There’s no defending Brandon Saling. Saling, whose tattoos and criminal past recently caused a stir in the MMA community after he competed in a televised bout on the preliminary portion of the Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey card, has proven to be a bad person.

Saling’s tattoos, featuring symbolism commonly associated with the Neo-Nazi movement, led to further scrutiny and the revelation that those tattoos weren’t even the worst decisions he’s made in life. Saling’s name also happens to appear in the sex offender registry, and he’s committed several crimes, both violent and sexual in nature.

The New Jersey and Ohio State Athletic Commissions launched investigations into Saling and ultimately revoked his license after it was found that he didn’t reveal those important details about his criminal past on the commission’s application for licensing.

The revocation of his license on those grounds is completely legitimate (and an appropriate punishment for Saling). Also legitimate is the already-voiced argument that perhaps both the athletic commission and the promoters – in this case, Zuffa – should institute a more thorough background check procedure for fighters. No arguments there.

Cain Velasquez's "Brown Pride" tattoo has come under fire for its possible racist message and affiliation with gangs (Sherdog)

The one aspect of this whole scenario that hasn’t been explored sufficiently is the one thing that initially sparked the controversy. Would anyone have taken such a close look at Saling’s background if not for his body art? Doubt it. Perhaps someone would have stumbled across Saling’s criminal record now, or at a later date, but it wouldn’t have been something that was so actively sought out.

Saling’s tattoos do bring up an interesting debate. It’s one where favoritism, ignorance or perceptions could play a role in who pays for their choices in artwork, and who gets a pass.

In terms of those getting a pass, some might point to Cain Velasquez’s “Brown Pride” tattoo. That particular piece of body art has drawn criticism in the past for racist connotations and for its possible ties to street gangs. Is Velasquez simply getting a pass because he’s a popular fighter, or does it have more to do with the fact that he interprets that tattoo’s meaning in a different light, seeing it as taking pride in his roots and heritage? Maybe it also has to do with the fact that he doesn’t have a rap sheet to go along with that ink.

More than likely it is a combination of all of those things. That’s where context comes in.

In Saling’s case, there’s no argument about the meaning of his tattoos. There’s also that not-so-little detail of being on the wrong side of the law. And what ultimately led to his revoked license was omitting the truth on his application, not the body art itself.

But fans did express outrage at Zuffa’s decision to sign a fighter with Neo-Nazi tattoos.

But how does all of this play out in the long run? Should commissions and promotions now inspect the skin canvas of every fighter and disqualify fighters from competing based on a single definition of the meaning of each symbol and tattoo?

As much as I disagree with the set of beliefs conveyed by Saling’s tattoo, I also believe in the First Amendment. But, at the same time, I do believe that an organization such as Zuffa has the right to put in place a fighter code of conduct, and to refuse to sign fighters whose overall background and tattoos portray a philosophy of pure hate and discrimination.

But as for the question of a full-body inspection of tattoos?

ManWoman's tattoos have nothing to do with hate, but rather with the swastika's even older cultural significance as a good luck symbol (Claire Artymez/Tatouage Magazine)

Some symbols – most famously the swastika – have multiple meanings. Long before the Third Reich, the swastika represented good luck in many cultures. There have been books written on the topic, and there’s a heavily tattooed individual going by the name of ManWoman who has sought to free the symbol from its negative past and return it to its original meaning as a symbol of good fortune. ManWoman happens to be covered in swastika tattoos, but he is definitely not a Neo-Nazi.  As he says on his website, “I’m resanctifying the swastika which was used for centuries as a symbol for good luck and the profoundly sacred creative energy, the true self, by Greeks, Romans, Celts, Vikings, Christians, yes, and even Jews, Africans, Mayans, Aztecs, Chinese, Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Tibetans, Hopi, Cree, and wandering neolithic tribes.”

