Mike Tyson is said once to have claimed the best punch he’d ever thrown was one he landed on actress and model Robin Givens, when she was his wife. “Man, I’ll never forget that punch,” his biographer quoted him as saying in 1988. “She really offended me and I went bam, and she flew backward, hitting every wall in the apartment.”
The late Eighties were different to the times we currently inhabit, but it’s worth noting that, when it was published, the biography didn’t seem to do Tyson’s career a great deal of harm. Before retiring in 2005, in fact, and notwithstanding a three-year stretch in prison for rape, Tyson would go on to fight twenty-three more times, raking in many millions of dollars in the process.
I bring this up only because a video has emerged this week of the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship Dana White striking his wife in the face at a New Year’s Eve party in Mexico. White, for Spectator readers who don’t follow cage-fighting, is the man who has done more than anyone in history to make respectable mega-violence as sport.
On his watch, since 2001, the epic brutality of mixed martial arts contests — during which men and women punch, elbow, knee and kick each other unconscious — has come, not only to be broadcast most weekends to a global audience of millions, but also covered by international mainstream media in the same way as traditional sports, such as football, baseball and tennis. It’s a truly remarkable achievement: colosseum-style entertainment for the digital age.
White has said he’s mortified by the incident — “this is one of those horrible situations. I’m embarrassed.” His wife, who was filmed hitting White across the face, has said “nothing like this has ever happened before.” But even given these statements, the calls for his removal from post have so far been astonishingly muted — the result surely of the power White wields over the journalists and commentators who depend on his goodwill for access to the UFC’s stars.
You don’t have to look far for examples of what happens to UFC journalists who fall foul of the sport’s ultimate supremo. The widely-respected former ESPN reporter Ariel Helwani — described on a podcast in December by White as “a massive sack of shit” — was banned from all UFC press conferences and fights in 2016 for daring not to toe the official White-approved UFC line, not least on issues such as fighter pay.
But it’s ludicrous now to countenance the idea that White won’t have to resign, or be fired. There is simply no way the head of a multi-billion dollar organization, that’s entire business model is predicated on the ideal of carefully regulated and controlled violence, can remain in post when so evidently he is unable either to regulate or control his own violent urges.
In 2001, the UFC was purchased by the Fertitta brothers — Lorenzo and Frank — for $2 million. Today, it is valued at about $10 billion. Since the footage of White hitting his wife, first published on TMZ, began widely circulating on Tuesday, the share price of parent company Endeavor Group Holdings has (at the time of writing) fallen by more than 5 percent. As the controversy inevitably intensifies over the coming days, it would be unsurprising to see it fall considerably further.
Until he leaves the UFC, White can now only be a counter-argument to anyone who tries to praise cage-fighting. “Er, didn’t the guy who runs it hit a woman?” is the question that will always be asked. Replying that White’s wife said he only did it once — and, what are the chances, he was being filmed when he did — is unlikely to cut much slack.
In 2014, after NFL running back Ray Rice — notably an athlete from a different sport — was filmed punching his fiancé, White, unusually, spoke out publicly about domestic violence.
“There’s one thing you never bounce back from, and that’s putting your hands on a woman. Been that way in the UFC since we started here. You don’t bounce back from putting your hands on a woman,” he said.
That quote will now be used relentlessly against him. How could it not? We no longer live in the 1980s. White is not a poorly educated fighter, like Mike Tyson. His obvious intelligence has enabled him, until now, to appear credible as a figure of authority over an empire built on blood, and while doing so to amass a personal fortune of more than half a billion dollars.
No more. It is not acceptable to be the head of an organization that glamorizes violence and at the same time be seen to hit women. White must go.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.