Earlier this week, media outlets including Cageside Press were delivered some curious news by UFC PR reps: UFC Vegas 61 would be closed both to the press, and fans.
Specifically, no media would be allowed in the building for Saturday’s Fight Night card, housed at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Media day and weigh-ins would function as normal, but Saturday was no admittance. Verboten. Stay home.
Speculation immediately ran rampant, with everything from a movie shoot to Facebook/Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg “renting” the building being cited as the reason behind a historic, and somewhat concerning, closed door policy.
On Wednesday during her own media day appearance, UFC Vegas 61 headliner Mackenzie Dern claimed that Zuckerberg was the culprit. Specifically, she stated that “I know Mark Zuckerberg rented out the whole event.”
Cue the Dana White damage control. “Mark Zuckerberg did NOT rent out the UFC Apex. That’s total bullsh*t,” White replied to a Tweet by comedy act MMA Roasted poking fun at the situation.
It’s all semantics. Mark Zuckerberg was in attendance Saturday, looking isolated, alone, and downright silly sat next to wife Dr. Priscilla Chan in an otherwise empty Apex (aside from UFC staff, the fighters, and teams). He was “invited,” and didn’t rent out the venue, apparently.
The bigger question than why Zuckerberg was there — a business opportunity, a fun night out, steering into his role as Earth’s greatest villain outside Vladimir Putin? Or because he happens to do a bit of kickboxing in his spare time? — was why he was so utterly, aside from his wife, abandoned.
To be fair, Melinda Davenport, another Meta exec, was on hand. But does one of the richest men in the world not have a friend or two to bring out to the fights? Could this not have been a company night for Meta at the Apex, rather than Zuckerberg plus one?
Just why can’t Meta’s CEO sit with the unwashed masses, anyway? Even the Trump kids showed up at UFC Newark a few years back with fans in the building, after all. Press were allowed to attend the event as well, given we were in the building.
Maybe Facebook’s creator (or was that the Winklevoss twins?) just needed to be kept safe from Paddy Pimblett, who earlier this year deemed the billionaire a lizard, and campaigned for a fight with him. But when it comes to the press — who essentially commute between cageside seating and the backstage area for scrums with fighters — it’s especially puzzling. No one was about the breach security to pepper Zuckerberg with Facebook questions, and keeping him separate would have been easy enough with no fans in the venue.
It’s something of a troubling sign, when the leading promotion in the sport is willing to bend over backwards to curry favor with one of the world’s richest men. Try to imagine the NFL, which Dana White once aspired to be bigger than, or Major League Baseball or even the Canadian Football League closing off an entire arena because Elon Musk felt like taking in a game.
As for the media, look — this isn’t war coverage, or someone curing cancer. But unfettered access is key, even with something as pedestrian as a fist fight. Otherwise, all you’re left with is promotional material — or no material at all, which seems to have been the case on Saturday.