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The "Please White on the Night" Bonus (or how UFC continues to move from Sport to Entertainment)

Danawhitenight_mediumI'll make this clear, I'll even capitalise and embolden it just to make sure those with limited comprehension understand my position: FRANK MIR VS MIRKO CRO COP WAS A HORRIBLE FIGHT.

Agreed? Good, then we can move on.

As horrible as that fight clearly was, and believe me it was a stinker, it was still the only fight on the card to end with a definitive KO. Not a referee intervenes because of a lack of intelligent defence Technical KO. A lights out, takes a few minutes to remember where you are clean KO.

But by being the only legit KO of the night there was still no KO of the night bonus awarded because of the 4 minutes and 50 second yawnfest that preceded it. Why? Because quite simply, Dana White was not a happy man.

If you didn't know it before, you should know it now: all bonuses are discretionary and at the whim of Dana White. Fight of the Night has to be one he personally enjoys even if the fans enjoyed a different one more. Submission of the Night similarly won't go to the fighter fans believed had the best submission but the one Dana White liked more, or maybe to the fighter Dana White personally likes more. There have been several occasions where something like a ho-hum guillotine or arm-triangle was awarded the bonus over a spectacular entanglement combination move such as Chris Lytle's head-scissors/straight armbar over Matt Brown. Lytle didn't win the bonus, Brock Lesnar did for his arm-triangle of Carwin. Lesnar's sub was far less impressive and Lesnar makes 10 times more than Lytle just to show up. Lesnar also makes Dana White (and his bank balance) happy.

Don't get me wrong, Lesnar's arm-triangle was a great finish to a fight he was seriously in danger of losing in the first round, and coupled with his journey back from  being near death with diverticulitis makes for a great story. But therein lies the problem. The bonus is because of the story and entertainment, and not the technique. It's the same ethos for rewarding Pro Wrestlers in the WWE and it leads me to believe locker room politics can also play a role in how successful you'll be in the UFC. Get on Dana's good side and become his buddy, you'll get paid more and given greater lenience after a loss. Be fun to watch on top of this and you'll likely have a job for life.

Dana White can be just as discretionary with giving out title shots with the most famous example being the Werdum vs Arlovski eliminator. Arlovski won a boring decision and Dana changed his mind, and when Arlovski refused to sign a contract extension and wanted to play the market, Dana White benched him for several months until he was forced to grant him the last fight on his contract, although it would be a preliminary fight with Jake O'Brien. Dana White probably hoped O'Brien would blanket Arlovski like he had done to Heath Herring and basically kill off a lot of interest in Arlovski from competitors. Unfortunately for White, it backfired. Fortunately, though, White can now blow it off with Arlovski's losses to Fedor Emelianenko, Brett Rogers and Antonio Silva.

Some may still fail to see what the problem is, so let me put it like this. Dana White loves to claim the UFC is the NFL of Mixed Martial Arts. But in the NFL, the team that wins games progresses towards the Superbowl championship. It doesn't matter if they play a defensive strategy that could be boring to watch, they get the job done and win. That's sport. The games still end up on television, the teams are still promoted and endorsed properly.

Use a legitimate yet defensive strategy to win in the UFC, or end up in a fight where Dana White doesn't understand the nuances of some of the things that are going on, and he'll end up burying the fighters he's supposed to be promoting (see Kenny Florian, Jon Fitch etc) and further minimise what they can make as a fighter. It's one thing to say a fighter chokes or wasn't aggressive enough or doesn't finish, it's an entirely different thing to understand exactly why a fighter might not have been aggressive (aka entertaining) enough or was unable to finish. And that's something Dana White will never understand. He doesn't have a blackbelt level understanding of Jiu Jitsu, he doesn't have a collegiate D1 level understanding of wrestling, he doesn't have a K1 level of understanding in Kickboxing. He knows Boxing, he knows just enough of everything else to sell a fight and he knows what he likes to see.

The sport of MMA is becoming less and less important because the sad truth is the sport of MMA doesn't make promoters money. A particular brand of MMA, marketing, personalities, and usually scrappy reckless abandon in fights make promoters money. Dana White can tell the media at the post fight press conference that fans shouldn't expect fighters to charge head first at each other and swing bell to bell but it's clearly what he prefers, and more often then not what he rewards. It's also partly why UFC's brand of MMA is taking so long to get the legitimate sports recognition it craves.

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