFC media call when a question was posed about her relationship with Travis Browne. The controversial UFC heavyweight announced that he was with Rousey in an interview. Browne is being accused of his estranged wife of domestic violence. The accusation caused Browne to be suspended by the UFC but after an investigation into the matter, Browne was reinstated.
When asked about the relationship, Rousey hung up the line in the first several minutes of the conference call. She never returned to the call. It was clear the question, was unacceptable to her. But was it an unacceptable question? There has been no news as to the reasons for her dropping the line and not fulfilling her obligation to the UFC and the media.
The question, while being somewhat off topic from UFC 193, the event that was the primary reason for the conference call was within the realm of possibility. Admittedly, it did seem like a “gotcha” moment but it was a newsworthy question to bring up. Browne answered the question in a prior interview. Certainly, he could have deferred the question citing his personal life but decided to respond.
For Rousey, it’s clear that she was caught off-guard. Moreover, it seems like her team needs to come up with a strategy to decide on how to address the matter. Rousey and Browne are UFC fighters and are in the public eye. At some point, if their relationship continues, mainstream outlets (i.e., TMZ) will hone in on the relationship.
Rousey is the biggest draw in the UFC. Her brand is ascending. With appearances on Good Morning America and Ellen, she is becoming more visible and a role model to young women. Would her brand suffer if the public knew who she was dating?
Then, there’s the issue of Conor McGregor. The Irish fighter had to respond to critics after he was spotted wearing a poppy. A fan blasted the UFC interim featherweight champion for wearing the symbol of remembrance of British soldiers of World War I. The “poppy” is controversial in Northern Ireland and many Irish refuse to wear one due to the conflicts between the countries. McGregor maintained wearing the poppy was done in remembrance of all soldiers but was still criticized for perceived insensitivities.
He wrote in a Facebook post:
I know where my allegiance lies and what I do for my country. I don’t need a stupid little flower with a 100 different meanings to tell me if I do or do not represent my country.
Check the facts of its original meaning. ALL soldiers. ALL wars.I have the blood of many nations on my gloves. Fought and beat on the world stage. You have a pint in your hand and a Celtic jersey on in your local. F*** you and the Queen.
These three recent episodes reflect a need for UFC contracted fighters to become more media aware. In the case of Belfort and Rousey, it’s a matter of preparing a strategy to responding to tough questions. In the matter of McGregor, it’s a matter of realizing the sensitivities of your audience. The most important thing in all of these media-related matters is execution. In all three, the execution was poor and it appears that each did not have a media strategy, or had a poor one in the case of Belfort. UFC Fighters are not the only sports figures dealing with media mishaps. But if the UFC wants to change perceptions and garner more fans, it needs to work with the media and become more media savvy.
October 30, 2015
Ronda Rousey hung up on a UFC Conference Call due to a question from a reporter about the fighter’s relationship with UFC Heavyweight Travis Browne.
The media conference call featuring Rousey, Holly Holm, Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Valerie Letourneau was held to promote UFC 193 on November 14th.
The question was from Marc Raimondi of MMA Fighting. The question (around the 6:30 minute mark), which was in the first 7 minutes of the media call, Raimondi asked about Travis Browne’s recent announcement that they were in a relationship. The operator on the call indicated that Rousey’s line was disconnected and they would try to call her back. She did not return to the media call.
You may recall Browne is still married to his estranged wife. This past July, his wife, Jenna Renee Webb, claimed that she was the victim of domestic violence caused by Browne. He denied the allegations through his manager but was suspended by the UFC pending an investigation by the organization and was taken off of any scheduled appearances he was to make during International Fight Week. In late August, Browne was reinstated by the UFC.
Based on Browne still being married and the accusations by Webb, one might conclude that Rousey dating the fighter would be bad for her public image.
Fair or unfair to ask the question? Browne did state publicly that they were in a relationship. But, Rousey has not made any public comments about their relationship. Since it is Rousey, her actions probably will be swept under the rug of her broad popularity. Yet, the question about the question is if it is fair to ask Rousey about personal matters such as who she is dating.
Certainly, since she is a public figure, many things become fair game including who you are dating. Moreover, Browne did make the statement publicly so there’s an actual reason for the question. While you might argue it’s not the right venue to ask the question, the media access to fighters is minimal especially when they are preparing for a fight. Thus, Raimondi saw an opening to ask and did what he thought was appropriate. Will there be blowback by the UFC PR team? Maybe. But realistically, it was not like he asked the question based on an MMA web site rumor or from talking to “inside sources.” Browne made the statement. We shall see how this will be handled by Rousey’s handlers and what kind of PR treatment this will be given.
