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UFC finds itself in a no-win situation over Tito Ortiz-Jenna Jameson dispute

By Zach Arnold | April 26, 2010

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It’s been a tumultuous time for UFC President Dana White since the launch of this season’s Ultimate Fighter reality show featuring Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz as coaches. He had a successful event in Charlotte with Kenny Florian & Roy Nelson winning. He found himself dealing with the fallout from Anderson Silva embarrassing himself in Abu Dhabi. After this past weekend at Arco Arena in Sacramento, Zuffa made big coin on their non-branded PPV event featuring Urijah Faber and Jose Aldo as the headliners. All things considered, business is not so bad in a down economy.

However, tonight is one of those nights where Dana White wishes that he had NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s phone number to call and have a long chat about how to deal with talent involved in sticky situations.

Roger Goodell, king of all American sports as the head of the National Football League, has laid the hammer down on troubled athletes with his controversial Personal Conduct Policy. Goodell raised the stakes for all commissioners in major American sports when he suspended Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger for six games despite the fact that Roethlisberger was never charged or arrested with any sort of crime in relation to accusations of rape in a Georgia bar bathroom with a college-age girl. Roethlisberger accepted the six-game conditional suspension (which can be reduced down to four games) and the NFLPA was relatively quiet on the matter.

Will Dana White find himself adopting his own sort of Personal Conduct Policy against talent that is contracted with Zuffa?

White finds himself in the ultimate catch 22. Last year, Dana White and Tito Ortiz mended fences and Ortiz signed a big contract with Zuffa. Ortiz was bluffing about signing with Strikeforce and appearing on CBS. Signing with UFC killed that from ever happening. Ortiz claimed he was in good shape physically, but once he fought Forrest Griffin (a man with a broken foot), he looked sluggish and slow in the cage. The unofficial proclamation from many fight fans was that Ortiz was officially washed up for good.

Enter The Ultimate Fighter and a chance for UFC management to keep the careers of both Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz going. Liddell wants to continue to fight and so does Ortiz, but neither man really is someone you want to see against any of UFC’s current champions. So, pairing the two men up against each other for another fight is relatively harmless. Besides, people are entertained by the dichotomy of these two individuals and it makes for good television. The ratings so far for this season’s edition of The Ultimate Fighter have been pretty respectable.

However, there has been trouble regarding the show since the first day it started. Rumors swirled that Tito Ortiz would end up getting replaced by Rich Franklin. Ortiz and Liddell was set to happen in Vancouver. Then there was the political turmoil as to whether or not Vancouver would allow UFC to run a show in the first place. Combined with that stress was the fact that UFC needed to announce a main event for the Vancouver show once everything was made official in early April. Dana White said online that the reports of Tito Ortiz being replaced by Rich Franklin were false. Then, UFC announced Liddell vs. Franklin for Vancouver when tickets went on sale. White found himself on the defensive for being called a liar and not a straight-shooter. White basically said “tough s***” on Jim Rome’s ESPN show in response. Yet, if you take a look online and on social networking sites, most viewers of The Ultimate Fighter don’t know that Ortiz is gone from the show by the end of the taping series.

Which leads us to what happened on Monday with Tito Ortiz being arrested by Huntington Beach PD on charges of physically abusing Jenna Jameson. Dana White’s first reaction was to say that if Ortiz was guilty that the organization would cut him. However, the UFC President left plenty of wiggle room to allow the judicial process to happen over time and for all the facts to come out in the case. I agree with this stance and think that a lot of the armchair commentary so far on this matter has been reckless and a waste of time by those who have done so.

The problem is that the legal system is not the court of public opinion. They are two very different things. As JA Adande noted on ESPN yesterday, the approach of two different major sports commissioners (Roger Goodell in the NFL and David Stern in the NBA) reflects two very different viewpoints on how to handled troubled athletes. Goodell has laid down the hammer on troublemakers while Stern has been more flexible on allowing athletes in trouble with the law to go through the legal process and then punish only if the courts find the athletes guilty.

