Retreating to Avoid the Wrath of Zuffa: Arum, Shaw and Bernstein Confronted by Dana White
By Bryanna Fissori
It is widely understood that if one is going to take shots at the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) or Zuffa, LLC, its parent company, there are two options in the aftermath. One is to own it. The other is to apologize faster than you can say “the Empire strikes back.”
Following the broadcast of the June 11 event, UFC 131 UFC President Dana White was questioned by Ariel Helwani of MMA Fighting regarding comments made by Top Rank Boxing Promoter Bob Arum, Showtime Boxing analyst Al Bernstein and promoter Gary Shaw regarding antitrust speculations.
The comments made by the three boxing professionals were broadcast in an interview with Fight Hub TV, in which they were asked for their opinions specifically regarding the UFC’s recent purchase of the Strikeforce promotion. Many of the comments did not sit as well with White and led to a rebuttal in which he called them out on their remarks referring to the lot as crybabies. As for the direct question of a Federal Trade Commission investigation into anti-trust practices, none of the three men stand privy to that information and White managed to noticeably avoid a direct response.
During the interview Shaw conveyed to Fight Hub his suspicion that the two promotions will eventually fold into the one. “I think they’ll absorb them (Strikeforce) right into the UFC as soon as the contract’s up at Showtime,” said Shaw.” I’ll be surprised if the UFC changes their model and gives away fights for free, I don’t see it.”
This is an outcome, which has been widely speculated. The UFC’s parent company Zuffa LLC, has acquired a number of promotions over the last decade or so including World Fighting Alliance (2006), Word Extreme Cage Fighting (2006), Pride Fighting Championship (2007), International Fight League (2008). None of these promotions exist today as they have been integrated under the UFC umbrella.
Shaw also stated that he believes the acquisition is great for the UFC, but terrible for the fighters because there are no other large promotions to compete under. He also asserted that the UFC does not air an adequate amount of free fights, forcing fans to pay for every fight.
Here is the response from White. “Number one, Gary Shaw’s a moron, OK? First of all, this guy’s going out and copying everything that I say. He’s like, ‘Oh, they put on too many PPVs and they don’t give any free fights.’ What the hell are you talking about, you moron? First of all, Gary Shaw, what did he do, he’s done three fights this year and when I say that, fights that he actually promoted himself that were his actual fights and all three of them were on Showtime. Showtime is not free, okay? ”
“We’ve done 11 fights this year and four of them were free on free television, actual free television, free cable, OK, Gary, you idiot? You’re so dumb. I can’t even believe that I’m responding to your response.”
Despite White’s aggressive address regarding free fights, he neglected to hit on Shaw’s other two contentions:
1. The UFC will absorb Strikeforce
2. The acquisition of Strikeforce by Zuffa was bad for fighters
Many are thinking it, but no body wants to say it to the face of the UFC.
In an exclusive interview with Boxinginsider.com Gary Shaw stood by his earlier remarks and attributed Arum to the anti-trust comments. “It wasn’t me,” is just as good a place to start as any when the trying to mitigate the damage. “All I said was I think buying Strikeforce was a brilliant move on the part of the Fertitas. All of the anti-trust comments came from Bob Arum. I never heard those rumors and I never thought of that.”
Like most everyone else in the fight world, Shaw is aware that being on Zuffa’s bad side is not the place to be. “Dana has a right to say whatever he wants. The reason I am a moron and an idiot is because my comments didn’t work for Dana. I don’t think the Strikeforce move was great for the fighters. How many options does a fighter have? If a fighter wants to be in MMA, wants to be a star he has to be in the UFC.”
A contention by Shaw, that the UFC has built itself up to be the only viable option for serious competitors is one that is echoed by many. With Strikeforce now a part of Zuffa, the next alternative professional promotions are significantly smaller in size and ability to gain the notoriety of the Showtime and Pay- Per- View events.
“Some would say, is it good?,” questioned Al Bernstein to Fight Hub. ” I’m not passing judgment one way or the other on UFC. They’ve been able to do it in that sport and have, to their credit, made it very interesting for the fans. The Strikeforce thing was a little different. That was the first time they’d actually have a true contender, somebody that would push them and would be, you know, worth- while of thinking. . . But I don’t think boxing’s a situation where you can have a monopoly like that. I just don’t think it would fly.”
Uh, oh. Bernstien used the “M” word!
The recent suspicions of and FTC investigation have most likely caused the term “monopoly” to be a sore spot for Zuffa, and Bernstein just threw it out there. Though White was obviously put off by Bernstein’s comments he kept his reply to a minimum. The two have a history of working together outside the fight game arena.