October 21, 2015
Reebok made a major faux pas when it rolled out its t-shirts for UFC Fight Night 76 in Dublin, Ireland. A UFC shirt which depicted the country did not include Northern Ireland.
For ease of reference, below is a map of Ireland. Above is the UFC/Reebok shirt. Note Northern Ireland (in the top right hand corner of the map) is not on the UFC shirt as if it was erased in some way.
MMA Fighting explains the political undercurrent causing the outrage:
The Republic of Ireland and ‘Ireland’ have different meanings. The former is a term refers to the independent democratic country of Ireland whose capital is Dublin. The latter, or ‘Ireland’, is considered to be both the Republic of Ireland as well as Northern Ireland, one of the four countries which comprise the United Kingdom.
John Kavanagh, the coach for Conor McGregor among other Irish UFC fighters, issued a statement on the Reebok t-shirt and the reason behind the cultural sensitivity. Kavanagh, head coach of SBG Dublin, initially stated that he would sever ties with Reebok (or the UFC or both) if the shirt was not taken down.
An incredibly insensitive stupid divisive idea. Its removed by the end of the day or SBG is gone. I expect a sincere apology to Irish fans.
— Coach Kavanagh (@John_Kavanagh) October 21, 2015
One need only a basic understanding of European history to understand the cultural and political problems in Ireland. Moreover, why didn’t Reebok do its research prior to making the t-shirt? If it’s looking to expand its global footprint, perhaps the UFC and Reebok should spend some time learning about the globe it would like to expand into. If not for Conor McGregor, something like this t-shirt gaffe could have really turned off the fan base in Ireland.
October 4, 2015
The UFC provided an official response to the Deadspin article written by Josh Gross which reported that the UFC may have known that Vitor Belfort had been using synthetic testosterone.
According to the Deadspin article, an email erroneously sent by Zuffa to fight managers and others with Belfort’s drug test results prior to his title fight with Jon Jones at UFC 152 showed that he had free testosterone levels that were two and a half times above that of the average man for his age. Zuffa attempted to claw back the email and threatened those that did not delete it with “judicial remedies” if they did not comply.
Eleven days after the Deadspin article was published, the UFC finally responded to the article. Notably, UFC’s PR head Dave Sholler responded with stating that a “cover-up” was “categorically false.”
Via MMA Junkie:
“Any suggestion or inference there was a cover-up is just categorically false,” Sholler said. “That period of time with TRT is one that was very tricky for everyone – for the UFC, for athletic commissions, and for athletes alike.”
Bloody Elbow added additional insight on the Belfort situation to which the UFC did not respond to requests for comment as noted in the article. It is not known whether the UFC has responded to this article specifically although one might guess it would be the same response as that given regarding the Deadspin article.
Notably, Dana White was not the one making the statement on the Deadspin article at the news conference Saturday night. It’s interesting to point out that it took USADA 8 days to reply to a scathing report by Thomas Hauser although it had issued a press release denouncing the article a day after Hauser’s article was published. The UFC response (or lack thereof) is an interesting view on media relations and the need to respond to news which affects the company. Perhaps the UFC thought that not responding to the article would mean it would go away. This does not seem like the way to address a PR situation. We shall see if there will be more of a response to the UFC or if we see them attempt to get past the situation.
September 29, 2015
Jon Jones appeared in a Albuquerque, New Mexico courtroom today regarding last April’s hit and run accident which injured a pregnant woman. Jones will not receive any jail time as part of a plea agreement.
Jones agreed to plead guilty to leaving the scene of an accident causing great bodily harm. He will serve community service hours and be placed on 18 months probation. The plea agreement was made in part due to the fact that Jones had no prior felony convictions.
The penalty for Jones’ charge carries a jail sentence of not more than 18 months in jail and/or a $5,000 fine followed by one year on parole. Jones will avoid this if he abides by the terms of the plea deal.
Via the District Attorney News Release:
On September 29, 2015 Jones entered into a Pre-Indictment Plea with the State of New Mexico pleading Guilty to Leaving the Scene of an Accident (Great Bodily Harm), a fourth degree felony offense. He was granted a Conditional Discharge, and ordered to serve a term of up to 18 months on Supervised Probation.
