Fight week becomes damage control

May, 22, 2012
5/22/12
1:11
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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On Monday, Jon Jones put out his first statement since being arrested this weekend on suspicion of driving under the influence. He did this on Facebook. On the same day, Chael Sonnen filed for a therapeutic use exemption with the Nevada State Athletic Commission for the testosterone that put so many unflattering asterisks next to his name.

That went well. He got it. And he was even asked to become advisor on the subject, a kind of spokesman on the remedies of fleeting youth.

Also on Monday? Nick Diaz fidgeted before the NSAC and he and his lawyers tried to bridge a language barrier between marijuana and its metabolites. This didn’t go as well. Diaz was suspended a year and docked $60,000.

There were doctors called in both cases. Dr. Trainor (in Sonnen’s), and Dr. Sample (in Diaz’s). These weren’t pseudonyms. These were actual human beings. It has all the quality of fiction, but it’s happening.

It’s real. As real as it gets.

That’s why when Dana White’s “It’s Fiiiigggght Weeeeek!” tweet went out, it showed up like a plea to forget for a second about legal issues and hearings and keep the thing we’re all here for in focus.

UFC 146 is on deck -- the long-awaited, all-heavyweight card.

Only, the sad thing is even this couldn’t serve as a distraction. UFC 146 is the card that was drastically altered when heavyweight contender Alistair Overeem was popped for high testosterone levels. Now the UFC 146 we’re getting is entirely different from the original mock-up.

Needless to say, the UFC is going through a rough patch. In fact, at this point it requires imagination to not see the problems going on in MMA. Dana White may be prone to hyperbole, but you have to believe him when he says “bad s--- happens to me before my first foot hits the floor getting out of bed.”

The biggest concern before a fight used to be if all participants would make weight. In 2012, the year of globalization and network television, it’s a lot trickier. There are drug tests. There are loose cannon Twitter feeds to consider, breathalyzers, quack doctors and last-minute injuries.

As for after? There are a million experts who forecast the end of times when the television ratings and/or buy rates get reported. This past week the “Ultimate Fighter” produced a record-low rating on a spicy episode where Urijah Faber was to learn his next opponent. Right before that, the UFC on Fuel card that hosted a fight-of-the-year candidate between Chan Sung Jung and Dustin Poirier also registered a weak rating.

Gentlemen, ignite your doom.

And then there’s this thing about the UFC watering itself down with too many cards. Too many free ones, too many pay-per-views, too many cards that appear on channels that barely exist. The negatives are always magnified. A fight card on a Tuesday? Blasphemy.

The problem with being Dana White in 2012 is that there are thousands of people telling Dana White how to be Dana White. Audaciousness has a way of feeding on itself.

The bigger problem is that propriety isn’t something so easily introduced to a company that has been mightily successful doing things their way.

But the UFC realizes some things will have to change internally to clean up the number of fiascos going on. In fact, Dana White recently told the LA Times that Zuffa will begin testing fighters for PEDs themselves to, among other things, “save the sport.”

“Yes, we’re going to do our own testing, order these guys into [a lab]; we’re sorting it out now,” he said. “You have to do this to save the sport. You can’t have these guys fighting on this stuff.”

That’s a step, at least. At some point there will likely be other changes, things like social media protocols and consistency in punishment for offenders. In short, there will something like definitive rules. After all, the word “professional” can easily stand in for a word like “conformity.” To uphold one, there will be degrees of the other.

And that’s a delicate balance. The fight game is sort of lunatic by nature, and that’s what happily separates it from other sports. The UFC has always done a great job of this. Yet chaos is better contained in the cage. It’s too hard to push enthusiasm for a global brand forward while putting out so many fires backstage.

Yet if we can bear with the smoke a little bit, then shout it out -- it's fight week!

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