April 24, 2014

UFC demands and gets retraction from MMA WebsiteUFC demands and gets retraction from website

The Ultimate Fighting Championship sees no humor in a c about betting on light-heavyweight titleholder Jon Jones.

UFC and its president, Dana White, got a retraction from CagePotato.com this week after the site on Saturday posted a picture of him and Jones with the caption:

"Not only am I paying Bones to wear UFC logos on his walkout gear next weekend, I also placed a $500,000 bet that he'd beat Rashad. Oh s—. I guess I shouldn't have said that out loud."

It accompanied an online post about UFC's decision to sign a clothing sponsorship deal with Jones for his upcoming bout against Rashad Evans. CagePotato frequently uses a satirical tone in its articles, particularly with photo captions, but lawyers for UFC were quick to rattle their legal sabers in a press release issued Tuesday:

"The claim that Mr. White would financially wager on the outcome of a UFC event is outrageous in the extreme. Indeed, in the verified complaint we are presently preparing for Mr. White's signature upon his return from Abu Dhabi, Mr. White expressly states under oath that at no time in the history of his association with the UFC has he ever financially wagered on the outcome of a UFC event."

Nevada law requires a formal demand for a retraction before filing a defamation lawsuit, UFC lawyer Donald Campbell said in a statement.

The photo caption's humorous intent should be obvious, managing editor Ben Goldstein told USA TODAY. But CagePotato issued the retraction to avoid a lengthy legal battle, he said.

"This is just so silly that I want to print this retraction and get this behind us," Goldstein said. "I have no (problem) saying on our website, 'Look, it's just a joke. We didn't mean it to be intended this way.' I'm just not interested in turning this into some sort of beef with UFC. It's really not that important to me."

CagePotato's mea culpa apparently did little to diminish White's wrath, judging by a Twitter exchange between him and one of the site's writers after the retraction was published:

White has frequently been the target of satire over the years. But gambling is a touchy issue for sports organizations because of the need to avoid perceptions that events are fixed. It's a particularly sensitive area for UFC parent Zuffa, which is mostly owned by brothers and casino moguls Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, whose Las Vegas sportsbooks do not accept wagers on mixed martial arts.

"Maybe it's something that hits very close to home for him," Goldstein says. "He doesn't want to be seen as someone who would ever bet on his own fights. … I can respect that, because if people started believe that the head of UFC was actually betting on his own fights, that's a serious allegation."

While White hasn't gambled on UFC fights, he has offered a bet on one of his fighters loaned to another organization. In 2003, he proposed a $250,000 wager with the president of Pride Fighting Championships, Nobuyuki Sakakibara, that Chuck Liddell would beat Wanderlei Silva if they met in that organization's 205-pound tournament that year. Liddell lost in the semifinals to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, who fought for Pride at the time.

Goldstein did not immediately know if publicity from UFC had increased traffic to his website on Tuesday. But MMA fans on Twitter seem to sympathize with the website, he said.

"Luckily it's good to see that the public sentiment among MMA fans is solidly on our side," Goldstein said. "MMA fans in general understand this is obviously just a joke, and for Dana White to take it personally and make such a big deal of it is kind of silly."

CagePotato has drawn White's ire before. He railed against the website in October 2010 and had it banned from his organization's fan expos after the site posted photos from UFC personality Arianny Celeste's Playboy pictorial.

Printing a retraction on Tuesday should not be taken as a signal that CagePotato will stop making fun of figures in UFC, Goldstein said.

"I have no problem swallowing my ego and apologizing for a joke," he said. "But if it turns out that they want to set their lawyers on us on a regular basis because of satirical captions we write on our website, then we'll fight back. We'll get our own lawyers involved and defend ourselves. … We're not going to change the way we do business."

Article by Sergio Non

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