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Stephens steals show with no-show


Reaction to Friday's debacle involving the arrest of Jeremy Stephens and UFC's subsequent attempts to get him in the Octagon that night were, at best, mixed.

Fans and media took shots at UFC president Dana White for promising that Stephens would be free in time to fight Yves Edwards, even doubling down on that claim. White took shots at the media for doing the math and surmising odds were slim to none it would happen.

Soon it felt as though White was pushing to get Stephens out of jail -- where he was sitting based on a warrant for felony assault -- less to help the veteran lightweight and more to make good on his claim. White said he felt for Stephens, who lost out on a needed payday, but the promoter also admitted to pushing the way he did because of his promises.

Whatever the motivation, lost in the details of Friday's mess is another result of the culture White created for athletes in the UFC.

Over the years we've seen countless examples of fighters messing up.

Most of the time there was White, loudly and defiantly standing behind his people. Short of a three-state bank robbing spree, White said Friday night, this is how he's going to handle sticky situations. Even if it results in PR hits, or unflattering news stories, or being flat wrong.

That's not always how it is, as Miguel Torres can attest, but most of the time the UFC has its athletes' backs. There's risk in this, of course. Someday a fighter will really mess up. White might take his word as truth and put his reputation and the reputation of the UFC brand up as collateral.

As of today, it's unclear what Stephens did or didn't do at a party he threw last year in Des Moines, Iowa.

Either you accept claims by Stephens' representatives that he's being used by a "so-called friend" as a scapegoat; that Stephens did nothing to a man who was apparently badly beaten at his party. Or you believe Stephens did in fact have something to do with physically assaulting another person.

The truth is in there somewhere.

As it is, we know where White stands. He has taken the word of his guy.

Since this is a grades column, where does White flush out?

On a PR hit, he looked pretty bad. White made a promise, didn't come through, unnecessarily went after the media, then had to spend much of Friday night offering explanations. That's worth a "D-."

As a businessman, White took a real risk. He can't know the truth about Stephens, yet he pushed and pushed to get him out on bond so he could fight in a cage the same night? Think about the optics, which probably has to do more with public relations but also delves into real-world business. Where's the benefit to UFC? I don't see a big upside in sticking out his neck. Again, a "D."

On his relationship with fighters, White scores an "A+." Stephens isn't a pay-per-view draw. Few people in Minneapolis were on hand to watch him (save, ironically, a few friends from the Des Moines Police Department). But that didn't matter. White's there for his guys, especially ones who have been there for him. Make no mistake, this is an important message to fighters. Play ball, and even if you get in trouble with the law, we'll be there for you. Trust us. White hammered home this point over the weekend.

Overall, White earns a "B-" for his handling of the Stephens mess.

As for the fighters who managed to actually find their way to the Octagon, here you go: