Wait, so was all that just so Mark Zuckerberg could go watch some dang UFC fights?
Because if that's what it was? Shutting out fans and media and turning a UFC event into a private party for one mega-rich dude? That's weird, man.
As of Monday morning, here’s what we know about this past Saturday’s UFC Fight Night event:
– As the event neared, word went out that no fans or media would be allowed into the UFC Apex for this one.
– When asked why, UFC President Dana White made some jokes about wanting to give the hard-working MMA media the weekend off (the joke here was that he was pretending not to hate the MMA media with every fiber of his being – haha!), but offered no actual reasons for this pretty goddamn unusual move.
– Media were still allowed at various fight week events (so they could help promote the event that they weren’t allowed to cover in person). During one media day interview, headliner Mackenzie Dern said she’d been told that the reason for the Apex closure was that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had rented the whole thing for the night.
– Over on his Twitter, White immediately denied this, calling the Zuckerberg rumor “total bullshit.”
– Then fight night came and, whaddaya know, there’s Zuckerberg and his wife sitting front row. Follow-up social media posts suggest they brought at least a few Facebook executives with them, giving the whole thing sort of a company party vibe.
So. In conclusion? Maybe White didn’t technically lie when he said Zuckerberg hadn’t rented out the Apex. Maybe the UFC just let him take it over for free, with no money changing hands. If that’s the case I suppose my question then becomes: does that make this shit any less weird? Because, let’s be real here, the shit seems pretty weird right about now.
For starters, there’s the fact that this was a professional sporting event regulated by a state athletic commission and broadcast live on ESPN+ and other platforms. That makes turning the live event aspect into essentially a private smoker for one rich and powerful tech oligarch kind of a bizarre move. Can you imagine if the NFL had a Thursday night football game and announced, sorry, no fans or media at this one because it’s just for Jeff Bezos and his guests? Now go ahead and imagine the same thing, except the NFL commissioner spends the week leading up to the game refusing to tell anyone what they’re actually up to.
One of the other persistent rumors around this event was that it might be some sort of dry run for a Facebook-led “metaverse” experience featuring UFC fights. That seemed potentially interesting, even if it wasn’t clear why fans and media would need to be shut out for it. But then once we actually watched the event, all we saw was Zuckerberg sitting cageside and cheering like a fan while his wife grew increasingly horrified by man’s inhumanity to man. If this was a working expedition, someone else must have been doing the actual work.
Instead, really what it seems like is that Zuckerberg just wanted to go watch some fights. And because he apparently can’t be in the same building with regular-ass people, the UFC went ahead and shut the usual operation down solely for his benefit. Again, that’s fucking weird. It’s a weird look for Zuckerberg, who is basically out there playing emperor as he enjoys some private gladiator fights. It’s also a weird look for the UFC, which essentially offered up its remarkably low-paid pro athletes as the private entertainment for one of the world’s richest people – and was, let’s just say, less than forthcoming about it?
Side note: Is this how Zuckerberg chooses to live, or is it just how he thinks he has to live? Could he really not just bring some security and attend a regular UFC event? Is his fear of/distaste for the hoi polloi really that great? Or maybe this was all the UFC’s idea. In an attempt to curry favor with The Zuck, the UFC took the initiative to get rid of its own fans and the subset of media who’ve been showing up to every single Fight Night event at the Apex, because come on, rich guys like Zuckerberg shouldn’t be expected to breathe the same fetid air as the rest of us sweathogs? All I know is that if the cost of getting super rich is that you can’t just go to a ballgame or a fight without it being a huge shutdown of a production, then maybe that life is not so perfect after all.
It’s also hard not to wonder how the UFC’s decision-making process works with something like this. The choice to not only make this a private party, but also to make it a very poorly kept secret, up to and including the half-truth denials, when you know that in the end we’ll all be able to see Zuckerberg sitting there on fight night anyway. And just in case we missed him, the UFC made a big deal about highlighting him on its social media. Clearly, the UFC thinks this was all pretty cool and wants us to know about it (you know, now that it’s over, but not before).
(Lol yeah, no, the mega-wealthy guy enjoying the private fight night is totally all of us. Just your typical everyman kind of experience right there.)
Lastly, think about how weird it must be for the fighters on this thing. Dern said before this fight that she had specifically asked the UFC to put her on a card with a crowd so she could feed off the energy of live fans in the building. Instead, she’s out there entertaining the one percent in a mostly empty building, and making probably less than an NFL practice squad player to do it. I tell ya, if you put something like that in a movie people would complain that it was just too on the nose, too obvious in the point it was trying to make.
Mostly, though? It’s just weird. Doing all this so one rich guy can watch a fight in person without the rest of us plebes around. And being so proud of it all. As if we’re supposed to be excited that Zuckerberg is an MMA fan – just like us! Even though every single aspect of his appearance there makes it clear how entirely unlike us he really is. Which, maybe, was the whole point after all.
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