The number “88” is actually another good example, as it represents good luck in Chinese culture. Does Zuffa refuse to sign a Chinese fighter with the number “88” tattooed on his body simply because they’ve determined that the symbol always means the one bearing it is a Neo-Nazi? I would hope not.

The point is that beyond the most obvious cases of body art representing hate – swastikas combined with other Neo-Nazi imagery, for example – we cannot expect everyone on the commission or within a MMA promotion to know and screen for every piece of hate imagery, nor can we make the assumption that a certain symbol stands for hate.

Instead, the commissions and promotions need to better educate themselves on these topics, or maybe bring in a consultant with an expertise in tattoo symbology. Then, through a thorough background check, the (literal) body of artwork should be interpreted as a whole and taken in context with the fighter’s behavior and past actions to determine whether the fighter is projecting an image that would prevent his signing.

Anything else makes for a slippery slope.

Top Photo: Brandon Saling (L) battles Mickey Hughes (Sherdog)

About The Author

The MMA Corner Staff

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  • James

    I dont wanna hear that crap. But its ok for Cain to have brown pride on his chest. Its always only racism if a person is white i guess.

    • brandon

      You simply can not be proud of your race…..if your white… total BS. I agree, the brown pride is the same thing.

    • Matt

      You seem to be deeply unaware of human history. I only feel pity for an angry individual. To seperate yourself from another human is what I believe, the first sin. The illusion of thinking you are different than someone else is what allows you to disregard and judge another human being. The same can be said about an individuals seperation from nature. That’s how we as a people destroy this world.

    • Danny M

      if your white you must be more specific, like ‘italian pride’ or “irish pride” its just that the term white pride has been linked with hate. I do not agree with it but i understand it

    • you guess?………..well then why don’t you wait untill you know , then post something ! that i know.

  • Let Freedom ring!

    Leave the politics out of MMA, it seems as if the government or any governing body of an organization wants to infringe on personal freedoms. A double standard exists with Velasquez’s BROWN PRIDE tattoo, had it been WHITE PRIDE on a white fighter, automatically he would been classified as racist.

    The UFC needs to be concerned with judging fights and not judging fighters personal lives and tattoos. I have been a victim of discrimination by the government, I was qualified, able to work meaningful jobs years ago after being released from prison on life parole for a barroom brawl death. Since then, 25 years ago, I have not had any legal issues, but yet the state and federal governments have not restored my rights and enacted the Patriot Act and other laws that have prevented me from employment in careers I worked after release from prison.

    I believe in opportunity and a chance for redemption, and not judging someone’s past. Give a fighter an opportunity and they will run with it and rehabilitate themselves or crash and burn, like a Lee Murray, War Machine and other former MMA fighter have done and may continue to do.

    • Bryan Henderson

      There’s no doubt about “White Pride” vs “Brown Pride,” but given hundreds of years of white people’s treatment toward other races, that shouldn’t really come as surprise. White people get less leniency here because they’ve earned less leniency.

      As far as giving people a chance at redemption, I agree with you. That’s why I point to the combination of the fighter’s behavior, background and criminal record. Your comment seems to focus just on the criminal aspect though, regardless of tattoos or no tattoos, so let me address it in that way first…

      There are people who see no room for redemption (look at reactions towards Bellator fighter Ryan Ford, who also has a criminal record and violence in his past), but Ford has actively worked in community service to try to help kids avoid following the path that he took. I believe Ford is worthy of a chance because since he committed the crime, he has cleaned up his act and has worked to use his life as an example for what others shouldn’t do.

      And in the subject of tattoos, if a fighter’s goal was to turn his life around and leave those bad choices in the past, there are options of tattoo removal or cover-up, in which case, the ink would no longer be an issue in his ability to fight. Redemption needs to be earned…if a fighter is still displaying tattoos that convey a message of hate, and he’s still living the type of life that landed him behind bars, that’s not redemption.

      • Phil

        How do you think his guy felt having a black guy as his cut man?
        . I thought it was awesome and serves him right

  • Eric Davis

    White people lost there white pride privilege .

