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UFC's love affair with right-wing media endures despite Tucker Carlson's exit
Outlets such as Fox News will continue to call on the UFC whenever its executives or fighters publicly share views that match their right-wing talking points.
“That’s probably the nicest Sabre-toothed skull you’re ever going to see.”
Those were the words spoken by Dana White as he gave Tucker Carlson and his Fox News camera crew a tour of his office in September 2022. The behind-the-scenes clip was part of an interview series with White that spanned a wide range of topics such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) president’s decades-long friendship with Donald Trump, his business strategy during the Covid-19 pandemic, and his issues with so-called “woke” politics.
The interview culminated with a tour of White’s office, which included the skull and an assault rifle wrapped in dollar bills.
“I love this,” Carlson said while admiring White’s gun.
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The interview turned out to be Carlson’s final one with White. On April 24, 2023, Fox News announced that it had parted ways with the controversial host.
“We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor," Fox News said in a statement.
The network did not provide a reason for Carlson’s departure, though the news comes nearly one week after the $787.5 million settlement agreement between the network and Dominion Voting Systems.
While Carlson’s departure means that the UFC has lost one of its most potent conservative platforms, the organization’s love affair with right-wing media continues to endure.
The flirting between the two entities began in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential elections. White appeared at the Republican National Convention and praised Trump in a bombastic speech before endorsing his presidential campaign. This helped the organization gain popularity among conservative sports fans and placed it on the radar of right-wing media outlets such as Fox News.
In the aftermath of the 2016 elections, White continued to promote Trump and his politics from his perch atop the UFC. He defended the president’s controversial policies on UFC programming, including the wall on the United States’ southern border. He visited Trump at the White House in 2018 with former interim welterweight champion and right-wing media personality Colby Covington, where they posed for pictures in the Oval Office.
The UFC even produced a documentary showcasing the league’s history with Trump and his role in promoting mixed-martial arts on a national stage. The short film—titled Combatant in Chief—was a shameless example of how the UFC has exploited its infrastructure to urge its audience to embrace one of the most controversial presidents in US history; a case study in how sports organizations can moonlight as platforms for political propaganda.
White also campaigned for Trump during the 2020 presidential elections. On one occasion, the UFC president invited several fighters, including former flyweight champ Henry Cejudo, Colby Covington, manager Ali Abdelaziz, and Justin Gaethje. These fighters would later be special guests at a Trump reception hosted by Keystone Corp, where tickets went for $2800 per person.
Despite White’s using his status as a UFC executive and figurehead to platform Trump’s political agenda, the UFC president has repeatedly appeared on right-wing media strongholds to claim that the UFC was an “apolitical” organization.
In April 2021, White embarked on a series of conservative talk shows appearances, including spots on Sean Hannity and Candace Owens’ shows, to criticize sports leagues such as the NBA and NFL for their political advocacy—such as showing support for Black Lives Matter—during broadcasts. White blamed so-called “woke culture” and “cancel culture” for the issues facing sports leagues and promised the conservative audience that the UFC would not be pressured by the current political dynamics in the United States.
“One of the things that I really tried to do through this whole thing is stay out of politics,” White told Hannity during an appearance in 2021. “When people tune in to watch sports, they don’t want to hear that crap. They don’t want to hear what your opinions are, or who you’re voting for, or what you’re doing. They want to get away from everything in their life, and they want to focus on [for] two, three, four hours, however long the sport is … throughout this pandemic, when you turned on the UFC, we never talked about Covid. We never talked about politics.”
Each of White’s appearances on conservative programming helped further right-wing talking points. From criticizing political activism in sports to lambasting mainstream media and self-aggrandizing his reckless return to full capacity sporting events during a global pandemic, White’s comments are in line with right-wing messaging and GOP politics.
Outlets such as Fox News have continued to call on the UFC whenever its executives or fighters publicly share views that match right-wing talking points.
In July 2021, Owens brought in Iranian-American UFC fighter Beneil Dariush to discuss the woes of communism after Dariush dedicated a UFC victory at the time to the people “hurt by Marxist ideologies.”
“The government, once it takes power, nobody takes that away,” Dariush told Owens during the interview. “If it’s gained freely, it will be taken back in blood. That’s the only way to get away from communism, Marxism. You can see it in history.”
By platforming a handful of UFC fighters’ anti-communist political stances, right-wing media outlets were able to propagate the message that communism is evil, that the U.S. is a step away from full-blown communist control, and that Republicans are the only ones who can save American democracy.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Carlson hosted right-wing UFC featherweight Bryce Mitchell, who had gone viral for announcing at the UFC 272 pre-fight media day that he had no plans to “fight none of these wars for these politicians.” Mitchell, who is best known for tearing his scrotum with a power drill and for believing the earth is flat, later told Carlson that he thought his life was in danger for speaking out.
Most recently, recently retired UFC fighter Jorge Masvidal appeared on FOX News’ One Nation with Brian Kilmeade to discuss the inspiration behind his praise for Trump during the recent UFC 287 event—an event that took place days after Trump was arraigned on felony charges.
"I think what Trump was doing was amazing," Masvidal said at the time. "We're seeing now that the opposition's taken over, we've seen what's happened. But thank God that the heat is not that bad in Florida because we have an amazing governor in DeSantis that fought against this like a fighter would.”
While Carlson’s departure from Fox News could potentially impact the UFC’s ability to maximize its conservative base, it is unlikely to sever the relationship between the two entites.
The UFC’s blossoming relationship with right-wing media in the U.S. is a mutually beneficial exchange for all parties involved. By amplifying the UFC president’s blustering statements, outlets such as Fox News are propagating key talking points while attracting the largest CHK demographic that watches sports—American men ages 18 to 35.
Meanwhile, the increased attention given to the UFC has helped secure the organization’s conservative fandom—a base that will continue to grow as it prepares for the 2024 presidential elections.