Final week, Republican senator Ted Cruz posted a photo of himself alongside UFC legend Chuck Liddell. The picture, which confirmed the 2 males posing with raised fists, was the most recent instance of a politician utilizing an athlete’s star energy, on this case to pander to a youthful demographic. It additionally underscored the American proper’s ongoing love affair with the UFC.
Over the previous few years, UFC has turn out to be synonymous with rightwing politics as a consequence of its well-documented relationship with former president Donald Trump. As beforehand reported by the Guardian, the group successfully turned the sports arm of the Maga regime and was a perfect platform for Trump to espouse his political agenda.
UFC president Dana White was amongst Trump’s most boisterous supporters, having campaigned for the former president way back to 2016. White has since defended Trump’s insurance policies, produced a documentary on him Combatant-in-Chief, and even used his relationship with the previous president to defy authorities mandates firstly of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Throughout the 2020 presidential election, Trump deployed a number of UFC fighters as campaign surrogates, putting them in entrance of crowds at rallies in swing-states equivalent to Florida as a way to safe a key demographic that types nearly all of blended martial arts’ fanbase: younger males.
And although Trump misplaced the election, Republicans continued to flirt with the UFC as a way to profit from the group’s reputation.
UFC fighters and executives have become regular guests on conservative exhibits equivalent to these hosted by Sean Hannity and Candace Owens. Over the previous few months, Owens has invited fighters like UFC light-weight Beneil Dariush to discuss the woes of communism whereas White was introduced on to debate the supposed significance of maintaining politics out of sports activities.
“It’s America,” White instructed Owens in April 2021 when requested concerning the UFC’s supposed political apathy. “That’s the best way it’s purported to be. And also you shouldn’t should go to work and hearken to that shit.”
Whereas White’s assertion is tenuous at finest as a consequence of his personal historical past with Trump, his feedback endeared him to conservative audiences dissatisfied with the rise of social justice narratives in leagues such because the NFL and NBA. By taking saying the UFC doesn’t assist so-called “woke politics,” White is basically positioning the group as a becoming different for the American proper. This, in flip, has warmed conservative pundits and politicians to the group, which they now view as a marketplace for their ideology.
Among the many politicians who embraced the UFC over the previous 12 months is Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, who invited the group to host UFC 261, a capacity-crowd occasion in Jacksonville, Florida, in April 2021. DeSantis, who’s seen as a contender for the Republican nomination in 2024, has been criticized for utilizing his state’s restricted Covid restrictions to extend his political clout. Internet hosting a capacity-crowd UFC present throughout a very tough interval in the course of the pandemic was a transparent present of defiance.
“That is going to be the primary [indoor] full-throttle sports activities occasion since Covid hit anyplace in the US and I feel it’s becoming,” DeSantis said to a cheering crowd on the UFC 261 pre-fight press convention. “Welcome to Florida. You guys aren’t the one ones trying to come to this oasis of freedom.”
It’s value noting that UFC 261 was celebrated by the likes of Steve Bannon, in addition to person wrote on a QAnon Telegram channel with greater than 20,000 subscribers. “Watch UFC.”
UFC fighters have additionally stepped into the political area in current months. In December 2021, light-weight contender Michael Chandler spoke at Turning Level USA’s Americafest occasion alongside conspiracy-monger Tucker Carlson, Donald Trump Jr, and alt-right character Jack Posobiec.
Chandler first made his political leanings clear when he questioned the outcomes of the 2020 presidential election, tweeting on the time “is Joe Biden actually simply taking the mic to speak about how ‘affected person’ we’ve to be and the way ‘lengthy’ we’re going to have to attend AKA we’re going to contest these outcomes…arduous #wakeupsheep.” The fighter deleted the tweet shortly thereafter.
Different UFC fighters equivalent to Colby Covington, whom the Guardian described because the athletic embodiment of Trump’s politics, continues to strengthen his ties to distinguished conservatives equivalent to Trump Jr and Owens. In actual fact, Owens revealed that it was Covington who helped her turn out to be a fan of the UFC and that she plans to attend his upcoming combat in opposition to fellow Trump loyalist Jorge Masvidal at UFC 272 subsequent month.
“I’ll undoubtedly be there [at UFC 272],” Owens said on Full Send podcast. “100% shall be there. I like Colby.”
Owens previously called for the UFC to interchange the NFL as America’s nationwide pastime, a time period that was as soon as reserved for baseball. “[The UFC] is exploding proper now and it’s as a result of they don’t get entangled in politics. They aren’t woke and they don’t bend the knee,” Owens stated, including that the UFC is the “solely actual sport left.”
It’s maybe no shock many on the appropriate establish extra with the UFC than the NFL. Though the league is at present being sued for racial discrimination in a high-profile lawsuit, it has a minimum of paid lip service to social justice in recent times, notably after the police murder of George Floyd. According to a recent survey, roughly one-third of these polled acknowledged that they had been much less of a fan of the NFL now than they had been 5 years in the past. The ballot discovered that those that didn’t approve of the NFL’s present stance on social justice had been disproportionately Republican, and that 45% of those that recognized themselves as Republican believed the NFL was doing “an excessive amount of” to indicate respect for Black gamers. Whether or not this disapproval is definitely making a distinction to the NFL’s backside line is debatable. Viewing figures for the 2021 common season had been up 7% on the 12 months earlier than, so some Republicans are clearly nonetheless tuning in.
Nonetheless, for the reason that NFL’s insurance policies not coincide with Republican beliefs, the American proper has since shifted a lot of its consideration to the UFC, a hyper-masculine sport that’s common amongst younger males.
As Republicans forge forward with shaping the GOP’s post-Trump future, they may proceed to depend on the UFC as an ideological incubator and a breeding floor for future supporters.