“And I’ve known Al Bernstein for a long time,” said White. “And he’s towing the company line talking like, ‘I don’t know if this good or whatever.’ OK, Al, I see how it is.”
Bernstein retreated straight to option number two and told Boxinginsider.com that does not want any waves made with White. “I have never and would never say anything negative about Dana White or the UFC,” he said. “In fact, I owe Dana a great debt of gratitude for what he has done for The Caring Place, a facility here in Las Vegas co-founded by my wife, which provides free services for those touched by Cancer. Dana has been a champion for that. And, he and the UFC have been wildly successful.”
“I was asked what impact on the sport the purchase of Strikeforce by UFC might be. If you look at my answer I pointed out that UFC has provided the fans with a very good product and that sometimes having everyone under one roof–like baseball, football -ensures that all the match-ups happen–so that spoke positively to the idea that if everything is under one roof–in this case the UFC–that the fans would get to see all the match-ups made. That was the essence of my comments.”
Again, “It wasn’t me.”
“My comments on this issue are MUCH different than Bob’s or Gary’s, so that really needs to be pointed out. They are coming from a much different place than me-they are boxing promoters, and I am not. They have every right to their opinions and the right to express them. I am a person that enjoys MMA and I have publicly praised the UFC and Strikeforce many times–and there are dozens of quotes out there from me saying that MMA and boxing can co-exist nicely and that they are not really rivals. I have announced several MMA shows and really enjoyed it. So, that’s my viewpoint. I am not rooting against MMA or the UFC to succeed. ”
Philosophically, according to Bernstein, “People will ask the question whether competition among organizations is better. That was just an honest statement–some will ask that. In no way was that meant as a shot at the UFC. That to me was simply stating the obvious, in a question form. I would feel very bad if Dana construed my comments as being in any way a negative comment about the UFC. It was certainly not intended that way.”
Contrary Shaw who is comfortable saying what some die hard fans are thinking and Bernstein who appears to have an aversion to rocking the boat with White, Bob Arum usually has no such concern.
“Well, I don’t know what the laws are,” commented Bob Arum,” but there seems there’s an anti-trust problem somewhere, but all credit to UFC for buying out Strikeforce, that’s a great way to make your competition disappear.”
“First of all, Bob Arum is copying, you go to a Top Rank fight now,” said White, “They’re copying everything we do, right? Now, Bob Arum is also the guy who, you know, he’s out there crying ‘Anti-trust! Anti-trust!’ Bob Arum, go back and look through the records in an interview that he did, he was laughing at the Fertittas for investing in this company, he was laughing at them, basically saying, ‘they’re idiots, they’re losing oodles and oodles of money.”
Arum, who is not typically known for sugar coating his opinion, refused to comment on White’s statements. Speculatively, Arum may have realized how big the giant is and doesn’t want to make matters worse. Maybe, option number three is cover your head and lay low.
Arum’s feelings toward the UFC have been made clear in previous interviews.
In one interview with Ariel Helwani then of Fanhouse, Arum stated, “For me, I look at the UFC audience and the boxing audience as being two different audiences entirely. Our audience in boxing is ethnic. Hispanic, Filipino, Puerto Rican, Mexican, and the hardcore boxing fan who can’t watch … like me … can’t watch UFC. UFC are a bunch of skinhead white guys watching people in the ring who also look like skinhead white guys.”
That’s not all. . .
“And you don’t have any tattoos,” he added. “Ninety percent of the people in the audience wear tattoos. I don’t care. That’s up to them. But those aren’t people that would have any interest, at any time, in boxing. For me, and people like me, it is not something they ever care to see. They’ve watched it. It’s horrible. Guys rolling around like homosexuals on the ground. It is not a sport that shows great, great talent.”
Obviously this quote does not do justice to Arum’s business perspective on the UFC, but it does convey his general feelings toward the sport. That being said, it is difficult to argue with anything White may have to say about Arum “taking shots” at Zuffa or the UFC.
“He is definitely taking a shot at us,” said White. . . “They’re the biggest bunch of babies you’ve ever met. Bob Arum, the guy who was saying, ‘oh, the Fertittas are idiots, they’re losing ‘oodles of money in this,’ now he’s crying ‘anti-trust’ and he’s copying everything we do? You weren’t smart enough to do it, Bob.”
Since White is already contending that Arum is copying his work, the question arises as to whether boxing promoters could actually get together and form a UFC-like promotion?”
Shaw responded to that by stating to Boxinginsider.com, “Bob Arum is trying to do that by fighting his own fighters against each other and he is using Manny Pacquiao as that wedge, and I think it is a brilliant move on Bob’s part.”