While he’s made any number of his own questionable comments over the years, Dana White is spot on when it comes to the insane idea of the Nevada Athletic Commission curtailing free speech.
A broken clock is right twice a day, or so the saying goes. And whether you love him or hate him, UFC President Dana White has been known to get one right now and then. So, credit where credit is due. White is 100% correct when it comes to the absolutely bonkers idea floated by the Nevada Athletic Commission that trash talk before fights be censored.
The word selection there was deliberate. Censorship is what the NAC is promoting when Executive Director Bob Bennett says “that’s something we need to take a more active role in and take an active role in for their language.” And censorship, frankly, sucks. If you grew up in a certain generation, any form of censorship was derided. That seems to have slipped by the wayside in modern times, and for many, it’s not a change for the better. Hurt feelings, after all, should not outweigh someone’s right to express themselves. Should the person speaking say something hateful or downright stupid?
Well, they’re just outing themselves for all to see (after all, freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences). In reality, they’re doing you a favor. And block buttons aren’t hard to use.
But a government appointed body curtailing the free speech of the fighters it licenses? That’s a problem. A legal minefield in America, frankly. Commissioners are appointed by the governor, after all. The First Amendment specifically protects the freedom of speech within America’s borders, as it pertains to government controls. If the UFC wanted to establish some restrictions in regards to language in their Fighter Code of Conduct, sure. An athletic commission? That’s another matter.
So let’s turn to Dana White’s comments at the UFC 235 press conference yesterday, when asked about the NAC’s idea to monitor, and likely punish, fighters for certain comments.
Calling it crazy, the UFC President added “I think it’s insane. I think it’s unconstitutional, first of all. I don’t think they can legally do that. These guys get into a cage and they punch each other in the face, they can knock each other unconscious, they can choke each other, but they can’t say mean things to each other? It’s pretty ridiculous.”
Bingo. Ridiculous is exactly what it is. While not everyone is a fan of the trash talking side of the sport, where names like Sonnen and McGregor have often stepped over the line, there’s a clear reason why the UFC would want to ensure it sticks around: money. A good feud sells tickets and PPV buys, especially with the general public, a.k.a. casual fans.
McGregor has made his forture off his trash talk, though more often than not, he backed it up in the cage. Sonnen as well, though his in-cage feats never reached the same heights. Sanctioning them for what they say before a fight? This isn’t grade school.
But more importantly, when a feud is organic and the trash talk isn’t forced (we’re looking at you, Colby Covington), it can add a little something to the fight. At the very least, added motivation for the fighters.
UFC 229 — What Really Happened?
An argument can be made that McGregor’s words leading into UFC 229 worsened an already volatile situation. One that resulted in UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov flying out of the octagon after defeating McGregor, and attacking the Irish star’s teammate Dillon Danis.
Yet words didn’t play the role many thought they did. Remember the claim that Danis was trash talking while in McGregor’s corner, and it set Khabib off? As the champion explained a week ago (on Submission Radio, via MMA Fighting), “I didn’t hear [Danis], you know. I jumped on him because other corner is too old; because Conor’s other corner, other coaches, too old, and that’s why I jumped on him, because he’s almost like my age.” He went on to single out McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh as being too old, and would add “but I don’t like his whole team.”
So there you have it. Khabib put an entire arena at risk not because of words, but because he doesn’t like SBG Ireland. Of course, McGregor’s taunting leading into the fight likely colored his opinion of the gym. Still, if no one has taught Nurmagomedov the old “sticks and stones” adage by now, that’s a bigger problem than anything McGregor could ever say.
The real root cause of the UFC 229 brawl was a lack of punitive action by the UFC themselves, back when Nurmagomedov and his entourage cornered McGregor’s teammate Artem Lobov ahead of UFC 223. Words are one thing, cornering and actually putting your hands on another athlete is something else entirely. Same problem following the UFC 223 bus attack incident: leaving the matter up to the courts is taking the easy way out. McGregor could have been suspended under the UFC’s code of conduct, until cooler had prevailed.
Words, however, are not the issue many want them to be. Unless we’re to believe grown men can’t handle some taunting, which happens in every sport (see: Jordan, Michael).
Your mother wears army boots? Acceptable. Something about tiramisu? Played out, but sure. Bringing Khabib’s manager into it? Sure, why not, though most managers prefer to stay out of the spotlight.
The borderline racist jabs McGregor has used at opponents like Mayweather and Aldo? Let’s not say acceptable, but he’s free to use them — and we’re all free to judge him for using them.
That’s how free speech works, in case the NAC has forgotten. And strange as it seems, Dana White suddenly became the voice of reason, and a champion for free speech, on this one. Fighters should be free to say what they want. They’ll have to answer for it in the cage in the end — but only there.