    • Really eric? You are just going to blanket statement the “white people” as losing privilage for something that happened over 100 years ago? News flash homie, there are just as many racist mexicans, asians, and black people as there are racist white people. A comment like that proves the racism that EVERY race of people need to get over and realize race is just a f*cking color, like the color of shirt one would decide to wear for the day except its not interchangeable. I have friends of all races and we just look at each other as other human beings, not as a black guy or a white guy, but a HUMAN BEING! White people, black people, asians, latinos, we all have the exact same rights and we are all made of the exact same matter, lets get over this race issue and just enjoy being human…

      • Robert L A Daugherty

        It wasn’t just a hundred years ago. The over policing of blacks by white cops, the uneven horrible education system which helps funnel minorities into the for profit prison system still exist today. Over 1100 young black american men were killed by police in 2015 alone! They recently struck down the protections in the voting rights act that kept southern states from instituting laws that easily disenfranchise minority voters and opened the floodgates to racist abuse. we have a guy like trump leading the one of the two major parties spouting off calling mexicans mostly rapist, murderers and drug dealers, he says we need to target and exclude people because of their religion in AMERICA snd close their houses of worship, he says thst black students protesting racist terrorism at their universities and blacks protesting to killing of unarmed blacks and police brutality in general ate “disgusting” the kkk, aryan nstion, oath keepers and many other well armed hate groups are all around us and many governors, mayors, senators with their hands on the peoples lives commonly utter racist statements on almost a weekly basis. Look at how they lead poisoned the childten of Flint mich? It is a racist mess out here and you come here mad because an mma organization had the good sense to ban a racist animal who advertises with tattoos from competing in their shows?

  • Phil

    Now I agree people should be proud of there heritage but if a white guy with no criminal background stood right next to Cain and had ” white power” tattoo’d on there chest can u guess who is going to be called racist. That’s right the white guy. As far as I’m concerned this topic is stupid there is racism everywhere we look and unfortunately there is nothing we can do about it people now days are to stupid to realize that the color of your skin don’t make you better then anyone else. Everyone is created the same and everyone should treated the same. If you are the type of person that thinks your race is better then any other I sure hope you put in a position where our surrounded by the people ” your better then”

    • jerry

      well said phil….it is a stupid topic

  • Nazareth

    I belive in only judgeing people based on their behavior raither then their ink. As far as Cain getting a pass on brown pride, either everyone gets a pass or no one gets a pass. The reality is brown pride includes the spanish conquistadors & spanish inqusition. African war Tribes were known for inslaving there defeated foes and even selling them off. Japan had a long standing xenophobia that including seeing others as animal men. The mongols were known for many brutal ways to kill there enemies. The list goes on humans as a whole in their history have been extremly cruel towards one another. My opinion is not to judge based on color or heritage but rather the measure of their character.

  • mmabob

    By definition, racist/racism is based on the belief that one race is superior to another. Obviously, having pride in one’s race does not necessarily imply hatred, disdain, or superiority to any particular race. Likewise, adding “STEEL” or “PRIDE” to one’s skin color in a tattoo does not mean that the bearer of such tattoo, no matter what race, is prejudiced toward, or feels superior to other races. Neither Cain’s “BROWN PRIDE” or Brandon’s “WHITE STEEL” meets the definition of a racist.

    • Rob Tatum

      No, but Saling’s “WHITE STEEL” tattoo becomes questionable when it is paired with SS lighting bolts and the number 88. While it is paramount to uphold the 1st amendment, private companies like Zuffa, can choose to investigate the background of their fighters if they choose. Had they run a simple background check on Saling, we wouldn’t even be discussing his tattoos, as he wouldn’t have ever stepped into the cage.