What makes Dana White’s predicament very tricky is that UFC is growing as a sport. They want to be viewed as a legitimate sport. It’s roughly 1/15th as big as say the NBA currently is in America, but it’s still respectable in terms of the business they draw in the States. White’s relationship with Ortiz involves a taped reality series in which everyone involved signed NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) with Spike TV. There’s a lot of money on the line for all parties involved. Since Ortiz is not scheduled to fight in the UFC any time soon, how do you handle the current situation if you are UFC management? Do you panic and rush to the editing room to try to take out Ortiz as much as possible from the footage you have left or do you play it straight and keep everything status quo and let it runs its course?

The likely answer is that UFC will take a wait-and-see approach and continue to air the show in the format it has been edited in already. In fact, they may benefit in the short-term ratings-wise due to all the publicity Ortiz is currently receiving. Unless Ortiz is convicted in a court of law sometime soon, he’s free to participate in business activities with UFC.

I more or less think that White will take the David Stern route and allow everything to play out over time rather than drop the hammer like Roger Goodell would.

However, what would happen if White took the Goodell route and cut Ortiz? White would take a hit from the many Ortiz fans that are currently out there but he would also generate some credibility amongst the general public for a zero-tolerance policy. Could it help the credibility of UFC if they cut Ortiz? Perhaps. Plus, UFC would not have a lot to lose if they did it. Tito Ortiz is not going to be fighting Chuck Liddell in Vancouver. Ortiz isn’t scheduled to fight any time this year and his days of being a championship-caliber athlete are likely finished. If UFC cut Ortiz from their roster, there wouldn’t be a heavy financial penalty.

Whatever choice Dana White & Lorenzo Fertitta make, I don’t envy their position. They will receive heat if they go the Roger Goodell way and be portrayed as reactionary and not loyal to their fighters. Conversely, they will receive heat if they go the David Stern way and don’t cut Ortiz right away. It would open up the floodgates from critics of Mixed Martial Arts and UFC to portray White as just another “sleazy promoter” who cares more about making a buck than about protecting the integrity of the sport he represents.

Choose wisely, UFC.

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 7 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

7 Responses to “UFC finds itself in a no-win situation over Tito Ortiz-Jenna Jameson dispute”

  1. EJ says:

    Like I said earlier, this actually ended up working perfectly for Dana since Tito is no longer facing Liddell this black mark has been diminished and Dana can basically just wait things out. He doesn’t have to deal with the results of him trying to sell a fight with Tito and since he leaves the show soon even the damage there is little to none. I’m betting right now Coker is wondering how Dana can always come out smelling like roses regardless of what crybabies on the internet say. While on the other hand Coker hasn’t had any luck since selling his soul to the devil.

  2. Ivan Trembow says:

    There’s not exactly a great history when it comes to this subject.

    As I wrote when the UFC released Junie Browning after his suicide attempt:

    “Browning was arrested and charged with battery on a health care provider, and he was shortly thereafter released by the UFC. Browning’s coach, Shawn Tompkins, has subsequently said in interviews that Browning was not merely trying to “harm” himself by overdosing, but was actually “trying to take his own life.”

    The UFC did not release Quinton Jackson after he endangered numerous pedestrian’s lives in a Monster Truck in July 2008; nor did the UFC release Jon Koppenhaver when he was convicted of assault for punching and choking a man unconscious (Koppenhaver was only released after his comments about the late Evan Tanner); nor did the UFC release multi-time drunk driving offender Josh Neer after he led police on a 100 mph+ car chase while he was driving drunk.

    The fact is, committing a serious crime doesn’t usually cause a fighter to be released by the UFC, so it’s much more likely that the attempted suicide aspect of Browning’s incident is the primary factor behind the UFC’s decision to release Browning from his contract.”

    In terms of “zero tolerance” for behavior that is detrimental to the sport but is non-criminal (if only because it happened at an MMA event, I suppose), Nick Diaz recently said in a video interview that the UFC has told him that they’re interested in him (the interview was after the post-fight brawl incident). And on the “Not the WEC” pay-per-view, Dana White was mugging for the camera and mouthing the words “he’s mine” while sitting next to the guy who threw the first punch in the post-fight brawl (watch the slo-mo GIFs).

