Earlier in the month, I wrote an article asking three pro MMA fighters about their view of the MMA media, and now it’s the media’s turn to respond. But we’re not talking just any media types, but rather a couple of guys who offer some of the harshest satirical criticism to fighters and promotions.

Who do you think of when you hear the term “MMA media?” Ariel Helwani in a suit and tie, wearing flamboyant shoes and interviewing all the big names in the world of MMA? Ben Fowlkes’ constant stream of thoughtful and quality articles? Your favorite website? Or maybe even the fanboys or second-hand websites that spend countless hours covering the sport online to the best of their abilities?

Fans probably get more than enough of those types, seeing as they are either offering the best coverage or are just the most ubiquitous sources of journalism. Seeing as most professionals will tell you something like, “the cream always rises to the top” (and I already recorded some of their thoughts in a similar article), I was more interested in hearing from the alternative voices that offer equally good work, but don’t pull any punches in their coverage of MMA.

So I reached out via email to CagePotato staff writer Jared Jones, known for his articles of humorous and critical analysis, and MMA Beatdown’s The Brain, who offers MMA commentary in the form of a podcast that you would expect to hear when having beers with your friends.

Beatdown’s Brain has been a professional reporter in the Tri-state area for six years and has qualms towards what he see’s as rampant amateurism in MMA journalism.

“In regards to the MMA media, and the job they do as a whole, just from what I’ve seen, they leave a lot to be desired,” he said. “I believe the inherent problem is that MMA is still a niche sport. In the grand scheme of things, it’s barely a blip on the radar when compared to other professional sport coverage, and because of that, most media outlets don’t spend any time or money putting top reporters on the MMA beat, for lack of a better term. As a result, you get what you see at UFC press conferences. The questioning is amateur, and that’s to be expected, because, if I’m going to be totally honest, the reporters themselves are amateurs.

“As someone who has worked in broadcasting for six years, you get a sense for who’s been properly trained and paid their dues, and who hasn’t done either. At the very least, even if they weren’t properly trained, at least be fully prepared. As the UFC continues to grow (which it will), major media outlets will start paying more attention, more established reporters will be put to task to cover mixed martial arts, and things will improve. Until then, you’ll get people asking about favorite condiments and questioning [UFC President] Dana White like they’d love to question [WWE head] Vince McMahon.”

The Brain’s reference to condiments comes from an instance where a journalist asked Dana White if he prefers ketchup or mustard on his hotdogs at a pre-fight presser for UFC 156. That sort of questioning surely isn’t meaningful to many, and it’s annoying to those that have more serious topics to discuss. But does that singular occurrence represent the state of MMA media as a whole? Most likely not, but it might lead people to believe so. MMA is still growing into mainstream acceptance as an actual sport, and most anyone would agree that better coverage will come with its growth. That isn’t a slight against the great work currently being done by professional media members, because it is there if you look for it.

In contrast to The Brain, CagePotato’s Jones sees MMA journalists collectively doing an adequate job, given that MMA is still growing into a wider acceptance. Jones even takes the side of the journalists asking “bad” questions, at least to defend them based on his own personal experiences.

“We are only human, and simply put, people get nervous in public settings,” Jones explained. “Their brains shut down, they lose their train of thought, and this (at least in my opinion) often results in many of the ‘bad’ questions that are asked during UFC press conferences, even in the case of the journalists.

“Given the infantile state of both the sport and its coverage, I would say the MMA media does a decent job on the whole. As with journalism in any sport (especially when it’s web-based), speculation and a desire for page hits seem to fuel a lot of the false reports that make their way out there, but again, this is a statement that can be applied to almost any sport in the internet era. The main problem with MMA/sports journalism nowadays is how far removed many of those reporting the stories are from the actual stories.

“Given the meteoric rise of MMA over the past few years, hundreds of carbon-copy websites have popped up all over the internet, essentially copy/pasting information from the few websites that have actual connections within the business, and declaring it fact. When the context of a given fighter interview or news story factors so little into the snippets MMA sites pluck from the headlines and analyze ad nauseam, it’s easy to see why words get jumbled, misinterpreted, et cetera, and why fighters rightfully blame the media for doing so. That being said, I would say that given the time it has been around, MMA journalism is almost on par with that of its fellow sports.”

