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With an Ultimate Fighting Championship event that offered a gold-studded main attraction in Dustin Poirier-Dan Hooker but little beneath the marquee of divisional consequence, it’s no surprise that a lot of fan and media attention was directed towards the co-main event and more specifically it’s more eccentric half: Mike Perry.
Perry had garnered headlines in way that only he could in the weeks leading up to his UFC on ESPN 12 clash with Mickey Gall. For starters, he’d promised to compete without the benefit of experienced coaches in his corner, opting instead to rely on Latory Gonzalez, his 20-something-year-old girlfriend for whom he had recently left his wife. Perry assured us she could manage handing him a bottle of water and putting the ice pack on his neck in between rounds. His teams at Fusion X-Cel and Jackson-Wink MMA had been ditched for a self-directed training regimen ostensibly comprised of a few one-off sessions with different sparring partners, binge-watching the anime series “Naruto” and “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and eating steaks. Then he turned up straight agitated at the pre-fight virtual interview, letting the assembled media know that he had better places to be and was relishing the opportunity to “tell you losers to go f--- yourselves.”
The mercurial pre-fight interview saw Perry display outright hostility towards individual reporters in between expressing more effusive sentiments when asked about his better half. He even offered something approaching social commentary: “Life is fighting advice. We out here fighting every day with COVID s---, trying to figure out who’s rich and who’s poor, who’s black and who’s white.” It was rightfully the cause of concern among some of the MMA commentariat, but it mattered little by the time he marched into the Octagon, as Perry outstruck and outathleted Gall over the course of 15 minutes to secure a unanimous decision victory and snap a two-fight skid.
Even though he was a heavy favorite to beat Gall, Perry’s victory served as a vindication of his fundamentals and fight IQ; and while it should hardly be treated as an endorsement of his unconventional approach, it does confirm that Perry truly belongs on the UFC roster. Whether or not he puts together a streak and challenges for the welterweight strap—the odds on that one seem pretty long—it’s probable that he will find himself matched against a Top 15 opponent in the second half of 2020, putting him closer to the center of relevancy and firmly in the public eye. This begs a few questions: How should the media cover the things that come out of Perry’s mouth? Is there a time that the media should consciously disengage from him or even repudiate him in response to threatening or bigoted behavior?
These questions are more than just pearl clutching in response to Perry’s barely disguised antipathy for the fourth estate. Although “Platinum” appeared to be on reasonably good behavior by his standards, he has a history of using racist and homophobic language, infamously using a racial slur in tweets to Michael Jai White—they remain on his timeline—among other indiscretions. A day or two after his big win over Gall, footage was posted on social media wherein Perry referred to himself as a “Mexican,” actively courting or at least determinedly ignorant to the associated controversy.
At the same time, however, Perry has done much to shine a light on fighters’ ostensibly precarious taxation situation. In his post-fight interview, Perry called out the IRS, telling commentator Jon Anik the following: “Look, I ain’t trying to be one of these guys asking for more money. I’m not. I’m asking for the government to stop taking so much of this!” He later elaborated on this sentiment in an interview with ESPN, complaining that whereas during the Zuffa era, when the company was owned and operated by the Fertitta brothers and fighters had access to tax advisors who would assist them in minimizing and managing their international tax obligations, no such service was provided by the current owners. This sparked a constructive conversation over Twitter on financial literacy involving the likes of Ben Askren, Eddie Alvarez and John Kavanagh, which was likely to be of significant benefit to fighters across the roster.
In circumstances where the UFC has abandoned any pretense of enforcing its code of conduct and fighters who “move the needle” are afforded extraordinary latitude to do or say things that would otherwise be punished in other sports, the issue of how to ethically cover Perry becomes all the more vexing as he embeds himself more deeply in the sport and subculture.
With a proclivity for knockouts inside the cage and “train wreck” behavior outside of it, much of the media to date has seemed content to treat Perry as an entertaining but benign commodity, worth listening to and amplifying for the sake of ratings but otherwise regarded as a sideshow in an otherwise serious business. That hardly seems an appropriate or sustainable modus operandi for outlets to follow if Perry is going to be winning big fights, calling out big names and now inadvertently driving important discussions around fighter treatment and conditions.
All of which is to say that there will be a point where we have to grapple with and come to a consensus on how to respond when Perry says problematic things. If we don’t, what does that say about us?
Jacob Debets is a lawyer and writer from Melbourne, Australia. He is currently writing a book analyzing the economics and politics of the MMA industry. You can view more of his writing at jacobdebets.com.