    In terms of “zero tolerance” for drug test failures, Sean Sherk’s A sample tested positive for steroids, and then his B sample tested positive for the same steroids in the same quantities, but the UFC gave him a title shot in his first fight back and said that they believed that he didn’t take steroids because they can “tell from looking at a guy” if he’s on steroids, and Sherk apparently passed that visual test. So, not exactly “zero tolerance” there, either.

    • Chromium says:

      “The fact is, committing a serious crime doesn’t usually cause a fighter to be released by the UFC, so it’s much more likely that the attempted suicide aspect of Browning’s incident is the primary factor behind the UFC’s decision to release Browning from his contract.”

      No, just no.

      It was not the attempted suicide attempt, that is ludicrous. Browning was a guy who was on thin ice as it was with a history of behavioral problems. On top of that, this wasn’t like the Jenna Jameson case where no one entirely knows for sure what happened yet, there were multiple witnesses to Browning’s incident and he never denied it. And to be blunt, he’s not that big a star. The bizarre circumstances of the altercation didn’t help, but really him attacking someone was just the final straw.

      If Browning had attempted to take his own life and just spent a few days in the hospital, Dana White would look like the world’s biggest asshole to fire him, and it would be mildly detrimental to the company’s image (and yes I know that he’s comfortable being an asshole). The misdemeanor assault created the exact opposite situation where the UFC would look bad to _not_ fire him.

  3. Mark says:

    I think their zero tolerance should only apply for a conviction.

    If you had Ortiz competing regularly like he would if he was a basketball or football player that would be one thing to start talking about immediate suspensions. But since Tito isn’t going to fight anytime soon anyway, let him have his day in court before you start talking about suspending or firing him. If he pleads guilty/no contest or gets convicted of domestic violence, then cut him. If not, move on.

    Because if you set that precedent for firing people for charges pressed against them, what happens if it happens to Brock Lesnar or BJ Penn when you can’t fire them because your competitor would scoop them up. Because unlike the NFL, there are places to go if the UFC cuts you, so Roger Goodell’s proverbial “hammer” doesn’t get the same lay down impact in this case. Then you’ve got the media angry with you for putting profit above your zero tolerance policy.

  4. 45 Huddle says:

    This is such a non-issue.

    1. I don’t watch the NFL but my friends who do can’t stand their rules against their players. So White doesn’t have to use them as an example.

    2. Tito Ortiz has not been found guilty of anything yet.

    3. Jenna Jameson is already showing her true colors.

    Dana White should do exactly nothing to Ortiz.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      I already issued a warning in the other post from yesterday on this topic.

      Simply put, let the facts of the case come out through the legal system. Nobody on the outside-looking-in knows anything pertaining to the merits or lack of merits regarding this dispute.

      I would advise anyone here to be very cautious and judicious in their remarks on this matter and to keep things on a narrow focus.

      Don’t test my patience. This message isn’t aimed at you specifically but to everyone.

      For the time being, I have turned off comments on this article. I’ll turn them back on later.

  5. robthom says:

    “Yet, if you take a look online and on social networking sites, most viewers of The Ultimate Fighter don’t know that Ortiz is gone from the show by the end of the taping series.”

    ^^
    This is funny.

    Whoooo are these peeeeople who watch the ultimate fighter?!
    🙂

    It looks like the ratings are doing respectably with people who dont read MMA news.
    Creepy.

    IMO, a few of these would be non issues if dana had never brought that dingdong back again.

    Although admittedly I hate tito ortiz and I’m getting a bit of smug satisfaction watching all the trouble he’s bringing almost as soon as he gets his foot back in the door.

    So its just a big ole funky gumbo of irony, spectacle and Pyrrhic victory IMO.
    Trying to figure out where the needle in this situation lands between goodbad or smartstupid only seems perfunctory at this point.

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