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Comments about transgender fighter bring UFC unwanted type of exposure


It is a slippery slope dripping with irony.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship has released its Code of Conduct, which in a very legal and official way says fighters need to act in a decent manner while not making public statements that might otherwise define them as, well, ignorant rock heads.

In other words, calling someone a “lying, sick, sociopathic, disgusting freak” isn’t the organization’s idea of making nice.

It got fighter Matt Mitrione suspended indefinitely when he aimed such uneducated remarks at Fallon Fox, a transgender mixed martial arts fighter who admitted in March she was born a man who has undergone gender reassignment surgery.

Ronda Rousey, the female UFC champion, added her opinion about the lower-level fighter Fox, saying, “She can try hormones, chop her pecker off, but it’s still the same bone structure a man has.”

Just a guess: UFC officials/attorneys who drafted the Code of Conduct didn’t specifically allude to chopping one’s pecker off.

Mitrione, and to a lesser degree Rousey, could have made their points in a far more intelligent manner, and yet the fact they were open and raw and unrestrained in their delivery defines much of how the UFC gained its global popularity.

Led by its president.

First, to the issue of Fox: She shouldn’t be allowed to fight females. Not now. Not until more research is produced on gender reassignment surgery. Not until it can be proved beyond doubt that a fighter such as Fox, even at 37, wouldn’t own a decided advantage for having been born male.

She is next set to fight Allanna Jones on May 24 as part of a Championship Fighting Alliance featherweight tournament in Florida.

Sorry. Shouldn’t happen.

This isn’t about refusing to disclose someone had LASIK surgery to improve their eyesight in the octagon. Whether her anatomy isn’t much different from those females Fox has or would fight is a debatable point depending on the medical expert answering the question.

Until all facts are known, it’s wrong to allow her to oppose women.

In the much broader picture: What we have here is continued progress by the UFC to further strengthen its place as a mainstream sport, something the organization desired for years while building its brand.

One major step was to sign a seven-year broadcast partnership with Fox Sports Media and, although ratings have significantly declined since the first such show in 2011, the level of exposure was unlike anything the UFC had received in the previous 13 years.

The comments about Fox bring a whole different kind of exposure.

The sort that UFC officials are more than familiar with.

The ironic part is that controversy always has been one of the UFC’s greatest selling points when it came to enticing more and more skeptical fans to embrace the sport and purchase tickets and pay-per-view packages. It always has been a decided advantage.

Dana White is the UFC president whose mastery of a progressive business model saved the company and whose vulgar tirades over the years brought more and more attention to it.

White had to apologize in 2009 for using an anti-gay slur in a video blog. He drops F-bombs like Brandon Marshall does passes, only intentionally. But what would the organization look and feel and be without him?

Would there even be one?

At day’s end, how politically correct do you really want the UFC to be?

The more it conforms, the greater chance its edge with die-hard fans might fade. Fighters still sell fights. Matchups still build interest, and no combat sport in history has done a better job of producing compelling matchups than the UFC.

I understand. It’s business, and the UFC has driven far more pitches over the fence than striking out when it comes to the sight of a dollar sign. It’s the old Michael Jordan line of “Republicans buy shoes, too.”

You don’t expand markets and increase popularity by alienating large factions of society.

But one thing that has always set the UFC apart is an accepted action of not only flirting with those lines of insolent behavior but also crossing them at times.

White has a made a career, not to mention hundreds of millions of dollars, off it. He has no filter, and most fans love him for it.

Mitrione probably went too far. He certainly won’t win any awards for the fighter who most responsibly adheres to the Code of Conduct. He sort of blew up the whole “fighters shall conduct themselves in accordance with commonly accepted standards of decency, social convention and morals” idea.

I’m just not so sure this is that big a deal with the UFC five or 10 years ago.

Sure, times change. Companies evolve.

It would be a shame, however, if the UFC forgot completely the road traveled to forming such a successful brand.

Boxing did and never will be the same.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.