Has Ultimate Fighting Turned Its Back on Latinos?

Dana White, left
Dana White, left

The Ultimate Fighting Championship can trace its beginnings, at least in part, to organized bar fights in the California desert. So it isn't exactly surprising that the sport would be aligned with the nationalist politics of Donald Trump. Trump has touched a chord with underemployed, undereducated white men. His fans surely abound in the worlds of Monster Jam, NASCAR and, yes, UFC.

But UFC is also the product of Asian martial arts and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Its quick rise in the 1990s and 2000s spoke to the international nature of contemporary pop culture: What happens anywhere happens everywhere, almost instantaneously. Mixed martial arts quickly attracted Latino fans and Latino fighters, such as early star Tito Ortiz (who happens to be a Trump supporter). About one in five UFC fans is Latino, and its most fervent markets, aside from Hawaii, are in Texas and in California's Central Valley, according to research firm Nielsen Scarborough.

Which begs the question, what the hell was UFC president Dana White thinking when he endorsed Trump for president last month?

If you'll recall, when Trump announced in June 2015 that he was running for president, his description of Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists sent some of his business partners, including Macy's, NBC and Univision, running for the exits. That was the move, apparently, for any business hoping to stay in good graces with the Latino market, which generally loathes Trump. White, however, went in the other direction, embracing Trump after swearing off politics.

"I know fighters," White said at the Republican National Convention. "Ladies and gentlemen, Donald Trump is a fighter. And I know Donald Trump will fight for this country."

What followed was the sound of more than a few Latino kids tearing down the UFC posters on their bedroom walls. Maybe.

"I think it is incredible that, knowing that Latinos are 20 percent of his business, he would go against a demographic like ours and encourage the hate speech of Trump," said Alex Nogales, president and CEO of the Pasadena-based National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC). "Obviously, he has no respect for us as Latinos. I hope that our population hears about this and protests by not going to the fights."

"I think it is ridiculous for him, as a public person, to endorse someone a lot of Latinos do not like — and they have every right not to like Trump," said Tom Atencio, the Latino co-founder of Seal Beach–based MMA clothing company Affliction. (He's no longer affiliated with the firm.)

But political affinity and business sense can be two different things. "Do you really think White's going to lose audiences because of his endorsement?" Atencio added. "He already has the audience. The truth is they've already built their industry."

Indeed, the same month White bravely endorsed Trump, UFC's primary owners, Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, sold the league to Beverly Hills–based talent agency WME-IMG for about $4 billion. White will stay on as the league's leader. Interestingly, UFC, which has sponsorship deals with Reebok, Bud Light and Toyo Tires, is banking, in part, on a major south-of-the-border expansion, which includes a third season of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America

"Initially, our goal for Latin America, outside of Brazil, was to start with Mexico and really create an anchor for the brand," Jaime Pollack, the general manager of UFC Latin America, said last month. "As the majority of U.S. Hispanics are of Mexican descent, there are so many cross-cultural and family connections that we believe this will translate for some segments of the Hispanic population through generating brand authenticity in Mexico."

We reached out to UFC representatives for this story. While we did exchange messages with a spokeswoman, we were unable to get someone to comment.

The NHMC's Nogales says White's Trump endorsement won't slip under the radar of Latino fans and activists. 

"The hate has to stop," he said. "That means that every time we hear these endorsements by people benefiting from our community, we have to stand up and say this is wrong. We're going to take business away." 


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