Monday, February 25, 2008

UFC Turns Down Lindland, White Begins Search For Vertical Toupée

Dana White is one of the most vocal and relevant critics of boxing today. "Vocal" because, well, vocal is his style. "Relevant" because he's the face of the sport that is quickly replacing boxing in the hearts and minds of young sports fans.

Criticizing boxing is part of White's usual stump speech. He will tell you that Don King and Bob Arum have mortgaged the long-term health of the sport for selfish short-term gain. He will tell you that boxing is a mess because the egos of its power elite prevent fans from seeing the best fights. And when he says those things, he is right.

He also is fond of saying that MMA will never go down the path of boxing, that his sport will not be held hostage by its promoters. As recently as a few years ago, he was believable. In 2003, he sent one of his biggest stars, Chuck Liddell, to compete in the middleweight tournament of rival promotion PRIDE's Grand Prix. It was a huge win for the fans: Liddell knocked out a cocky Alistair Overeem before being mauled by Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, memorable fights both of them.

The exchange was supposed to be part of a trade involving Liddell and Wanderlei Silva, the second half of which never materialized supposedly due to the duplicity of PRIDE's ownership. Perhaps the sting of that failed transaction killed whatever goodwill remained in White's heart because he's looked more and more like King and Arum every day since.

Today comes the news from that Matt Lindland, a top-ten middleweight in the estimation of many observers, tried to get a fight with the UFC and was flatly turned down. According to Lindland, "I made it very clear to Dana (White), and he’s the final decision-maker on all that stuff, I made it very clear that I was looking for them to make me an offer. I said, ‘Make me an offer, and let’s talk. Let’s do business.’ I got back a, ‘We’re not going to make you any kind of an offer’ response."

For those not familiar with the back story, Lindland was let go by the UFC supposedly for wearing an unapproved sponsor's logo to the weigh-in of UFC 54. It's hard to believe that the sport's preeminent promotion would part with a quality fighter over such a minor squabble, so we're left to wonder if there might not have been other issues at play. Whatever the reason for the split, White's apparent inability to push aside his towering ego two and half years after the logo incident is one step down the same painful, self-destructive path pioneered by boxing.

Like him or not, Lindland is a top-flight middleweight, a world class wrestler and grappler who competes at the UFC's weakest weight class. Refusing Lindland's offer undercuts the UFC's credibility as the world's premier fighting organization and deprives fans of the best possible fights. If personal enmity prevents fans from seeing Lindland fight Rich Franklin, Nathan Marquardt, Yushin Okami, and UFC champion Anderson Silva, then White will have truly begun a Dorian Gray-like transformation into that which he despises most.

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