UFC president Dana White sits down to celebrate his friend’s birthday. Everyone at the table is rich. What do you get the man who has enough money to buy everything he could ever want? More money, of course.
Dana White was criticized a little while back for gifting $250k to Kyle Forgeard of Nelk, a YouTube comedy group of twenty-something-year-olds. Many saw the gesture as insulting to the UFC roster during a time when the issue of fighter pay is at the forefront of every press conference. How could White justify such a large sum when he has athletes signed to $10k contracts putting their lives on the line every week? Justify it he did.
“Go fuck yourself,” White said in response to the backlash. “I’ll spend my money, however, the fuck I want to spend my money.”
Fighter purses don’t come directly out of Dana White’s pocket. But surely he can understand why some saw it as insulting to the UFC fighters who have to work a day job alongside their training to make ends meet. Perhaps he is simply oblivious to the hardship some of his athletes endure, or maybe he just doesn’t care.
Dana White gives one of the Nelk Boys, Kyle Forgeard, $250K for his birthday. #FullSend pic.twitter.com/UlPcfNWeZc
— Jed I. Goodman © (@jedigoodman) July 12, 2022
The UFC vs The Media
The UFC doesn’t like criticism. And in recent years, it’s usually met with a curse-heavy tirade from White, as seen above. Often that criticism comes from fans, who are told they “don’t know shit about fighting” and to “shut the fuck up”. Sometimes it comes from fighters themselves, who are invariably ignored, or fired back at by White in similar fashion. But most of the time, it comes from the media.
You’d struggle to find an interview with the UFC president where he doesn’t have something negative to say about the “scumbag media”. The job of a journalist is to be objective, and that objectivity stands in opposition to the UFC’s preference that no one say anything negative about them ever. So it makes sense the promotion isn’t particularly fond of them.
The UFC has consciously cultivated a following who, largely, are UFC fans—not MMA fans. This has led to masses of social media users who will defend White and the UFC with three sharpened keyboards on a stick. These fans will nod along to White’s rants against the media, repeating the last two words of every sentence aloud to themselves with the rage of a thousand rejections. The UFC has created an army of baa’ing bootlickers. And Dana White is their leader.
So, the UFC actively dislike the media. They also have a huge monopoly on MMA, and a mob of faceless lickspittles who will rain down on any naysayers. In access journalism, that combination is not good. People have become scared to speak out, because it means potentially facing a public scolding, losing your position at events, and incurring the wrath of the brown-nosing horde of sycophants. This results in the UFC having the power to silence negative press and sway mass public opinion in whichever direction they fancy. And Dana White’s relationship with Nelk is another facet of that mission.
What Do They Want With Nelk?
Dana White is 53-year-old multi-millionaire CEO. Apparently, his best friends are mid-twenties internet pranksters. It sounds like it would be a mildly entertaining sitcom, but it is in fact “real life”. Cageside seats, all-access passes, dinners and drinks with Dana White on a regular basis—they are familiar faces at every event.
Nelk have recently launched Full Send MMA, sending “journalists” into pressers alongside established outlets like MMAJunkie.com, MMAFighting.com, and of course MMASucka.com. In the month since their launch, the lead reporter has been slapped by Nate Diaz, and now accused of racist behavior against Marlon Vera. This is exactly why they are there.
The UFC wants Nelk to make fools of themselves. They want them right there in the scrum, annoying fighters and acting unprofessionally. They want fans to say “Look at these idiots in the media”, and they want the fighters to say the same thing.
Most fans won’t see those crazy ol’ Nelk Boys being their usual selves. They will see the “scumbag media” being aggravating, ignorant racists. The average casual fan doesn’t differentiate John Morgan from Alex Behunin, and they won’t differentiate Full Send MMA’s ‘The OG’ either. They just think “media”.
The end goal is that when Dana White goes on a rant about all these “scumbag journalists”, the first thought in the head of the masses will be someone Dana White put there. That’s not an accident. What better way to discredit the people you hate than to infiltrate them and make them look like juvenile half-wits? The stronger the belief that “MMA journalists” are clueless lowlifes, the more control the UFC has over every narrative. And frankly, using Nelk to do it is genius.
The vast majority who take to social media to rant about their opinions on the UFC are in the same demographic likely to be Nelk fans. For the most part, it’s not the 43-year-old family men with 2 kids and a mortgage that spend their afternoons on Twitter acting as they know more about being a UFC fighter than the actual UFC fighters they’re insulting. These children will defend their favourite YouTube personalities like they are religious figures. And by placing Dana White in every second piece of content Nelk puts out, they recruit the same vocal protectors for him. Dana White is solely a businessman—and he has more fans than almost any UFC fighter.
The Plan Is Working
The UFC is on the brink of possibly their biggest ever PR nightmare. Low fighter pay within the company is a red-hot topic that could lead down a path that is extremely detrimental to them. We have seen what happens to fighters and media members who are too vocal on the subject. And as the issue rises, the Nelk boys enter—discrediting real MMA media who champion the cause as they do and adding horses to the bandwagon against them.
The use of Nelk as a media outfit is just a tiny part of why Dana White associates with them so closely. And the use of Nelk as a whole is just a small facet of the UFC’s off-with-their-heads PR approach. They are now using this same blueprint in other parts of the world with the recruitment of Russian social media star Hasbulla to a five-year promotional deal.
Hasbulla just signed with #UFC (seriously) https://t.co/iMQuFfm51z
— MMA mania (@mmamania) September 12, 2022
But know this—the UFC is a for-profit business. They do not care about you any more than Marlboro cares about the health of their consumers. They want you to hate the media too because it benefits them. The next time you see Dana White hurling insults at the “scumbag media”—consider which is looking out for the young athletes sacrificing everything in pursuit of a dream, and which is looking out for his $10 billion company.