Welcome to the second edition of King and Slim, a debate column between writers Anthony Walker and Kristen King that answers a question or two related to a recent or upcoming event. This week, the duo debate what it means to be a member of MMA media.
Ant: Today’s topic is a timely one. We had some interesting incidents centered around UFC 246 where we have to question the role of mixed martial arts media in relation to the UFC. Just as our previous column was released, a reporter named Morgan Campbell from the New York Times asked a question about Conor McGregor’s rape investigation affecting the booking or the preparation for the main event at the press conference. He was furiously booed by the crowd, Dana White and Cowboy Cerrone rushed to his defense and McGregor really even have to lift a finger in his own defense or to just address a controversy that’s serious.
Mr. Campbell endured a great deal of backlash for asking that question. Social media was filled with harsh criticism which extended to anyone who was vocal about supporting him, myself included. Do you think he did the right thing by asking that question at the time that he did?
Kristen: I think we all have a responsibility to ask the tough questions even if it’s an uncomfortable situation or an uncomfortable topic. Like I said in our first column, this is unfortunately the type of stuff that will be linked to Conor no matter what he does until this gets resolved. It was a press conference and these questions are likely to come up. While I would’ve accepted a “no comment” on his part, simply asking the question is necessary and is the responsibility of anybody in media. Even if we can’t get an answer, there’s no harm in asking. I don’t see why he was booed.
I get the mindset for a fighter of wanting to only focus on the fight. But when this is part of the narrative, these are the type of questions you’ll have to face. I just hope moving forward that we aren’t chastised for doing what we’re supposed to do.
Ant: Allow me to play devil’s advocate yet again. My stance on this has been pretty clear and we seem to be right in line with another. But I was speaking to a very well-respected reporter in our world about this topic. He appreciated the questions and acknowledged the newsworthiness of them. However, he felt that they were better suited for a scrum as opposed to a press conference. Do you agree with that?
Kristen: In what sense? What would be a more open-ended setting? Is it the scrum where you’re supposed to be able to ask whatever you choose or is it a press conference where you’re in public asking these public figures these questions? How do we figure what the appropriate setting is? That’s why I’m conflicted. Is there ever a comfortable setting for subject matter like this?
I understand why you may want to stray away from it. You wouldn’t want to cause a rift between yourself, the promotion, or the fighter in question. A press conference is as good of a place as any in my eyes. But now that you mention it, I’m not sure. You might’ve stumped me.
Ant: I was similarly stuck in that conversation too. I had a very hardline stance that this was something appropriate for all situations. He did add a different wrinkle to my thought process. However, I’m still leaning in favor of my original inclination. Granted, the press conference is sort of like a dog and pony show. It’s meant to generate fanfare and excitement surrounding a fight. But those scrum interviews serve the same purpose. And it’s all in an environment controlled by the UFC. The biggest difference between the two settings is the presence of fans.
Those fans are going to consume the content regardless. If they’re not physically present to boo at a press conference, those scrum videos will receive the same vitriol. YouTube comments and the media members Twitter will be the dumping ground for all of those feelings anyway. Whether there is a live studio audience or not, there will be negative reactions. I know from personal experience. I’ve asked the tough question in the scrum and got a fair amount of backlash as a result.
Kristen: I see that journalist’s point. But like you said, either way asking these questions will generate some reaction. You have to deal with that but the question needs to be asked. I’d like to understand his perspective a bit more to have proper context. I’m open to hearing out all sides on this subject.
Ant: I don’t think there’s really a wrong answer here. There are different approaches. Even if we disagree with him to an extent, he knows his stuff and is great at his job. You and I are outliers in MMA media mainly due to some of our personal convictions about certain topics. Of course I know that I have a particular gift for pissing people off which could be influencing factor here as well.
I think this is something worth pondering and I think that every media member should consider where they want to lie on this spectrum. If you can look at yourself in the mirror and be content with the level of integrity you’ve shown, who am I to say otherwise?
Kristen: Exactly. If you’re happy with the way you maneuver the question in the setting that you’re operating in, I’m fine with that. Everyone will have to handle it differently. But this time and place thing is really getting to me. I’m really thinking about this as I move forward with my career.
