Posted: Tue April 9, 2013 1:29AM; Updated: Wed April 10, 2013 11:39PM
Jeff Wagenheim
Jeff Wagenheim>INSIDE MMA

Suspension of Mitrione is positive step for UFC in ugly situation

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Matt Matrione
Matt Mitrione appeared to get his career back on track just two days before making offensive comments.
Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire

And you wondered why the guy is nicknamed "Meathead"?

Two days after saving his UFC career with a 19-second knockout, Matt Mitrione had his contract suspended Monday evening after unleashing a hateful tirade about transgender mixed martial artist Fallon Fox during an Internet radio appearance earlier in the day.

Mitrione, who ended a two-fight losing streak with the quick finish of Phil de Fries at the UFC on Fuel TV event Saturday in Stockholm, went on the MMAfighting.com show The MMA Hour and called Fox a "lying, sick, sociopathic, disgusting freak."

The diatribe began with Mitrione making Fox, a 37-year-old postoperative transgender female who has won her two pro MMA fights and revealed in March that she was born a man, the butt of an insensitive joke. The former NFL player, who gained entry into the UFC by appearing on the reality show The Ultimate Fighter in 2009, laughingly drew a comparison between Fox and The Silence of the Lambs character "Buffalo Bill," who murders and skins women in order to make a "woman suit" for himself. It was a cruel and thoughtless joke, one for which Mitrione surely would have had to answer to his employers and the public, but a joke nonetheless.

Things only got worse, however, when the fighter stopped kidding around. Asked by host Ariel Helwani why he was referring to Fox as "he" rather than "she," Mitrione turned serious and shot back, "Because she's not a he. He's a he. He's chromosomally a man. He had a gender change, not a sex change. He's still a man. He was a man for 31 years. Thirty-one years. That's a couple years younger than I am. He's a man. Six years of taking performance de-hancing drugs, you think is going to change all that? That's ridiculous."

Mitrione then had a few words for Allana Jones, who is scheduled to fight Fox on a Championship Fighting Alliance card May 24 in Coral Gables, Fla. "The woman that's fighting him: Props to you," said the 34-year-old former member of the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings. "I hope you beat his ass, and I hope he gets blackballed and never fights again, because that's disgusting and I'm appalled by that."

Blackballed. Disgusting. Appalled. Those words and sentiments would soon come back to bite Mitrione.

"The UFC was appalled by the transphobic comments made by heavyweight Matt Mitrione today in an interview on 'The MMA Hour,' " read a statement issued by the sport's leading promotion. "The organization finds Mr. Mitrione's comments offensive and wholly unacceptable, and -- as a direct result of this significant breach of the UFC's code of conduct -- Mr. Mitrione's UFC contract has been suspended and the incident is being investigated. The UFC is a friend and ally of the LGBT community, and expects and requires all 450 of its athletes to treat others with dignity and respect."

This is the first significant enforcement of the company's code of conduct, which was unveiled in January after the UFC had long come under fire for having its president, Dana White, making case-by-case adjudications whenever a fighter stepped over some amorphous, informal line. White himself has a history of irresponsible outbursts, and misogyny and homophobia have run rampant among fighters -- from Miguel Torres and Forrest Griffin rape jokes to a "Rampage" Jackson video that jestfully serves as a primer for raping a woman, to Rashad Evans telling opponent Phil Davis, a Penn State grad, that he was going to "put those hands on you worse than that dude did them other kids at Penn State."

There's been a lot of vile negativity associated with the octagon. This suspension -- levied swiftly and firmly, and with strong message attached -- is a positive development. It's a step forward, a move away from antisocial behavior and toward accountability.

Then again, old habits die hard. When former two-time welterweight champion Matt Hughes, a UFC Hall of Famer recently appointed as the company's vice president for athlete development, conducted a question-and-answer session with fans during festivities surrounding last month's fight card in Montreal, he was asked about Fox and said, "I don't think he'll ever make it in the UFC." The questioner followed up by attempting to correct Hughes's personal pronoun use, asking, "You wouldn't fight her?" Whereupon a smile/smirk came to Hughes's face. "It?" he said, drawing laughs from some in the crowd. "No, I don't think it has any real place in here."

