Everyone would like to have a boss that supports them when they need it most. Not necessarily in a financial way, but in the way where they will stand behind you and put their hand on your shoulder when your life frays. UFC president Dana White offered both kinds of support to Jeremy Stephens on Friday. He spent most of the day and part of the night trying in vain to get Stephens released from jail in Hennepin County, Minnesota, after he had been arrested on a warrant stemming from an assault charge in Des Moines, Iowa.
In this politically correct world it's actually kind of refreshing to see a sports executive refuse to shy away from a decidedly risky decision. It would have been easier to wash his hands of Stephens and let him stew in jail. What I don't understand though is why White was so insistent that Stephens go on with his UFC on FX 5 fight as scheduled? While I agree that everyone has a right to their day in court, this was a problem of Stephens' own doing exactly for the reason that he had skipped his.
According to White, Stephens' arrest warrant stemmed from a 2011 incident. A Des Moines police department spokesperson reached by MMA Fighting on Friday night offered no specific details on Stephens' case, but said if he had been arrested in Minnesota, it was because he missed his court date. That means he's had nearly a year to deal with his legal problem and failed to do so.
Why, then, are we supposed to feel bad for Stephens missing his fight opportunity? For all we know, he could be completely innocent of the assault. That's it's own issue. But skipping the court date? That one is completely on him.
"It’s a big deal to him," White said of his scheduled fight with Yves Edwards. "This kid isn’t Jon Jones or Rampage [Jackson]. Do you know what losing this purse means to a kid like Jeremy Stephens? It's a huge blow. This is how these guys make a living. This is how they feed their families. He spent money to get to this fight, money he probably didn't have. And now, he’s really screwed because the fight didn't happen. I was willing to have two officers, armed police officers, bring him from jail to come fight tonight and then bring him back to jail. Let's do that. Let the kid get paid because he's going to have to spend money on this thing anyway. He's got a family to take care of. It's just crazy."
First of all, Stephens is not a "kid," as White refers to him. He's 26 years old. He's a father and he's been a professional athlete for seven years.
Second of all, the priority should be to take care of his situation, not rush him into a fight for a payday. White seemed to suggest that the state of Iowa was playing games with him as they were negotiating a release. But looking at it from their side, they've had a warrant out for Stephens for months and hadn't had any luck in bringing him in. When they finally nabbed him one state north, why wouldn't they take every precaution to ensure he was going to reach their custody?
I agree with White that the timing of it all sucked. Stephens has been in Minneapolis all week, and if they had arrested him on Monday or Tuesday, perhaps things could have been sorted out in time for him to fight. But White's suggestion that they intentionally waited until fight day to arrest him is a baseless opinion. I have been covering him for several years now, and I know that one thing he hates is when reporters or columnists make statements without a shred of hard evidence to back up their position. He can't presume to know the reason the arrest didn't happen until Friday.
"I'm telling you, I've never seen a situation where a guy couldn't get out on bail for an assault charge," he said. "It's an assault charge. He didn't murder three people. He didn't kill 20 people in three states, he's not wanted for any horrible crimes. It's an assault charge."
A felony assault charge on a professional fighter is no big deal now? White admitted that he didn't know any details of Stephens' arrest besides the charge he was facing. We don't know how bad the victim was allegedly hurt or if there are any other factors that might make it more severe than the charge already sounds.
Stephens' case was also complicated by the fact that he was arrested in Minnesota for a crime he allegedly committed in Iowa. That could account for the extra time necessary to sort things out. Instead of dealing with one bureaucracy, they were dealing with two. White's conspiracy theory is also hurt by the fact that Stephens was still in custody early Saturday morning, a full 12 hours after UFC on FX 5 ended.
White chose to have Stephens' back, and that's fine. He has a history of doing it. He did it with Rampage and Jones, and earlier this week, with Dennis Hallman, when he gave him his fight purse and win bonus even while cutting him due to personal problems the lightweight was dealing with. It's his prerogative to stand by his fighters, but he also needs to acknowledge when they screw up. Stevens put himself in this situation but White came off sounding like Stephens was the victim.
This situation wasn't Iowa's fault, it was Stephens' fault. To use a famous White line, that's what he gets for leaving it in the hands of the judges. The black-robe wearing, gavel-toting judges.
Back in the arena, poor Yves Edwards stayed loose all night, thinking that White was going to pull a magic trick and make Stephens appear out of thin air. It should have never come to that. It was Stephens' decision to miss a court date that led to his incarceration, and it was his penalty to pay.
"I'm always going to believe my guy and support my guy until I'm proven wrong," White said.
That kind of loyalty is admirable. It can also be misguided. And sometimes, like Friday, it's both at the same time.