Finally we have an answer to the question of whether getting arrested on domestic violence charges can get you fired from the UFC, and that answer is a resounding: Occasionally. Eventually. Sometimes.
Luis Pena – a fighter whose nickname “Violent Bob Ross” now seems not only unfortunate but potentially prejudicial to a jury – helped to clarify the issue this week by getting himself released from the UFC following an arrest for allegedly punching two women. One of those women was his partner and one of them was allegedly trying to stop him from hitting his partner “multiple times with a closed fist,” according to the police report. In case you forgot, this is the same dude who was arrested in a different alleged partner assault incident back in June. And that was separate from the battery charges he faced after an arrest in May.
But okay, now he’s fired. When asked to explain what finally triggered the pink slip, UFC President Dana White put it to reporters this way: “This was a bad case and we knew that he had problems before that we were trying to help him with. This is a pretty nasty one. I don’t know if you guys read the police report, but yeah, this one had to happen.”
The official statement that the UFC put out Tuesday night laid it out in a slightly more delicate fashion, saying the promotion was aware of the “disturbing allegations” and pointing out that Pena “has been open about his struggles with mental health and substance abuse issues and the organization has on multiple prior occasions attempted to help him get professional treatment.” The statement added that the UFC believes Pena “needs to deal with the health and legal issues in front of him,” and in the meantime his contract has been terminated.
You already know where this goes next. People are going to ask why Pena gets cut right away and someone like Jon Jones, who was just arrested on similar charges hours after a UFC hall of fame ceremony, stays on the roster. Of course, anyone who knows enough to ask also knows the answer: Jones can still make the UFC a lot of goddamn money. Pena? As far as the UFC’s profits are concerned, he’s Just Some Guy. Totally replaceable, and not worth the headache of being linked with him if he’s going to be out there generating headlines like ‘UFC fighter arrested for punching women again.’
Telling reporters that you cut him because “this was a bad case” is not the ideal way to put it. That suggests there might be cases where professional cage fighters go and beat up the women in their lives and it could somehow be considered not so bad. But it is weirdly and maybe accidentally honest. It suggests that where Pena really fucked up was by getting arrested for an incident in which the ugly details got reported too clearly, and by doing so while being not very valuable to the UFC.
That’s it, really. All the other deflections we sometimes hear – got to let the legal system play out, innocent until proven guilty, two sides to every story – are ultimately bullshit. Incidents like this one prove that. What actually matters is this simple calculation to determine when your worth to the promoter is eclipsed by the amount of shit you are forcing them to eat from media and fans over your continued employment.
For someone like Jones, who might still fuck around and wind up in a heavyweight title fight worth tens of millions of dollars just in pay-per-view buys for the UFC? Promoters are willing to eat a whole lot of shit. For someone like Pena, whose presence on a card doesn’t sell one extra ticket, the amount of allowable shit per bite is much, much lower.
Honestly, probably the only reason Pena stayed on the roster through this many arrests was because of people like Jones and Greg Hardy and Mike Perry and at least a half dozen others you could name over the years. The UFC knows that every time you cut a Pena for a domestic violence arrest, you’re going to be asked why the same standard doesn’t apply to the famous guys. Easier to cut none of them than only some of them.
But then wouldn’t you know it, fighters like Pena ruin it for everyone by getting arrested for the same shit over and over, with more and more “disturbing” details making it into the news stories. Eventually you have to cut them. Which is exactly what White said, possibly without realizing the implications: “This one had to happen.” Note how different that is from, ‘we find this shit despicable and don’t want to be in business with anyone who would do this.’ Nah, it’s just that he forced your hand by fucking up too badly.
The other part we can’t avoid mentioning, however, is that the UFC knows its would-be competitors are no more scrupulous about this shit. If the UFC, outraged by Jon Jones’ behavior, were to immediately cut ties with one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters on the planet, how long do you think it would be before Bellator reached out? Or PFL? Or ONE Championship? Or goddamn bare-knuckle boxing? He could be crushing cans on a river barge outside Biloxi in no time.
A history of domestic violence accusations isn’t a career-killer in pro fighting. That’s just a sad fact. Look at the anti-cautionary tale of Floyd Mayweather. Fans tolerate it. So promoters tolerate it. So it only becomes a problem when people have already decided they don’t care about you for other reasons. Just try to keep the details vague, if possible. Otherwise, we might have to do something.
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