There's your new VP, ladies and gentlemen. One step forward, one step back.

Or maybe two steps back. Joe Rogan, the longtime color analyst on UFC fight telecasts, went on a rambling, disjointed monologue about Fox on a recent episode of his podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience. While he tried to frame the whole thing in the context of fighter safety and claimed to be supportive ("If you really are a woman trapped in a man's body, I support your right to do whatever you want to do"), he didn't sound like much of an ally. Some excerpts: "You're a [expletive] man. That's a man, OK? I don't care if you don't have a [penis] anymore." "I'm looking at a man with a dress, OK?" "Look, she's huge! She's not just huge, she's got a [expletive] man's face. I mean, you can wear all the lipstick you want."

Rogan went on to give listeners a lesson in human biology. "Men are built for smashing [expletive]," he said. "Women are built for getting held down by the stronger male monkey and, you know, women are built for carrying babies and doing work and whatever other non-hyperexplosive physical things you would want to do with your body." And then a lesson in psychology: "There's a lot of suicidal [expletives] out there. There's a lot of people that are like on the edge anyway. Like getting your [penis] chopped off, you know, you're going to pay attention to me? OK, I'll chop my [penis] off. I'll be a girl for a while."

All of this is perhaps not as in-your-face crass as Mitrione's "lying, sick, sociopathic, disgusting freak," but it's in the ballpark. The UFC has taken no action against Rogan.

As for Mitrione, he's not the only current UFC fighter to have weighed in on Fox. But no one has done so with his tactless vitriol. Miesha Tate, a former Strikeforce bantamweight champion who next weekend faces Cat Zingano for the opportunity to coach opposite UFC champ Ronda Rousey on The Ultimate Fighter and then fight for the belt, told ESPN.com recently she would not fight Fox. "I have nothing against transgender people," she said. "You should live your life however you want. It's about fighter safety. I wouldn't feel comfortable getting in with someone who is a woman but developed as a man. I just don't think it would be safe."

That's not a concern for Liz Carmouche, who in February made history by facing Rousey in the first women's fight in the UFC -- and by being the first openly gay fighter to compete in the sport. "The MMA community -- people who work in the gyms, the trainers and sparring partners and the fans -- all openly embraced me as an athlete, and I'm proud to see that also happening with a transgender athlete," the Marine said in a statement issued to GLAAD, the organization formerly known as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. (Just last month the group opted to be known simply by the acronym as a gesture of inclusiveness of transgender and bisexual people.)

In saying she'd be happy to compete against Fox if the regional fighter's career were to progress to the UFC, Carmouche added, "There may be, understandably, some concerns that she will be stronger than other girls, but our sport is regulated by state athletic commissions who are extremely thorough in terms of fighter safety and medical screening. If a world-regarded respected body like the Nevada Athletic Commission licenses her as a female competitor, and says she has no performance advantage, then that should be good enough for everyone."

Everyone, apparently, except Mitrione. And Hughes. And Rogan. And anyone else who's deluded enough to try to convince us that Fallon Fox put herself through the life-shaking rigors of gender reassignment surgery -- and all of the public gawking and scorn it brings -- just so she could have the privilege of beating up women. That's murky thinking, to be sure. And there's also murkiness in the UFC's selective enforcement of its well-meaning code of conduct. For all of the clarity in its bold statement announcing the Mitrione suspension, what does it say about the fight promotion that it has chosen to ignore transphobic comments by one of its vice presidents and by its most recognizable television personality?

But today is Mitrione's day under the glare of a spotlight that neither his fighting nor pro football career has garnered him. If he weren't such a "Meathead," he might have heeded these words that a crowd of young listeners heard from one of the speakers at an anti-bullying rally the UFC held in Toronto just a little over a year ago: "You can get out and do what you want to do. Believe in it and don't get hustled by anyone else. Walk to the beat of your own hustle. Be your own musician, dance to your own music, and you'll always be able to do what you want to do."

The speaker was Matt Mitrione.

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