Jones touched on the point that was the biggest annoyance to recently released UFC lightweight Jacob Volkmann when asked about what bothers him in regards to the MMA media: the second-hand websites that cover the sport without actually checking their facts or maintaining a professional approach to what fighters say in interviews. I don’t believe anyone who covers the sport and wants to be taken seriously would agree with that kind of work.

But what about sites like CagePotato or The MMA Beatdown podcast, where a certain amount of professionalism is traded for entertainment value? In my fighter’s perspective article, UFC middleweight C.B. Dollaway explained that he carefully chooses what media he will give his time to, because he doesn’t appreciate the people that are looking to make a laugh at the expense of fighters. Jones and The Brain excel in the aspect of getting a laugh, and both agree that Dollaway should lighten up.

“In regards to what we do, I think fighters need to realize that they’re public figures,” Brain argued. “Public figures are open to ridicule, it’s plain and simple and proven in a court of law. My partner and I offer a podcast that takes a comedic slant on covering MMA, so we’re going to poke fun at fighters (in addition to the fans), especially if they do or say something completely ridiculous. We discuss MMA the way we see people discuss MMA when they get together to watch, whether it’s at a bar or in the privacy of their own home. My suggestion to C.B. Dollaway is to get a thicker skin—he gets paid to punch people in the face for a living, if he can’t deal with a few insults that come his way, then he’s in the wrong line of work.”

Understandably, if Dollaway’s full-time job is training in a gym, then is would seem like a slap in the face to take time to read what is published about him and see more attention given to what is funny about his appearance rather than about the hard work he puts into his job everyday. Dollaway has been compared online to cartoon character Launchpad McQuack from the 80’s cartoon Duck Tales. You might see similar types of jokes on the Cage Potato website, and I asked Jones how that fits into what they are offering.

“There is nothing satirical about the fact that C.B. Dollaway bears an uncanny resemblance to Launchpad McQuack. Nothing,” Jones joked. “Those two were separated at birth, and the only ill will Dollaway could possibly hold towards that comparison is clearly a result of Dollaway feeling shortchanged. I mean, here one of them is a beloved children’s cartoon character, destined to reside in the bowels of American culture for years to come, and the other is C.B. Dollaway. You tell me who got the short end of the stick there.

“In all seriousness, I’d like to think that we are an equal opportunity offender. We poke fun at damn near every facet of the sport we love, and we do it out of love. Again, it comes down to whether or not the person/fighter reading our content chooses to laugh with us or believe that we honestly hold a grudge against anyone but Dana White. Or ‘Rampage’ Jackson. We write with the intent of making people laugh while simultaneously informing them of what is going on in the MMA world, but humor is incredibly subjective, and there’s really no way for us to guarantee that everyone reading our content understands the satirical nature of it. On one hand, we aren’t The Onion, but we are about as close as you can get to it while still remaining credible. Somewhat credible.”

The views that these two men offer won’t make them many friends within professional circles, but the entertainment appeal with fans has already proven to be popular. Yet, that kind of approach has its consequences, and we see that with sites like CagePotato being blacklisted by the industry and The Brain operating under a stage name to keep his podcast work separate from his day job. Even so, Jones holds pride in thriving within that type of journalistic niche. You might have seen fans, even pro fighters, holding signs in pictures that say “Free CagePotato” as a show of support.

“Although I wasn’t working for the site when we experienced our fallout with Dana White and subsequent blacklisting, I can tell you that the ‘Free CagePotato’ thing has pretty much become an inside joke on our website and throughout the MMA blogosphere in general,” Jones explained. “We know that the likelihood of the UFC ever accepting us back into their good graces is slim to none, so we’ve pretty much turned ‘Free CagePotato’ into our rallying cry. We take pride in ‘pulling no punches’ with our content. And being able to state our opinions without the fear of being blacklisted while still maintaining a strong reader base is something we definitely take pride in. We’re not the kind of politically correct, by-the-numbers website that the UFC would ever really want around, but therein lies our appeal to a lot of people.

