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Blurred Lines

By on April 13, 2010

tito ortizIt’s finally official- Chuck Liddell will face Rich Franklin, not Tito Ortiz, at UFC 115.  As reported by many MMA sites weeks ago, including, Ortiz has had to pull out of his third fight with Liddell, which was scheduled to take place after the airing of the newest season of “The Ultimate Fighter”.

Okay, so what’s the big deal?  Fighters get injured and have to pull out of fights all the time, right?  Yes, but this is much, much different.  This is the first time when we’ve had the fight’s promoter, as well as the participants involved, repeatedly mislead the public and media about the change for weeks after it was reported.

The denials were never very convincing- there were very few of them, and no one would speak at length about the issue- but a good portion of the fan base was undoubtedly swayed by outright denials from the two fighters and White himself.  Most of this took place on Twitter, although’s Josh Gross did ask Ortiz about whether he was out of the fight, to which he responded, “Nope.”

Why all the lies and misdirections (as when White said Franklin would be facing Randy Couture in the near future)?  All of it was presumably to retain viewer interest in the eleventh season of “The Ultimate Fighter”, where the season’s coaches nearly always meet at the conclusion of the show’s airing for a fight on pay-per-view.  Apparently, the thinking was that interest in the show would somehow dwindle if the parties involved admitted that Ortiz was not going to be able to fight Liddell as planned.  How this would change the public’s likelihood of watching a show about aspiring UFC fighters competing to win a contract with the promotion is something that I’m unsure of.

Sure, nobody was really hurt by all of this.  Tickets had not yet gone on sale, and when they do, it will be with the proper main event revealed.  Obviously, no one has paid for the pay-per-view or invested themselves in any real way in an event that takes place a couple of months from now.  What about credibility, though?  Isn’t mixed martial arts a sport, and isn’t the UFC a sporting organization?

Instead, this maneuvering draws parallels to professional wrestling, where the curtain is frequently drawn between fans and performers, even in an era where everyone involved is quite comfortable with admitting that it’s all a show.  In actual sports, this kind of thing doesn’t happen.  The only time injuries are kept a secret is when the athlete in question is still planning on competing and doesn’t want his or her opponents to know the nature of the setback.  To flat-out lie to media and fans in order to preserve the secret in the interest of a reality show is not something that reflects well upon the sport itself, or the UFC as an organization.

What’s even worse is that those involved didn’t need to lie.  They could just have simply admitted that Ortiz was out of the fight, and left it at that.  “If you want to find out why, you’ll have to watch the show,” they could have said.  Fair enough.  The idea that this somehow would have adversely affected the ratings of a show in its eleventh season is ridiculous.  At this point, “The Ultimate Fighter” has a better chance of surviving a nuclear fallout than cockroaches do.  If the UFC is truly worried about their flagship television show, they should be more concerned about the saturation that is happening with having two seasons per year of it on Spike TV.

This is not the first time that the sport itself has had to take a backseat to the reality show that helped launch it into public consciousness.  How many times have we seen a perfectly healthy title holder wait nine months between fights simply so the same tired formula can play out on television?  We even saw a huge rift between White and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson because Jackson took a film role that kept him from facing Rashad Evans at the end of the last season of the show.  And in the end, was it even a big deal?  People still tuned in.  When Evans-Rampage takes place, you can bet that people will still buy it.

A consistent theme throughout the young history of the UFC (and MMA as a whole, really) has been the identity crisis that the organization still struggles with.  Is this supposed to be a sport or just entertainment?  So far, the UFC has always straddled the line between the two, but at times it teeters uncomfortably towards the side of “just entertainment”.  If White and company want to put on another 50 seasons of “The Ultimate Fighter”, so be it.  Most of us will keep watching.  However, isn’t it about time to put the sport first, rather than forcing what actually matters- you know, fighters fighting– to work around the show?

E-Mail Jon Hartley

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