What appears to be a flawed decision to move two UFC champions with a deep connection to California out of a planned Jan. 26 Honda Center super-fight and shift them to Brooklyn makes business sense, UFC President Dana White explained Friday.
The UFC launches its $750-million, five-year-deal with the ESPN Plus streaming service on Jan. 19 with the showdown between bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw of Yorba Linda and Los Angeles-raised flyweight champion Henry Cejudo.
But tying that fight with separate undercard bouts featuring Greg Hardy and Rachael Ostovich has misdirected the attention this week, away from the quality of the main event and toward the insensitivity of placing a man convicted of domestic violence on the same show with a woman healing from a brutal attack allegedly at her husband’s hands.
Hardy, a former NFL Pro Bowl defensive end, was found guilty in 2014 of assaulting a woman and communicating threats as part of a domestic violence case.
Last month, Hawaii’s Ostovich reported being punched repeatedly by her husband, Arnold Berdon, who was arrested on suspicion of second-degree attempted murder.
Given the NFL’s harder line against assaults against women that prompted the Kansas City Chiefs to cut star running back Kareem Hunt, the UFC starting its most lucrative television deal with Hardy and Ostovich on the same card brings controversy just as mainstream sporting acceptance officially arrives.
White has defended the move this week because Ostovich hasn’t objected to Hardy’s presence. White told a TSN reporter in Canada she gave him “75 reasons” why she needs to fight on the Jan. 19 card at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
Ostovich’s opinion is her own, but if the ESPN deal signals the UFC’s crossover appeal, doesn’t the organization also need to consider the potential backlash from female (and male) fans who may deeply resent this type of tone deafness?
After a briefly heated session with other reporters, White told the Los Angeles Times, “This is what you guys do, this is your job … [to question such decisions] … I don’t give a …. This is your job to say, ‘Oh, we’re so upset about this … .’ The girl isn’t upset about it. Why the ... are you guys upset?”
White said he was swayed to bring Hardy aboard to the UFC after the organization conducted an internal investigation that concluded Hardy was sincere in reforming.
“This man lost his job. He lost everything. He hit rock bottom, went to rehab for alcohol, drugs, then went to anger management and is still doing therapy now by choice, not because someone’s telling him to,” White said. “It was five … years ago. He was never in trouble before that, was never in trouble after that. We interviewed all the women he trains with. They love him.”
Hardy hasn’t showed the kind of contrition some would want about his conviction, but White says, “I signed this guy. He’s on the UFC roster. So this fight’s going to happen, and people will have … to say. No matter how long he’s in the UFC … this is what this guy has to deal with for the rest of his life. And I knew that when I signed him. I back down to no one, ever, for any … reason.”
Hardy was already penciled onto the Brooklyn card before the incident with Ostovich occurred, White told reporters.
“You guys want to be sensitive… the weird thing is you guys give a … and [Ostovich] doesn’t care. She’s said, ‘I don’t know this guy, this guy’s never done anything to me,’ … you, you, you and you are making this an issue. It probably gets hits and does well for you, but I’m done with it.”
That leaves Anaheim without Dillashaw and Cejudo.
“I always have something up my sleeve, I always deliver,” White said of replacing that fight with a new main event and promising not to cancel the card.
He said resurrecting the Nate Diaz-Dustin Poirier fight that fell off the Madison Square Garden card in November due to a Poirier injury won’t be it, and he also cast doubt on welterweight champion Tyron Woodley being involved.
“When is Woodley ready to fight ever? … Woodley’s thumb is hurt … it’s always something with Woodley,” White said.
He said neither Dillashaw nor Cejudo objected about being moved off the Anaheim card even though Dillashaw had spoken enthusiastically about training in Orange, within sight of the Big A across the 57 Freeway from Honda Center.
“It’s a good fight and it’s on ESPN. These guys want to fight, and they’ll have the biggest platform in MMA history ever on that date [Jan. 19]. Why would you not take it?” White asked.
He insisted the Jan. 26 card won’t be canceled.
But in a similar situation a few years ago, when the UFC was to compete for the Southern California MMA audience while Bellator MMA stages a card at the Forum, it was. The Bellator card is headlined by the heavyweight grand prix final between legend Fedor Emelianenko and Ryan Bader.
“We’ll get it done. I’ll get it done. In the last 20 years, there’s only been two or three we’ve had to pull the plug on,” White said.