Last week, UFC President Dana White appeared on TSN’s Off the Record. Host Michael Landsberg asked White about Anthony Johnson’s “checkered past” with domestic violence (transcription via Women’s MMA):
White: Actually, that’s incorrect. What happened with Anthony Johnson is, he was dating a girl who made a lot of accusations about him, and we actually went in and did a complete and full investigation on this thing and Anthony Johnson was actually the one who was being terrorized in this relationship.
Landsberg: What happened in 2010, though? Wasn’t he sentenced in 2010?
White: Yeah, I-I-I-I-I don’t know exactly what happened to him then. You know, when you say he had a checkered past, there’s been a lady that he dated that, you know, was saying all kinds of horrible things about him that were absolutely not true, and it was actually proven in court, so. It was not true.
White initially responds to a police report filed last September. The victim in that case later dropped charges. Landsberg then refers to a case that happened in 2009. Johnson plead no contest to that charge and received three years of probation, eight hours of community service, one day in county jail, and 52 weeks of domestic violence counseling. There was a third case against Johnson in which a police report was filed in 2012 but charges not pursued at the request of the victim.
This is typical of Dana White’s deft public relations efforts. He could have issued a “no comment” or said something about how it was handled by the courts. Instead, he goes to bat for a guy who has multiple allegations against him and one case in which he accepted punishment.
In the past, White has claimed UFC fighters can’t “bounce back” from “putting their hands on women.” This is a policy they’ve had “since day one.” This is demonstrably untrue given the UFC not disciplining Johnson when he plead no contest to the 2009 incident.
But the Johnson situation is indicative of the mess that is the UFC’s disciplinary process. The UFC has a Code of Conduct policy for their fighters, though it’s proven about as reliable and effective as the paper it is (digitally) printed on.
The Code of Conduct was not collectively bargained, and it gives the UFC power to discipline fighters for a variety of conduct which “tarnishes” the organization. Disciplinary measures include “fines, suspensions, and cessation of service.” I have no idea about the legalities of such a policy; it seems strange to be able to fine your plumber for a DUI, though. In addition, while an appeals policy exists, it is carried out by a third-party of the UFC’s choosing (JAMS) in the location of the UFC’s choosing (Las Vegas, Nevada).
Assuming the Code of Conduct is a viable legal document, there’s nothing in it that indicates the UFC could discipline Johnson. The first bullet point under the “Standards of Conduct” begins with “Criminal offenses, including but not limited to.” But does that include situations in which the athlete was not convicted? That is not determined anywhere in the document.
It’s an important enough distinction that the NFL Personal Conduct Policy spells it out (emphasis mine):
While criminal activity is clearly outside the scope of permissible conduct, and persons who engage in criminal activity will be subject to discipline, the standard of conduct for persons employed in the NFL is considerably higher. It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime. Instead, as an employee of the NFL or a member club, you are held to a higher standard and expected to conduct yourself in a way that is responsible, promotes the values upon which the League is based, and is lawful.
Persons who fail to live up to this standard of conduct are guilty of conduct detrimental and subject to discipline, even where the conduct itself does not result in conviction of a crime.
The UFC did dump Thiago Silva for his own domestic violence situation, which coincided with Johnson’s in the news cycle. The UFC had cut Silva before bringing him back after the charges against him were dropped when his victim fled the country. But when his victim released two videos – one showing him carrying a gun, the other showing him allegedly on drugs – the UFC cut ties again.
While a lack of video evidence does not determine the veracity of an allegation, it does make it easier for the UFC to discipline a fighter. And it makes it especially easy to discipline a fighter like Silva, who was a fringe top-ten fighter on the wrong side of thirty with two failed drug tests and had missed weight in his last bout.
But that’s just further evidence of how flimsy the Code of Conduct is. The UFC created the Code of Conduct in response to Matt Mitrione’s comments regarding Fallon Fox. But Ronda Rousey wasn’t disciplined when she referred to Cris Cyborg as “an it.” And while Silva was eventually cut from the promotion, Johnson wasn’t disciplined outside of a brief suspension. Would the UFC cut Cain Velasquez or Chris Weidman for a similar offense? Jones? Rousey? Seems unlikely.