Ant: I guess we might as well jump into the second part of this discussion. The presence of Robbie Fox of Barstool Sports and the super fanboy video of his real time reaction to McGregor’s win from press row ruffled more than a few feathers. Media does serve different functions, but damn it’s hard for me to get behind or see any merit in having a credentialed media member sitting in a designated cageside press area screaming like a fan and acting a fool on camera. Am I being mean?
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) January 19, 2020
Kristen: I don’t think you’re being mean, but I think you need to pay attention to something you just said: media serves different purposes. I think we need to differentiate between the varying types of media. We all shouldn’t be grouped together.
Do we want to say Robbie is a content provider? Does that list him as media? Sure. But it’s not our kind of media. He’s known to do these outlandish things as schtick to get a reaction. Not saying he should be getting a pass for that, but we need to consider who we should be taking seriously among the credentialed media.
I understand there are moments where it’s hard to suppress certain emotions. Maybe you want to freak out or celebrate a fighter’s win. But if you’re given the opportunity to cover this sport, you should be mindful of how you carry yourself while on the clock. I think that should apply to everyone on the MMA media side with the exception of people like Robbie Fox. I don’t put him in the same realm as us. I respect the type of work he does but someone labeling as MMA media would be incorrect. In this entertainment era of the UFC and the sport in general, I expect that to be more commonplace.
Ant: I don’t know Robbie nor am I familiar with his work and I have literally nothing against him personally. I just believe if you are cageside media, there’s a certain level of professionalism that is necessary. That’s also very clearly pointed out in the code of conduct that the UFC sends to every person issued a credentialed. As you know, they are very selective about who gets issued any sort of access and they’re even more selective about floor access. We’ve seen very legitimate reporters and journalists confined to the media room and while a fan reading this may not think that isn’t a very big deal, there’s a feel to being in front of that cage that adds an element to the coverage.
How crazy is it that a Josh Gross, who has been banned from the promotion for doing his job properly years ago, while a Robbie Fox is allowed to scream and cheer in one of those seats? I’m imagining you being in the media room despite the excellent work you’ve done while someone like that is out there.
I can see imagine people instantly ready to throw shade at the Schmo. But I want to be very clear about something. The Schmo may have a gimmick and a character that takes center stage but he has an incredible work ethic, conducts himself professionally, and produces quality content.
Kristen: Agreed…it’s hard not to respect what he does when you look past the character. In regards to conduct, I knew when I became part of the MMA media, I had to strip myself of a certain level of fandom. I couldn’t cheer and act like I would when watching the fights at home or at a bar. I had to remain as impartial as portion.
Unfortunately, this is what Robbie does. While the video didn’t surprise me, the behavior did in a way. Once you start stripping away everything that we’re supposed to uphold as journalists away from him, it makes a little more sense. I just wish that we wouldn’t categorized alongside him because when he does something like this, we’re all looked at through the same lens.
Ant: Yeah, you’re right. We do get all lumped in together. Have you ever noticed that there is always that one moron that comments on something about MMA media and makes an Iain Kidd reference?
Kristen: Yeah! That’s so concerning. They bring that up like we all do what he does.
Ant: Yeah, fuck that guy!
Kristen: I just want some clarity on what people actually want as far as coverage is concerned. I’ll take some constructive criticism because I want to get better at my craft. MMA media gets criticized for everything. Doing the usual Twitter reacts, results, etc. or trying something different.
Ant: You can’t please everybody. The only true problem is if we do try to please everybody. I’ll leave this as my final word on the subject: Our job isn’t to be a PR firm. We are to report on the fights and the narratives surrounding them. We are to do it with integrity. Whatever that means to you, myself, or anyone is up for endless debate and interpretation.
Kristen: As long as we are all grouped together under the same umbrella, we’re going to run into these problems. Have an open mind when you see these situations. We’re not the same.
Anthony Walker is a native of the Washington DC area that now lives in Los Angeles. His work has been featured on Sherdog and MMA On Point. He is also the proud founder of the #ClapbackCartel. Come get this work.