There’s a good chance that Dakota Cochrane won’t amount to anything special. That’s no knock on him or his fighting skills. I’m just playing the odds, here.
History tells us that in any field of Ultimate Fighter contestants, there’s rarely more than a handful that make it into the UFC and stay there for any length of time. The rest end up as answers to trivia questions, maybe the occasional ‘Whatever happened to...’ thread on the Underground Forum, or else are purged forever from the collective MMA consciousness.
Cochrane, who’s 11-2 as a pro and coming into the show on a loss, may very well end up being one of those forgotten fighters. But what matters right now isn’t so much what he might or might not become, but that he’s getting the chance. The UFC is giving him an opportunity that a lot of other organizations might not, and it’s doing so with total awareness of what it might be getting itself into.
In case you haven’t heard by now, Cochrane’s work history includes a stint he’d rather forget in the gay porn industry. The 25-year-old fighter isn’t gay, as he told MMA Fighting’s Mike Chiappetta, but as a college student with "money issues" he made a decision he now says he regrets, and ended up with a well-documented past he may never fully shake.
But then, it’s not as if he’s trying to fool anyone. Cochrane has been open and honest about his history with promoters and potential opponents, even when it cost him. Officials from both FX and the UFC confirmed to MMA Fighting this week that they knew when they selected him for the show that he’d done gay porn. Where a lot of organizations might have looked at Cochrane and been unable to see past the inevitable PR storm, the UFC saw just another aspiring fighter who might become a superstar or might become nothing at all, and it treated him accordingly.
It’s a small act, but a courageous one. Not only did the UFC not turn Cochrane down for the show, it also didn’t make a big deal about accepting him. It didn’t try to avoid the publicity or exploit it, which is actually sort of amazing when you think about it. It’s also not without some risks.
Many of us have wondered when and how the UFC and its fans would deal with having a gay fighter on the roster. Cochrane isn’t gay, but simply played the role for cash, which is a distinction that could easily be lost on some people. If he manages to fight his way into the house, how will his new roommates react to his past? How will fans? How will existing UFC fighters?
The answers depend who you ask, but it might surprise some people to learn that many in the MMA business are more open-minded than they’d expect. As UFC flyweight Joe Benavidez said when I spoke with him this week: "I believe everyone’s an individual. I’m not one to judge anyone. If he’s done gay porn, he’s done gay porn. You’re still going to fight him."
It makes you wonder, would NFL players be so welcoming and non-judgmental? Would the NBA open its arms to a player with a resume like Cochrane’s? Maybe not, but maybe it’s because those sports don’t know what it’s like to battle public perception the way the UFC does. Maybe something about dealing with closed-minded critics of your own (how many articles have we read lambasting this no-holds-barred, barbaric cage-fighting stuff in the past decade?) makes you more sympathetic to the struggles of others.
Of course there will be those who don’t agree with the UFC’s decision to put a former gay porn actor on its long-running cable TV reality show. Expect all the usual hand-wringing about role models and Google searches and uncomfortable conversations that no one wants to have with their kids.
But over the course of that discussion, let’s not forget what the UFC has really done here. It’s taken a chance and invited some criticism, both from those who think it isn’t family-friendly entertainment to begin with and from those who think the sport is nothing but sweaty dudes rolling around on top of each other, and it’s done so for the best possible reason.
The UFC could have taken the path of least resistance, or it could have used this as a publicity ploy. It did neither. It took a field of aspiring fighters and evaluated them based on ability rather than PR concerns. It gave them all the same chance to become somebody or nobody, knowing full well that even if Cochrane reached Anderson Silva levels of dominance, he’d still never completely outrun his past in many people’s eyes.
In other words, it did exactly what we’d hope it would do in a situation like this, which is judge people on merit rather than prejudice. Whether Cochrane becomes a star or an MMA footnote, what matters most is that he was given the opportunity to decide his own future regardless of what anyone might think about his past. It’s what should make us proud to be fans of this sport, and of this organization.