  • Chris

    Thats not fully true that all races can use that term cause it will be equally as racist if a black person but “Black Power” on his chest it would be equally as racist as “white Power” or “Black Pride” would be just as racist as “White Pride”.
    It wont ride over well for either race

  • Chris

    im sorry i meant “Can’t” use that term

  • Wayne

    I cannot speak for any of you, but I am a white man and have never done anything to anyone of any race to warrant shame.. Because of this I refuse to accept punishment for the actions of others.
    Please find me an example of a race, or nationality without incidents of bad behavior, malice, or cruelty to people not in that group. I will wait here….
    Since you will never find such a thing in our entire history, let’s move on to the more interesting subject of preventing someone from providing an income for themselves and their family.
    If Saling has paid his debt to society for whatever crime (s) he has committed then he should be allowed the same rights and privledges anyone else would receive.
    If you fail to set a predetermined length of punishment and decide that for as long as a criminal lives they will be punished, you are more inhumane and cruel than the criminal. It would be more merciful to execute them, than to hold them captive for whatever mistakes they made perpetually.
    In other words he can be proud of who he is, and if he has paid his punishment he has every right to work for whoever will hire him.

  • I see nothing wrong with a person coming out with White Pride on his chest. What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander!!!!!!

  • Nikita

    Let’s get to the point Saling was a sex offender who didn’t register…if he was trying to change then why did he lie about his past…at the end of the day a tattoo didn’t get him into trouble his violent and sexual crimes did….

    • A.T.

      TO Nikita: I think Wayne answers your comment perfectly. Yes, he should have registered, because he was supposed to. But, if you feared you would be fired from a career you trained long and hard for, might you not take some short cuts? I personally do not think one’s past, criminality, gang affiliations, racial standpoint or tattoos have anything to do with how you should be treated in the workplace. THAT is where my problem with this lies.

      TO ALL: Is it because he has chosen to tattoo it on himself for everyone who MIGHT be offended to see, that he gets publicly scrutinized? Let the ignorant live with their ignorance, we aren’t going to change some of them. And, as much as we might dislike their views, no one is perfect.

      I’m sure if everyone at your work knew EVERYTHING we do, we might not be welcome there by EVERYONE. Do we do anything to hide how we really feel among our coworkers? Of course, we all do. It’s social conformity. It’s how we’re able to work somewhere with other people we might not like. If someone doesn’t like you, because of an unjustified reason, they can refuse to work with you, but oh well, that’s just their prerogative. Did his racism prevent him from working with non-white people? How would he know? Does he trace the lineage of each of his opponents? I doubt it.

      To do what I want to my body, and to think as I please – 1st amendment supported. I think this is important. Without it, we’re not Americans. No one has to LIKE what I think or do to myself. If I have committed a crime, you have to assume your legal system is half as smart as you, and knows how to properly punish me for it. We shouldn’t go around making someone feel miserable for being themselves – but we do. You would get me fired from my job, you ostracize my kids at school, and you would probably publicly humiliate me. All, because you think you’re better than me for thinking the way you do – which by definition of human differences – can’t be true, you can’t have all the right answers. They, in fact, are the racist – for making me suffer for my racial/religious/personal views. Within your circle of friends, you can use slang and derogatory remarks but I cannot? YOU separate us.

      I think it’s the people who can’t let other people think what they want that have a problem. When it stems to them being violent and a known criminal – get over it – he did his time. If he was dangerous, he’d still be in jail. But wait, isn’t being some kind of dangerous, HIS JOB? Maybe in his day-to-day life he isn’t dangerous, but he’s stuck in a mindset of racism and doesn’t know how to get out. So we have him fired? Great, let’s make a point to fire anyone who doesn’t disclose EVERYTHING about their past, that was supposed to be amended by their time served, and see how many of YOU still have a job. HA! Good luck. Background checks for EVERYONE.

      And, while we’re at it, let’s see if anyone in your family has ever owned a piece of racist history or “pride” (i.e. His tattoo he WEARS). Since, some have mentioned in other comments that “white people” and other racial groups are one in the same, despite efforts of many individuals. I think that would pretty much knock 90% of the American race out of the workforce. Have at it. Let’s have another jobless economy. How’d everybody like it before?