“Taking the comedic approach allows us to walk the thin line between honesty and embellishment, but we are not the type of website that will intentionally post false information just to stir up page hits. That being said, we will give our honest and often scathing opinions on the news being reported, which seems to be where most of the confusion regarding the legitimacy of our content lies.”

For The Brain, coming from an opposing view is a positive if most media are too afraid to go against the grain.

“It seems that MMA journalists are more interested in being friends with fighters, instead of focusing first and foremost on doing the job they’re supposed to do,” he said. “Being an elite journalist means having to ask all types of questions, especially the controversial and polarizing, even if it elicits a negative response.”

Many might find The Brain’s overall view of the MMA media contentious, but there is undoubtedly a tinge of truth that comes with his criticism.

Part of my inspiration for the idea of questioning fighters and media about their view of the sport and who covers it comes from my own insecurity about being so green to covering the sport. I never thought I needed to practice MMA to enjoy it, but found the arguments that I should if I were to write about it to be somewhat perplexing. Jones supplied a quote from Matt Serra that would describe my position: “A professional swimmer who has never been in a pool.” Granted, it is a valid analogy, but not one that would stop a person from covering any sport. The answer that continually seems to come back to that kind of discrepancy is that good content will be appreciated (especially if it is done well), no matter the source.

Like me, Jones went to college to study different areas other than journalism and fell into writing about sports through being a fan of mixed martial arts (and a jiu-jitsu practitioner himself). When it comes to MMA media opportunities, he sees the sport as no different than any other, but again, still affected by its relatively young age and the rise of internet journalism.

“The internet has made it possible for almost any fan of the sport to declare themselves an ‘MMA journalist,’ when in reality, they have never truly covered a story in their lives,” Jones said. “Since information is so easily accessible, many of these sites simply take information they find on other sites and declare it fact while accepting no responsibility for the information they just passed along. I have done it before and it has come back to bite me, but the lack of journalistic know-how is most often to blame in these kind of situations.

“A lot of us haven’t received degrees in journalism, and therefore are a little lost when it comes to chasing a story, contacting a fighter’s manager to confirm or deny a rumor, et cetera. It’s something that we all learn to do at a different pace and ultimately what separates the legitimate news sites from the rest.  But just as easily as you can find some Cracker Jack basement blog about MMA, you can find three or more similar blogs devoted to basketball, football or tennis. Okay, maybe not tennis.”

The Brain would like to see people that cover MMA fit certain criteria if they intend to do a good job.

“In order to cover MMA, you really should be at least some of the following: [Be] properly trained in print media or broadcasting, knowledgeable in most aspects of the sport—most of which can be learned just from watching, studying and breaking down fights—and most important of all, be able to look at the sport objectively from the eyes of a reporter, not from the eyes of a fan.

“There is absolutely an aura of professionalism that is sorely lacking in MMA journalism, but on the flip side, it is important to remember how young the sport still is. Taking the old UFC completely out of the equation, this current incarnation under the Fertittas and Dana White is only 11 years old. There’s no doubt that with time, we’ll be seeing a drastic change on how the sport is covered on all fronts; as for now, we’ll just have to weather the storm.”

You might not agree with either of these two or enjoy what they offer, but then again, nobody is saying that we should. I just hope that MMA fans will take the time to understand that each offers something fresh and different in covering the sport. We so often get fed a constant diet of sports promotion, but guys like Jones and The Brain serve a valuable purpose by allowing fans to rebel against the one-sided perspective of consumerism.

There are already a good number of professionals covering the sport with great attention and honesty, and I don’t think many would argue that they are the problem. The websites and pseudo-journalists that act first and worry about credibility later seem to be the ones that any person involved in the sport see as the biggest problem in MMA journalism. It is something that all up-and-comers should be mindful of.

Meanwhile, take the time to laugh with the sport from an alternative perspective before fully buying into any one side.

Follow Brain and his partner Fester on Twitter: @thebrainMMA, @MMAbeatdown (NSFW, explicit content). Listen to the MMA Beatdown podcast here: mmabeatdown.podmatic.com. You can find Jared Jones on Twitter: @JJonesCP and follow Cage Potato at @cagepotatomma.

Photo: The Octagon (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.