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LAS VEGAS – UFC president Dana White called the brawl at the end of a Strikeforce card that was broadcast nationally on CBS on Saturday an embarrassment to mixed martial arts and placed the blame for it on executives at Showtime.
The outspoken Ultimate Fighting Championship promoter has long had a feud with Showtime executives, particularly with Ken Hershman, its executive vice president and general manager of sports and event programming. White never specifically refers to Hershman by name in public, but does not hide his distaste for him.
On Saturday, at the conclusion of Jake Shields' upset victory over ex-UFC star Dan Henderson in a Strikeforce middleweight title fight, Jason "Mayhem" Miller entered the cage and confronted Shields, demanding a rematch. Shields defeated Miller in November on CBS.
Shields eventually shoved Miller and a melee ensued, with several of Shields' teammates, including Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz, Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez and UFC fighter Nathan Diaz, pummeling Miller. White said he had spoken to Nathan Diaz about Diaz's role in the incident. He wouldn't reveal what was said, but said he would not punish Nathan Diaz in any way.
"Have you ever seen him do that at one of my shows?" White asked of Nathan Diaz. White said he believes the incident occurred because CBS didn't align itself with the UFC. He said he had a tentative deal with CBS, but said that Showtime executives talked CBS into buying into the now-defunct Elite XC instead of agreeing to broadcast UFC fights.
The result, White said, was that an inferior product was put on national television. "Of course, everyone thinks I'm anti-competition, but I'm not," White said. "But everyone knows that they didn't belong on CBS. Even if you're the biggest UFC hater out there, you know that. Shame on CBS for this. They knew they should have been with us, but they went out and let those Showtime idiots talk them into going with Elite XC.
"Now, they're stuck with a bush league, C-level promotion that will probably be out of business next month," he added. "And what you saw on Saturday is the kind of thing that happens when you put a product like that on national television."
Showtime did not respond to a request for comment on White's allegations.
White was pressed on whether what happened in the cage after the fight on Saturday hurt the sport more than UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva's performance just two weeks earlier in a title fight on pay-per-view against Demian Maia in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Silva spent much of the final three rounds mocking Maia and not fighting. After the fight, White called Silva's performance "a disgrace" and "an embarrassment." Anyone who saw Silva's fight could not have been impressed, but White said he sees a big difference between the two events.
"I can't guarantee that every time you see a UFC pay-per-view it will be the best fight card you've ever seen," White said. "But what I can say is that for (nearly) 10 years, we've consistently delivered great fights and great fight cards. That's why this sport has grown so much and become as popular as it has.
"On any given night, you may catch a bad fight," he added. "In Anderson's case, it wasn't a bad night. It was the third time he's done something like that, which is why I was so angry. I take seriously delivering the kind of product my fans want to see. But what you saw on CBS is an example of what you don't want to see on national television. No one had control and that's what happens."
White also had harsh words for CBS play-by-player announcer Gus Johnson. Johnson said brawls happen in MMA when there is a lot of testosterone in the cage. White was also angered by Johnson's commentary because he said he's spent his career building his company to make sure that such incidents do not occur.
"When have you seen anything remotely close to that happen at a UFC event?" White said. "What kind of ridiculous commentary was that? That was an idiotic thing to say. And then he was yelling at them to stop, telling them they are on national television. That was just another example of how bush league they are."
White said he is interested in signing Shields, who has two more months on his Strikeforce contract, but is not bound to the company beyond that despite holding its championship. He said Strikeforce "gambled on (the outcome) of fights" and put themselves in the position of having one of its champions bolt the promotion. White said it's not the first time Strikeforce has done that.
"You never should gamble on fights," White said. "They bet on (Melvin) Manhoef, (that he would beat Robbie) Lawler. Lawler was very unhappy and they wanted to get rid of him, but it backfired because he knocked Manhoef out. Then they treated Shields like (expletive), let his contract expire and they put all their money on Dan Henderson. "Now, Shields destroys Henderson and look where they're at. That's not how you do business."
Jeff Mullen, the director of the Tennessee Athletic Commission, said on Monday he could not comment on the incident until his investigation is complete. He said he is already working on the investigation.
On Monday, Miller released a statement apologizing for his actions.
"I would like to formally apologize to CBS, Strikeforce, and all fans of mixed martial arts for my role in the events following the Strikeforce: Nashville event," Miller wrote. "In retrospect, my timing could not have been worse to ask for my rematch with Jake Shields, and I take full responsibility for entering the cage and setting off a chain of events that cast a dark shadow on the sport. I've been a fighter and a fan of MMA for over 12 years, and would never do anything to intentionally tarnish the sport I've given my life to. In the excitement of the moment I let my emotions run high and made a bad choice that resulted in a debacle; for that, I sincerely apologize."
Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker could not be reached for comment on Monday to react to White's statements. However, Coker said at the post-fight news conference "There is no room for something like that in this sport and we are not going to reward that kind of behavior."