A photo caption posted on the irreverent MMA website CagePotato.com resulted in a legal demand for its removal, with the ominous statement that the demand was "the first required step in the filing of a lawsuit seeking punitive damages against a party that has maliciously published defamatory statements about another."
The caption referred to wagering on Saturday's long-awaited showdown between champion Jon Jones and former champion (and former teammate) Rashad Evans.
CagePotato managing editor Ben Goldstein issued a retraction and apology, and removed the story from the site. Goldstein also defended the piece as satirical and humorous and thus allowed by law.
UFC President Dana White was made aware of the piece via Twitter, and reacted characteristically. But he was not the only person upset. As related in a USA TODAY interview with UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta and the UFC's chief marketing officer Bryan Johnston, Evans "threw a fit."
Sergio Non: Why is it such a serious thing for UFC?
Lorenzo Fertitta: Because these guys flatout lied. They just made up a story and lied. Somebody who doesn't know what our policies are and what we do, they could look at it in a very negative light.
A lot of people out there already don't even understand how the fight business works with regulation and everything, and for these guys to come out and make a statement like that, that is an extremely slanderous statement that potentially harms us in a big way.
The other thing too that you've got to understand is the fallout that you have. These fighters are already paranoid enough. Dana had to talk to Rashad on the phone for 30 minutes to calm him down, to tell him, "Are you crazy? There's no way I would ever bet on a fight or bet against you."
These guys go out and do this reckless reporting -- it's not even reporting -- make these reckless statements and they end up causing us fallout and having to deal with issues. Why should we even have to deal with this stuff? They made this up and lied and put it online.
SN: Their counterargument is that it was just satire and that most people clearly understood it as such. Why is that an insufficient explanation?
LF: Because we know what the outcome was. We had a flurry of people contacting us through e-mail, Twitter. Rashad throwing a complete fit and talking to Caren Bell, and then Dana having to call him to calm him down. If (people) thought it was just satire, we wouldn't have had that reaction.
Bryan Johnston: And it's really a weak argument to hide behind, satire. If tomorrow we put out an article online that said you were a pedophile and it went worldwide, it doesn't matter what kind of satire that is -- how do you unwind that?
SN: You don't, but I think ...
LF: Yeah, you don't.
SN: Where you do you draw the line? If someone's telling a joke and it just happens to be a bad joke, is that reason enough to...
LF: But it didn't even read like a joke. It didn't read like a joke at all. If you look at the article, when you first read that, it sounds like that they were in a room with Dana, talking to him, and he says, "Oh," and he kind of made a mistake and said something, and said "Don't print that."
To me -- and I'm a pretty educated guy, I read the paper every day, one of the people that still reads the paper...if I read an article like that, I would seriously believe that that actually happened and that went down.
It wasn't like it was a cartoon of Dana, with him blurbing something out in his head, with a bubble. It was put in print like a regular article.
SN: They issued a retraction on their website. Does it satisfy your demands?
LF: We're currently evaluating whether it's sufficient or not. Like I said, there's been a massive amount of fallout in the wake of them putting out something that is completely reckless in the way that they did. I don't understand how anybody could defend what they did. It's a very serious allegation.
For them to even joke that Dana made a wager of that magnitude on one fighter versus another fighter is something that could have tremendous negative implications for the industry, for our company and a lot of different things.
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