Appearing in court, Jones apologized and stated he accepts full responsibiulity for his actions. Jones was ordered to complete 72 appearances, one for each of the 72 weeks in the 18 month Probation period. Second Judicial District Court Judge Charlie Brown ordered those appearances should be at local martial arts academies, grade schools, and middle schools. There, Jones will speak with Bernalillo County children about the importance of making good choices and how oine wrong decision can ruin everything for which they work so hard.
Jones offered an official statement expressing regret for his actions:
With regards to today’s decision made by the court, I am very happy to now be able to put this incident behind me. My actions have caused pain and inconvenience in the lives of others and for that I am truly sorry and I accept full responsibility. I have been working hard during this time away from my sport to grow and mature as a man and to ensure that nothing like this happens again. I have learned a great deal from this situation and I am determined to emerge a better person because of it. I apologize to those who were affected by my actions in this incident and I am hopeful that I will be given the opportunity to redeem myself in the eyes of the public, my family and friends as well as my supporters. I am not sure what the future holds for me but I plan to continue to do the work needed to be productive and successful in every aspect of my life. “
Dana White was present in the courtroom during the hearing. The UFC offered its own statement (via MMA Fighting) in which it indicated that Jones was still suspended but their law firm would review the plea prior to a possible reinstatement.
The UFC organization is aware that Jon Jones reached a plea agreement with authorities in Albuquerque, New Mexico this morning stemming from charges associated with a motor vehicle accident earlier this year. As a result, UFC, through Las Vegas-based law firm Campbell & Williams, will thoroughly review the agreement before discussing Jones’ possible reinstatement to return to competition.
More information will be made available following completion of this review.
This is likely the best outcome for Jones and the UFC. Jones avoids any jail time (subject to following the terms of the plea agreement) and the UFC will likely reinstate him. With this being Jones’ first offense and no major injuries from the accident, no jail time was a likely result. White being in the courtroom was no surprise. Despite the suspension, Jones is a vital part of the company’s success.
August 28, 2015
The UFC announced that the investigation into allegations of domestic violence against Travis Browne is now complete. Investigators determined that there was inconclusive evidence to support claims of the alleged abuse claims by Browne’s wife.
Browne was held out of International Fight Week activities as a result of allegations from Jenna Renee Webb that the UFC heavyweight had caused her bodily harm. Webb posted pictures of her bruises she claimed were from Browne as a result of a February incident. Browne’s representatives claimed that the allegations were unfounded.
The UFC launched an investigation using a former FBI agent with more than 25 years’ experience. After a seven week investigation which included interviews “with multiple subjects associated with the principals, as well as the principals themselves.” Based on the wording, it sounds as though Browne and Webb were interviewed in the investigation.
PUBLIC SUMMARY RE: BROWNE INVESTIGATION
In an effort to provide the public with additional information regarding UFC’s investigation of allegations of domestic violence by Travis Browne, while honoring the competing interest of protecting the privacy rights of all the individuals who voluntarily cooperated in the investigation, UFC provides the following summary:
Upon learning of the posting of photographs on social media on or about July 8, 2015 by an individual reflecting bruises on their person and corresponding commentary that Travis Browne had committed the acts resulting in the bruising, UFC, through the Las Vegas-based law firm Campbell & Williams, began efforts to retain a third party to conduct a thorough, independent investigation into this matter. In mid-July, Campbell & Williams retained a private investigator with more than 25 years of experience as a Supervisory Special Agent in the Federal Bureau of Investigation operating out of the Los Angeles Field Office and as a Special Inspector General for the United States of America. The investigator has overseen countless investigations involving thousands of witnesses and subject interviews.
As part of his nearly two-month investigation into the Browne matter, the investigator and his colleagues interviewed nearly a dozen individuals located in several states. The interviewees included the principals of the investigation, former spouses, individuals with close personal relationships, and health-care professionals. Additionally, the investigator obtained various forms of electronic data reflecting interactions of the principals with each other and third parties. The investigation also included electronic and hand searches for relevant civil and criminal records, law enforcement service-call records, and the like.
Based on the abundant evidence gathered to date, the results of the investigation are inconclusive to support the claims of alleged domestic violence involving Browne. Similarly, the evidence was inconclusive to support a finding that Browne had violated the UFC Fighter Conduct Policy. The evidence gathered in the investigation has also been reviewed by Donald J. Campbell, Esq. of Campbell & Williams, a former state and federal prosecutor with extensive experience overseeing criminal investigations, who likewise concurs that the results of the investigation are inconclusive.
As a result of the investigation, Browne will be able to return to the octagon.
