The Organic Intellectual

If our greatest task is to liberate humanity, as Paulo Freire asserts, then it is absolutely essential that we create a culture of resistance from below that is able not only to counter, but transcend the limitations of the ruling culture imposed by above. Hopefully, The Organic Intellectual will help serve this purpose.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rampage: "I'm done fighting" and What It Says About the UFC

Quinton "Rampage" Jackson told the world on Tuesday that he's "done fighting."

Hate him or love him,  the news of Rampage's declaration that he will no longer fight hits many of us fans quite hard.  Rampage is, undoubtedly, one of the most exciting, skilled fighters to grace the Light Heavyweight division of the UFC. From his often humorous interviews and coaching on the Ultimate Fighter reality show to his emotional and legal journeys that we sympathetically followed him on, Rampage has grown a significant fan base in the sport. On one hand, his decision is a percussive blow to those of us who love watching him in all his glory; his percussive punching power and his unique, vibrant fighting style always prove a thrilling watch. On the other, he stipulates a laundry list of rather convincing reasons for his choice. He mentions his repeated injuries and his desire to pursue an acting career an ancillary motives in his decision. However, what he clearly articulates, if not in these words, is that he is fed up with the authoritarian, corporate structure of the world's dominant fighting organization, the UFC, and it's figurehead Dana White.

Rampage cites a variety of problems he has encountered with the management of the UFC. His first line says it all: "The UFC has done a lot for me but I think I have done more for them." From there, he airs out all the crap he's been put through to fight in the UFC, from being pushed into fights he claims he was not ready for and having to compete with serious jaw injuries, to fighting matches which he says "wasn't even worth it to me financially," and being snubbed for a rematch after he lost the 205 pound belt due to a controversial decision against Forrest Griffon.

On top of this, Dana White's shady deals are intricately woven all throughout the drama. After promising Rampage that he could fight for the belt after hosting The Ultimate Fighter reality show season 10:

"After I signed the contract Dana then changes his mind & says I have to fight Rashad [Evans]& even told me what to say in the press & so my fans think I was scared to fight Machida [205-belt holder]. After all that I still never complained & I did it all."

Perhaps the most humanizing section of his entire entry is when he explains why he simply requested that the UFC administration push his fight with Rashad Evans back a month or two:

"Then this movie role came about that I have been trying to get for over a year & as soon as I found out I was close to getting it, I called Dana right away & asked to push the Memphis fight back just a month or so. I told him what this movie role meant to me. I told him that I used to bond with my father watching the tv show as a kid when my parents where still married & it represents the memories I had with my father when we lived together. My dad became an alcohalic & addicted to drugs & we grew apart. But after my dad got his life back together, I was so proud of my dad & I told him I would always take care of him in the future & make him proud of me. My dad & I are still very big fans of the show & I am basically doing this for the childhood memories I had spending time in front of the tv with my dad. Dana went on the internet & mocked me because of that & I still did nothing. Dana & I finally talked & we made up & then after that he went back on the internet & said some bullshit & he was talking bad about the movie when information is not even supposed to be released & talking about payments which is not even true could really hurt my future acting career, which could very well last longer than my fighting career. I'm not like Randy Couture. My body has been getting so many different injuries that I wont be able to fight until my forties & neither do I want to fight that long. So I feel like my second career could be in jeopardy.. so I'm done fighting."

It was that piece, perhaps, that was most heart-wrenching of all. Quinton Jackson is, like each and every one of us, a human-being with emotions, feelings, hopes, and desires. He is not simply a caged animal for us to enjoy. Unfortunately, the corporate, profit-driven framework in which Dana White and the UFC management function promotes the dehumanization of the fighters within the organization.

Dana White, and the Fertita brothers who own the majority of the UFC, ought to be ashamed of themselves. Often we forget that it is not the promoters, not the owners of the fighting organizations who have to actually go out and get punched, kicked, submitted, slammed, and what have you for them to make their enormous profits. Regardless of all the hyped-up discourse around White "really bringing MMA to the mainstream," he has done little more than monopolize the sport and push away good fighters or seriously strain the lives of the ones who put up with him.

Dana White has thoroughly discredited himself as a decent human-being multiple times. Replying to a female MMA journalist who wrote about managers and agents losing backstage passes in an "to separate fighters from their business representatives," White responded with a "disgraceful diatribe" in which he "calls Hunt a “f—ing bitch” and refers to a source of Hunt’s as a lying, “f—ing faggot.” Afterwords, he gave a half-hearted apology to the gay community yet refused to apologize to the author, Loretta Hunt. This disgusting debacle is just a drop in the bucket.

White has consistently proven he is the epitome of the vicious leech which lives off the labor of others while pretending that he is helping them. Freelance writer Jake Eman lays out a pretty good list of reasons why Dana White is a threat to the fighters and fans of mixed martial arts. While I think it is important to point out that White is, more or less, a figurehead for a profit-hungry organization and his replacement would mean very little in terms of restructuring how the UFC operates, Eman's criticisms are well taken. He cites the fact that the UFC repeatedly attempts to discourage competition, disrespects the sport and plays favorites in order to stimulate particular markets, and hypocritically criticizes boxing while committing many of the same sins boxing promoters are notorious for. Perhaps his most powerful arguement concerns pay:

"Dana White underpays the fighters in the UFC by an insane margin. The fighters don't even come close to sniffing the money that they are solely responsible for generating. For example, for UFC 100, billed as the "biggest night in the history UFC", the UFC paid a total of approximately $2.2 million to all of the fighters on the card that night, which includes $400,000 of special bonuses.

Lesnar is reported to make about $3 million including his share of the pay-per-view sales, which is an extra $2.6 million from his salary. Georges St. Pierre is also set to receive a share of the PPV, so let's just assume that totals out to another $2.6 million for him as well, because it certainly wouldn't be more. The result is $7.4 million paid to UFC fighters for the UFC 100 event, about $6 million of which went to 2 fighters, leaving the other 18 fighters to divvy up the remains.

The live attendance gate for the fight was $5.1 million. Dana White said he'd be thrilled with 1.5 million pay-per-view buys, so let's just underestimate that at a cool 1 million buys, which the UFC has done before, at $45 a pop. That's a total of $50 million generated not including foreign rights, closed circuit distribution and other earnings. That means, even tweaking the figures in his favor, Dana White and the UFC paid 15% of the money they earned that night to all of the fighters combined. Outrageous."

Outrageous is right, but we cannot assume that simply replacing Dana White would actually change much. Let's face it, the UFC is the largest, wealthiest fighting organization out there. They're goal is not, as some may suggest, to simply provide entertainment or to promote the welfare of their fighters; they're ultimate motivation is to make money. They function, as with all any other private institution in our society, to pursue profits. We can learn something here from Andrew Carnegie who maintained that he was "not in the business of making steel but in making a profit."

Sportswriter Dave Zirin spoke out wonderfully in a recent piece on boxing. Replace the word boxing with MMA and the passage transfers over seamlessly:

"We need to confront everything that's rotten in boxing. Right now there is no commissioner and no governing authority. There are no unions, and there is no collective bargaining on behalf of fighters. There is no health care, no mental health treatment and no one watching out for those who suffer from the debilitating effects of brain damage and its conjoined twin, depression."

For those of us who hate to see Rampage go, we should at least know where to direct the blame. It is not his fault, and we should stand behind him in his decision.

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