      I could support a gang, I could refuse to send my (future) children to public schools because I could be racist, or just religious. I don’t, but I could, and although ignorant, you’d never know if affected you. But, it’s when you start to THINK what I do to myself affects you, although it might not, you get judgmental. So, stop it.

    • Mike

      Yup, it’s that simple.

  • Frito Bandito

    To all you racists who won’t just admit it. I’ll tell you what the difference is between the terms, White Pride and Brown Pride. The difference is in what the person who is wearing it means by it. There is nothing wrong with the words in of themselves. I think you already know this but I’ll tell you anyway. Most of the time when one them is worn it usually means “I’m better than you”. While the other one usually means ” I’m as good as YOU!”. Like I said I think you know which is which.

  • JT

    The guy has the nazi german “SS” lightning bolts tatted on his trap. He could get a pass for white steel but the “SS” c’mon lets be real.

  • Jason Estes

    The addition of a suffix such as “ist” or “ism” does not demonize a word. Just as a Baptist loves and supports his religion, so a Racist loves and supports his race. The preservation of one’s own kind being the first and highest Law of Nature, when the existence of one’s own race is threatened, then racism becomes a Nature ordained imperative of the highest order.You talk about white peoples treatment against other races? Whats about all the white familys being murdered by blacks in south africa right now? Does a white man feel safe walking through a black or mexican ghetto? white power isn’t about hate of other races, its about love for your own. The white race has been getting slaughtered all throughout the years, look into the uprising that happened against whites in India during the 1800’s. Its not that the white race hurts other races more its just we get thrown under the bus more for it by the media cause are culture is being made to be demonized in this day and age. The word Aryan, the name of our people, is considered “racist”. 14 is considered a racist number along with the 88. Why? Even the 88 precepts says it is unproductive to hate those of other races. The 14 words are “We must secure the existence of our people and the future for white children” This is hate? What were SS soldiers other than nationalist who loved and fought for their country? Ill admit there is too many people who make the White race look bad by there actions but having a swazi or white power or lightning bolts or following the 88 does not make you a bad person. There is nothing wrong with racial purity or loving your ancestory or heritage or fighting to protect it. Unless its the white ones right? Stupid.

  • Bryan McBadass

    Tattoos & Personal beliefs shouldnt fuckn matter. Its about sportsmanship & how well you fight. As long as he does what he is supposed to. Shouldnt matter. Half the fighters in MMA are probably dumb & hotheaded assholes, who gives a shit. We are not looking for friends.. we;re look 4 a good fight. Besides its about equal rights right? Every1 has 2 make a living, how can u b any different if u tlk shit about that kind of stuff. Hell most people probly like seein guys like this get beat up anyway!!!

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  • Robert L A Daugherty

    It wasn’t just a hundred years ago. The over policing of blacks by white cops, the uneven horrible education system which helps funnel minorities into the for profit prison system still exist today. Over 1100 young black american men were killed by police in 2015 alone! They recently struck down the protections in the voting rights act that kept southern states from instituting laws that easily disenfranchise minority voters and opened the floodgates to racist abuse. we have a guy like trump leading the one of the two major parties spouting off calling mexicans mostly rapist, murderers and drug dealers, he says we need to target and exclude people because of their religion in AMERICA and close their houses of worship, he says thst black students protesting racist terrorism on their universities campuses being ignored by school officials and blacks protesting to killing of unarmed blacks and police brutality in general are “disgusting” The kkk, aryan nation, oath keepers and many other well armed hate groups are all around us and many governors, mayors, senators with their hands on the peoples lives commonly utter racist statements on almost a weekly basis. Look at how they lead poisoned the childten of Flint mich? It is a racist mess out here and you come here mad because an mma organization had the good sense to ban a racist animal who advertises with tattoos from competing in their shows?