Not a surprise that this was released on Friday without much notice. The usual standard is that if you do not want to make a lot of news, you release news when most are not looking. Of course, that rule was somewhat broken tonight when Dana White went on ESPN to announce a new date and relocation for a Ronda Rousey fight.
Notably, the UFC press release states that there was inconclusive evidence that the he violated the UFC Fighter Conduct Policy. The evaluation of whether the fighter violated the conduct policy was not stated in the Anthony Johnson third-party investigation just a couple days ago. I’m sure many people will scrutinize the wording of the Browne release when the investigation found “inconclusive” evidence. Certainly one might speculate that there was some evidence found regarding the possibility of domestic violence but not enough (in the minds of the investigators) for a jury to find Browne guilty of a crime. Of course, there is news that Webb may now press charges which may change everything. But, if investigators had the opportunity to interview Webb and other witnesses that may have knowledge of the claims, it may feel like prosecutors would not pursue the case. MMA Payout will keep you posted.
August 2, 2015
Ronda Rousey was the big story in the UFC last night with her 34 second victory at UFC 190. However, the second biggest story in MMA on Saturday night may be a scuffle caught on video between the Diaz brothers and Khabib Nurmogomedov at a WSOF event in Vegas.
The raw footage (via MMA Interviews) shows Nick Diaz throwing a beer at Khabib and the group that he was with while security made an attempt to break up the fight. Although security was able to break up the groups before anything big occurred, a small scuffle broke out before the Diaz brothers left the premises.
UPDATED: More of the entourage brawl as the two sides fight inside Planet Hollywood. Not a good look if you are the UFC.
Dana White was asked about the incident at the post-UFC 190 conference but could not comment about it since he did not have all the information surrounding the incident. Obviously, the UFC will need to investigate the incident and gather facts about what went down. The question is whether or not the UFC will suspend any of the contracted fighters involved.
The UFC Fighter Conduct Policy which the fighters (likely) agree to when signing their deals would govern a situation like this.
From the UFC Fighter Conduct Policy:
Fighters shall conduct themselves in accordance with commonly accepted standards of decency, social conventions and morals, and fighters will not commit any act or become involved in any situation or occurrence or make any statement which will reflect negatively upon or bring disrepute, contempt, scandal, ridicule, or disdain to the fighter or the UFC.
This contractual provision reflects the UFC’s broad requirement that its contracted fighters act in a legal, ethical, and responsible manner and avoid conduct detrimental to the integrity of the UFC organization.
Standard of conduct:
“…Responsible conduct advances the interests of the sport and the fighters. Conversely, irresponsible conduct by a fighter tarnishes the reputation of both the affected fighter and the UFC and undermines the positive image set by other fighters.”
The policy goes on to list instances which fighters may be disciplined. While the fight may not necessarily fit into one of the examples, it’s clear brawling at a public event (especially at another promotion’s event) can be construed as a violation.
World Series of Fighting has banned the Diaz brothers from all WSOF events following Saturday night according to MMA Fighting.
The key language of the policy is that a violation of the fighter conduct policy “may” result in discipline. The UFC could conclude, after an investigation, that the scuffle was inconclusive as to which group started it (sure the video shows the Diaz beer throw but what might have happened before) and may not assess a suspension. But should the UFC suspend the fighters since its clear this is bad for the image of the UFC? Clearly, this incident can be construed as a violation of the standard of conduct policy.
Nick Diaz is likely suspended due to failing his drug test this past February so the UFC might actually tack on another suspension in addition to whatever might happen to Nick with the NSAC. As for Nate Diaz and Khabib, we shall see what the UFC does.
July 26, 2015
Dana White talked about the Stitch Duran release Saturday night on FS1 after UFC on Fox 16. Instead of an explanation as to the dismissal, White was on the offensive with remarks about Duran in the classic strategy of changing the topic.
FS1’s Karyn Bryant interviewed White post-event and fed White the question about Duran so that he could clear the air. Instead of an explanation of the dismissal, White chose to address the post-release comments by Duran in the video clip:
You can find the video here.
White indicated the name of cutman Don House as an individual he considered “close.” So, like references, if any media decide to interview House, one would ensure that he would give a glowing account of working for the company.
