Even during a year where injury and adversity have been the norm in mixed martial arts, this past weekend felt like an especially hectic one for the UFC.
If the August cancelation of UFC 151 represented rock bottom for the organization’s ongoing scheduling woes, then UFC on FX 5 may well have set a new standard for sheer chaos after two crises struck within 24 hours and two high-profile bouts were stricken from the card at the last minute.
Dennis Hallman’s 155-pound fight against Thiago Tavares was called off on Thursday after the 36-year-old veteran failed to make weight. Jeremy Stephens was an even later scratch when he was reportedly arrested just before noon Friday on charges stemming from an alleged assault that took place in 2011.
Last we heard, Stephens was still in jail in Minnesota, awaiting the end of the holiday weekend before he’s able to find out what the legal system has in store for him next. Meanwhile, we can only assume Hallman is back home in Washington by now, coping with the family turmoil that led to his sudden release from the company.
“Every card has drama now,” lamented UFC president Dana White on Friday night, after spending much of the day negotiating with police in two states to spring Stephens in time to fight Yves Edwards. “Every day when I get up it’s like a big soap opera. This is my life. It sucks, but it’s part of having 475 guys under contract from all over the world. [Stuff] happens, and I’m the guy who deals with it.”
How White ultimately chose to deal with both Hallman and Stephens will no doubt be the cause of at least some debate moving forward.
In the end, Hallman was paid some $60,000, but he also was fired and the UFC president says he’s not likely to be welcomed back. This was the second straight time Hallman has missed weight -- a cardinal sin in the fight game -- and it seems proper that he take some time to sort out his family issues before resuming his career. With more than 70 fights under his belt during a 16-year run in the sport, the door to the Octagon may well have closed on him for the last time, even if it did feel sort of jarring to hear White say the words at the event’s postfight news conference.
“Hallman’s not coming back ... ” White said. “He’s got a lot of personal problems and I hope that the show and win money that I gave him helps him and his family to fix whatever needs to be fixed. Business-wise? This [paying Hallman] was the stupidest thing in the world to do. As a human being? It was what I wanted to do.”
By contrast, Stephens kept his job, though he’ll leave Minneapolis without his promised purse after spending all Friday night (and then some) behind bars. For now, White said he believes Stephens’ claim that he has been wrongly accused by police in his home state of Iowa. Beyond that, he gave the impression the company won’t take further action until the case is resolved.
“Jeremy Stephens is a young, dumb kid who made a mistake and then made a bigger mistake by not taking care of it ... ” White said. “But I’m always going to believe my guy and support my guy until I’m proven wrong or he goes and handles this situation and we find out what the real story is.”
Even for a company with a reputation for responding rapidly when things go awry, the run-up to this event must have made for a unique test for UFC brass. Though the execution wasn’t exactly flawless, in retrospect it does feel like the promotion had each fighter’s best interests at heart.
Still, there will be questions: Should Hallman have gotten one more chance? Should Stephens have been pulled from the fight card immediately upon his arrest? Who knows.
Critics could likely spend days hashing out the various moral ambiguities here, but perhaps the handling of these situations merely reinforced what we already knew: That UFC marches to its own beat. White & Co. make moves they believe are right, seemingly without heed to public opinion or external pressure and they very rarely if ever apologize for them.
To be blunt, they don’t care what the critics think. And if we learned anything this weekend, it’s that this doesn’t seem like it’s going to change anytime soon.