Twitter Mailbag: What was UFC thinking, putting Greg Hardy and Rachael Ostovich on same card?
How did the UFC take an already tricky situation with former NFL player Greg Hardy and manage to make it so much worse? Was it intentional, or accidental? And what should happen next?
All that, plus some talk about the array of legitimately enticing fights on tap at UFC 231 in this week’s Twitter Mailbag. To ask a question of your own, tweet to @BenFowlkesMMA.
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To put it simply, I’m baffled. Bringing Greg Hardy into the UFC was always going to be controversial. A guy who was convicted of domestic violence (later dismissed on appeal) and essentially run out of the NFL? Yeah, that person is a guaranteed lightning rod, and UFC executives had to know it. Still, they’ve been intent on giving Hardy the second (or is it third?) chance that they think he deserves, so clearly they were going to get into the Greg Hardy business no matter what.
Thing is, I think MMA fans had mostly resigned themselves to that, whether they liked it or not. Easing Hardy in via Dana White’s Contender Series had the desired result in many ways. We argued over his place in MMA, debated one another, lobbed angry recriminations back and forth, all while slowly, accidentally getting used to the idea.
Really, there was only one fight card that you absolutely could not put him on, and it was the one featuring Rachael Ostovich, who had somehow stayed on this card after being badly beaten in an alleged domestic violence incident.
UFC President Dana White’s defense is that he asked Ostovich about it and she didn’t mind sharing a fight card with Hardy, so it’s fine. Then again, he also said that Ostovich gave him “75 reasons why she needs to be on this card.” It’s very possible that, as a fighter who’s 1-1 in the UFC, she didn’t feel like she could tell the boss that the NFL reject he’s been actively grooming for stardom was not welcome on her fight card, and for obvious reasons.
Booking Hardy right alongside Ostovich was guaranteed to reignite the controversy over Hardy. So then we’re forced to wonder, was controversy the goal? Or are UFC officials genuinely this blindly insensitive to the issue? And if we’re choosing between “stupid or evil,” as a Deadspin writer put it, which is worse?
It’s hard to believe that no one at the UFC was capable of connecting these dots before the media and the fans did it for them. It’s also hard to believe that, even at its worst, the UFC would actively court this type of controversy. And yet here we are. One of these things has to be true. Either you stumbled dumbly into an easily avoidable firestorm, or else you went looking for it because you wanted the attention.
If I’m forced to choose, I guess I have to say that it would be better to be stupid than evil. At least stupid is, theoretically, something that can be fixed. Stupid means making obvious mistakes, but people can learn from mistakes. You know, if they want to.
But to do something like this on purpose, figuring that controversy might translate to views for the UFC debut on ESPN+, that’s such a heartless, cynical calculation that I don’t even really want to think about what kind of people would suggest it. Definitely not anybody I’d feel good about giving my money to.
At this point we’re firmly into damage control territory. If Hardy gets moved to another card, whether it’s the UFC making the decision or ESPN, it can only be viewed as a response to the overwhelmingly bad reaction from fans and media.
And, make no mistake, Hardy’s fight should be moved. The only reasonable response here is to tell us you screwed up, didn’t think it through, and now you’ll fix it. That’s what people do when they make mistakes. To do anything else would be to confirm that it was entirely intentional.
For ESPN, maybe this should serve as an early warning. Getting the UFC means getting its mostly young and extremely loyal fanbase, which has demonstrated a willingness to follow the fights wherever they go, both online and on TV. It also means getting into business with a company that, if left to its own devices, might get you in hot water from time to time.
I’ve seen this line of reasoning thrown around a lot since this fight was booked. Two things about that:
1. You’re talking about fights that happened a decade or more ago. Both fighters have grown and matured since then. To be honest, they’re both different fighters than they were even just a few years ago, so I’m not sure how much weight to give a few three-round kickboxing matches ages ago.
2. This is a different sport. Even if both fighters typically rely heavily on their kickboxing background, they have other options at their disposal in MMA, and even the existence of those options can change the way a fight unfolds.
Of course, just because the second point is true doesn’t necessarily mean it will tilt things any more in Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s favor. Valentina Shevchenko has an underrated ground game, and her strength in the clinch and on the mat may just end up reminding Jedrzejczyk that she’s better off at strawweight.
Still, this is the reason we have the fights. A lot of stuff in MMA history was taken as a given right up until someone stepped in the cage and proved it wrong.
Whoa there. I’m going to need you to slow waaaaaay down. Max Holloway has a tough fight on his hands at UFC 231. Even at full power, with no questions surrounding his health, he’d have his hands full with Brian Ortega. Before we go planning the later years of his title reign, let’s see him defend the belt against someone not named Jose Aldo.
If he gets through that, I think there’s plenty of work still to be done at featherweight, with lots of interesting young fighters (looking at you, Zabit Magomedsharipov) on the come up.
Yes, “The UItimate Fighter” will continue on indefinitely, rolling out one season after another of wholly interchangeable MMA content. Even as the world around us crumbles and burns, “TUF” will endure. The only things to survive a full-scale nuclear war will be cockroaches and “TUF.” Future historians, when sifting through the ashes of our civilization, will conclude that it must have been very important to us to ensure that at all times there is always a heavily tattooed welterweight on TV somewhere explaining that he isn’t here to make friends, lest we anger our gods and spoil the harvest.
I guess it’s fine if the UFC keeps making this show after the move to ESPN. I can’t recall a less talked about season than the one that just wrapped up, but hey, maybe a new network will breathe some new life into it. I mean, I don’t actually believe that, but I have to concede that it’s possible.
As far as its purpose, mainly the role of “TUF” is to churn out cheap, easy MMA content. And content is the name of the game for TV networks, particularly those with streaming service libraries to fill. “TUF” doesn’t draw a ton of viewers, but it also doesn’t cost much to make. If it can also produce a few new fighters for the UFC roster with each season, locking young, hungry fighters into extended lowball contracts, that’s a bonus for the UFC.
The good news is, none of us has to watch it. Like, ever.
I think Joseph Benavidez’s explanation was pretty spot on. Up until recently, the UFC flyweight division had only ever known one champion. Demetrious Johnson was so dominant that maybe it became boring. But if the UFC gives up on it now, just as things were threatening to get really interesting, we may never know what the division could have become.
One explanation I don’t buy is that the fighters are just too small for fans to care about. We heard this years ago with lightweight. Then we heard it with featherweight and bantamweight. But as we’ve seen over and over again, once the right fighter comes along it doesn’t matter what the numbers on the scale say. Seems like by now we should have learned that lesson.
Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @BenFowlkesMMA. Twitter Mailbag appears every Thursday on MMAjunkie.