It’s a classic move to change the subject on a topic rather than address the actual issue. It happens in politics all of the time. Instead of focusing on the issue, the dismissal of Stitch Duran, White’s response related to Duran’s post-release response about the fact that he was not directly contacted by White about his release. Duran gave an interview to Bloody Elbow commenting on the fact that cutmen were not included in the Reebok sponsorship deal and that they were losing sponsor earnings as a result. Duran was released shortly after the interview. White’s comments were the first public response after the firing. Instead of an explanation on the release or acknowledging the UFC faux pas, White switched gears by commenting on whether or not he was friends with Duran. That was not the issue. The issue was why Duran was terminated. Yet, White can now say he’s addressed the situation and that is final.
July 23, 2015
Reebok is feeling the heat after the UFC let go of cutman Stitch Duran. The official clothier of the UFC sent out a tweet in apparent response to UFC fans outraged by his dismissal.
UFC fans: We have no input on decisions of UFC employment or fighter compensation. Our focus is providing the best gear for fighters & fans.
— Reebok (@Reebok) July 22, 2015
Not even one month into its official partnership with the UFC, it is feeling the brunt of criticism from the fans. The dismissal of Duran after he spoke out about losing out on sponsorship money due to the Reebok deal has angered the MMA internet community and Reebok felt compelled to respond.
MMA fans were not happy with Reebok taking over as the company’s primary clothing sponsor which eliminated many MMA brands from the octagon. It also angered fans and fighters when the UFC revealed payouts from the sponsorships which were below those that fighters received and now Duran’s departure has drawn the ire of many that follow the UFC.
For those that believe that Reebok is looking for a way out of this deal think again. Despite the harsh criticism, the brand needs the UFC as much as the UFC needs Reebok. Reebok is seeking to establish a niche in the fitness market and boost sales for its parent company, Adidas, in the U.S. The uniforms are a big deal for the brand even though public opinion seems to be negative overall. If nothing else, Reebok can say it is an official outfitter for one of the biggest female athletes today, Ronda Rousey.
As many know, Adidas is owned by Reebok and there was speculation that it wanted to sell off Reebok due to poor profits. There were earnings warnings in 2013 and 2014 for Reebok and shareholders were concerned. Add to that, Adidas has fallen for the first time to number 3 in the U.S. sportswear market behind Nike and Under Armour. Even the creator of Crossfit made it known in a ’60 Minutes’ segment this year that Reebok should be sold to “someone young, fresh, excited and willing to enter into the modern era of things.”
However, it appears that profits have turned around in 2015 for the brand and the future of the fitness market is looking bright. According to a report by CBS Marketwatch earlier this year, Adidas indicated that it would not sell Reebok. Could some of the brand’s newfound momentum be from the UFC deal? Even if there is pushback from fans, Reebok will likely ride out the wave of discontent in hopes of a promising future.
July 10, 2015
The UFC has suspended heavyweight Travis Browne from all International Fight Week festivities this week after pictures were posted by Browne’s partner, Jenna Renee Webb, alleging Browne caused her bodily harm. Webb posted pictures and a statement on her Instagram account although it appears that she may not press criminal charges against him.
In a report from TMZ Sports, Webb said the images of her bruises were from a February incident allegedly with Browne. Browne’s manager, John Fosco, responded on behalf of Browne stating that he denies the allegations of domestic abuse citing that Webb is trying to “smear” his name. The pictures are a result of anger based on infidelity as Browne was with another woman according to the TMZ report. Fosco indicated that decision to not take part in UFC activities this week was mutual and his client was happy the UFC was investigating the matter.
The UFC response is below. It is not clear if the statement was released prior to Fosco’s statement or not.
“UFC is aware of the social media allegations made against heavyweight Travis Browne. The organization requires all athletes to act in an ethical and responsible manner, as mandated by the UFC Fighter Conduct Policy. UFC will not tolerate domestic violence or any other violation of the policy. Every athlete is deserving of due process and this situation, as with any official allegations, will be duly reviewed and thoroughly investigated by an independent party. In light of this news, Travis will not be participating in this week’s UFC International Fight Week activities in Las Vegas.
“The prevention of domestic violence and the education of the athletes is of the utmost importance to the organization. UFC holds its athletes to the highest standard and will continue to take appropriate action if and when warranted.”
Domestic violence is a serious matter and the UFC responded appropriately. If the allegations are true, he will likely be suspended, fined or even let go by the company. Even if the accusations might turn out to be untrue, there would not have been anything to gain to have Browne representing the company during the biggest week of its year. Browne may lose out on some financial opportunities as he was scheduled for appearances. But, the UFC had to prevent him from doing them as it would only have been a public relations disaster. The UFC has an image to protect and it cannot be one with men who hit women. Hopefully the truth will prevail here.