Jeremy Lambert: Alexander Gustafsson suffered a cut that would keep him out of this Saturday’s main event over the weekend. Instead of making a formal announcement about Gustafsson’s status, the UFC kept fans in the dark while media outlets reported that he was out of the fight. It wasn’t until Wanderlei Silva announced on twitter that he would be fighting Gegard Mousasi that fans had any idea who would be in the main event.
Despite media reports on Gustafsson’s status and Silva saying that he would be fighting, Dana White continued to reiterate that “The Mauler” would be competing on Saturday. Of course instead of saying this on his twitter or in a formal interview or on the UFC website, he went through a media member known for towing the Zuffa company line.
It turned out that Silva taking the fight was nothing more than an April Fools joke played by the fighter. The bigger joke came a day later when Dana announced that Ilir Latifi would be fighting Gegard Mousasi.
This isn’t the first time Dana White has essentially lied for no reason other than to try and make the media look stupid, when, in the end, he makes himself and his organization look stupid. It’s an unnecessary habit that benefits no one, and yet White continues to mishandle these situations with such an arrogance that no one could possibly feel bad for him.
Samer Kadi: On the surface, the UFC’s decision to hold off on making an official statement until the last possible moment might seem understandable to some, as they were more than likely hoping against hope for Gustafsson to display magical healing ability and be cleared to fight. Or perhaps, they could have been banking on the Swedish commission to display the sort of incompetence we’re accustomed to in North America and allow “The Mauler” to step inside the cage.
In typical Zuffa fashion however, they took the worst possible route in their handling of the situation. Instead of clearly addressing the issue in straightforward fashion and sensibly describing the situation to the public, they were curiously nowhere to be found — at least not officially. Instead, Dana White chose to assure everyone that the fight is still on through vague – and unconvincing – tweets by Ariel Helwani. According to Helwani, White asserted that “Alex wants to fight and the doctors didn’t say he can’t fight.”
Of course, the UFC president conveniently failed to mention that Gustafsson would be conducting further tests, or that the commission would go on to provide a definitive ruling later in the week. The ensuing chaos were an unnecessary circus that could have easily been avoided had the UFC possessed any notion of professionalism in their media relations and PR, and rendered the fans, media, and most importantly, Mousasi utterly clueless.
Jeremy Lambert: Wanderlei Silva didn’t help matters when he tweeted that he would replace Gustafsson and take on Mousasi. Since the tweet came on April 1st, it was met with a lot of skepticism, but Silva even went on record to multiple media outlets that he would indeed be fighting on Saturday. Dana’s only comment on the tweets and reports was that, “It’s April Fools, stay off the internet.”
It turned out that Wanderlei stepping in for Gustafsson was indeed nothing more than an April Fools prank that had MMA media pissed at “The Axe Murderer” for lying. Not to be outdone in his area of expertise, Dana turned out to be the bigger liar in this situation as Gustafsson wasn’t clear to fight despite his claims. Due to Dana waiting around for the commission to make their decision and being stubborn enough to believe that “The Mauler” would be cleared, the organization was left with no Plan B, forcing them to call in Plan Ilir Latifi.
Now it is possible that Silva was the original replacement and it turned out that he wasn’t able to jump through all the hoops to get to Sweden in less than a week, but the way the UFC handled the situation is still inexcusable and has become a nasty habit over these past few years that has led many to just take what Dana White says and believe the opposite.
Samer Kadi: Skeptical as it might seem, it is difficult to believe that Wanderlei Silva is stupid or irresponsible enough to go to such great lengths to fool everyone without actually realizing the repercussions of his actions, or the effects they may bear on his employer. Going as far as confirming the news to three different media outlets seems a tad extreme for someone playing what is supposed to be a harmless prank, as this could only make the company look bad once everyone has to deal with the disappointment of learning that one of the most popular fighters of all time would in fact not be fighting this weekend, despite his claims.
Silva is a UFC employee, and his actions reflect on the company. If he were truly playing an April Fool’s joke, Zuffa would have almost assuredly instructed him to clear the situation up immediately, instead of waiting a full day just so that he could enjoy the satisfaction of fooling everyone. Keep in mind, Gegard Mousasi himself seemed to have bought the news, and judging by his tweets, he sounded legitimately upset when Silva revealed that it was a “lie.” One would think the UFC would at least bother to inform Mousasi that this was nothing more than a lame joke, if it were indeed one.
It is therefore more plausible that the UFC approached Silva to replace Gustafsson, and after expressing his willingness, Silva got overzealous and let the cat out of the bag prematurely. Once it was determined that the logistics to bring him over to Sweden on such short notice would be too complicated (in terms of fight contract, purse, weight, etc…), the UFC turned their attention elsewhere. Admittedly, this is nothing more than mere speculation, but we can only hope it is the truth, rather than accept the fact that both Silva and the UFC could possibly be this unprofessional.
Jeremy Lambert: It’s not like unprofessionalism is uncommon amongst the UFC higher ups though. One look at Dana White’s twitter feed tells you all you need to know, with his cursing and name calling towards media members and fans.
Hell, this isn’t even the first time Dana has outright said that a fight is still on even though he either knew it wasn’t or knew that it would take a near miracle for it to happen. Most recently, he told the world that Jeremy Stephens would be fighting despite being arrested earlier in the day. I assume Dana thought that he could just walk into the jail, bail him out, and drive him to the arena himself in less than 10 minutes like WCW did with Goldberg.
He hasn’t just lied to fans though, he lied to Urijah Faber when he told him that he’d be fighting Ivan Menjivar for the interim title only to reveal that Faber would be fighting Renan Barao on the season finale of TUF in hopes that it would lead to a one night ratings increase.
Dana’s constant “woe is me, everything is everyone else’s fault” approach has led to multiple public relations disasters that everyone is afraid to call him out on, either because the situation isn’t big enough to cover in the mainstream world, or because people risk losing access in the MMA world. Even fighters bite their tongue in fear of being released or demoted on the card. It’s a rather sad state of affairs, one that isn’t likely to change, and one that is keeping the UFC from reaching bigger heights.
Samer Kadi: Ultimately, the whole fiasco wouldn’t have been so embarrassing had it not occur so close to the fight. Had the fight been two weeks away, it would have been understandable if the UFC were hesitant to rush into a decision and wait to see if the main event could somehow remain intact. However, with a mere five days until show-time, being so passive and on some levels, unrealistic, is inexcusable, especially with Gegard Mousasi having to anxiously wait to find out who he’s fighting.
More worrying is the fact that Gustafsson apparently suffered the cut last week and the UFC was well aware. That is not to suggest that they have failed to take action, as they could have very well tried to line up potential replacements, but their insistence on waiting to see whether the main event can be salvaged was a mistake that they have paid for dearly (by virtue of having Mousasi fight a complete unknown).
Even then, they could have saved face had they done a competent job on the media front. A point has been reached where an assurance from the president of the company can only be taken with a grain of salt, which is a testament to the level of credibility – or lack thereof – the UFC has established with the media. After all, there is a reason news reporting in MMA is often limited to endless speculation.