Contributor: Josh Hall
UFC Fight Night: Shogun vs Henderson is in the books and it included a mix of incredible action at times tempered by some questionable officiating and a couple of less than enthralling fights. Whether you want to look at the good or the bad there is plenty to talk about, but the one thing that sticks out to me the most is the one fight that didn’t happen.
The evening before Will Chope was scheduled to take on Diego Brandao, a story was released by Jeremy Botter at Bleacher Report that revealed Chope had been discharged from the US Air Force and served five months in jail for multiple assaults on his now ex-wife. The details were not pretty, with the last assault involving a threat with a knife and Chope beating his ex-wife’s head on the floor in a fight over a credit card. Once the story became public the UFC took fairly swift action in the face of public pressure, pulling the Chope/Brandao bout from the card the next morning and quickly releasing Chope from the organization. They got a bad guy away from the big stage and made a statement about the sort of conduct that is expected from UFC fighters. Problem solved, right?
When I first heard of Chope’s release, my knee jerk reaction was exactly that. Domestic abuse is a disgusting thing, and it gets kicked up a notch when there is a pro fighter doing the beating. Upon looking into the story a bit more though I am not sure that releasing Chope was the proper thing to do, and the way the UFC went about it was absolutely and totally unprofessional. Guilherme Cruz of MMA Fighting sat down with Chope after his release and that interview added some interesting context to the situation.
Right out of the gate we are hit with the news that Chope found out about his release on Twitter and had to track down Jon Anik and Brian Stann for confirmation that he was fired, because no one with the UFC had contacted him at all and he couldn’t find anyone else around at the office. Unprofessional doesn’t begin to cover that.
“All the news, I’ve been just like a regular fan finding out on Twitter.”
Chope talked about being in contact with his ex-wife throughout all of this and how they have grown to become good friends, and how they are planning on taking their daughter to Disney World after his fight because he will be visiting the US (Chope resides and trains in Thailand). He says that his ex has forgiven him for what he did and they have both moved past it, and asks why everyone else can’t do the same. If his ex really does feel that way, does he have a point? Domestic abuse is such a horrible thing because of the damage it does to the victim, both physically and emotionally. If she says that he has changed and grown into a better person and that she has forgiven him, should we still judge him as harshly now for the person he used to be?
From Chope’s FB page (posted by his ex-wife initially, reposted by him with her permission):
Even if the answer to that question is no, the UFC would have been totally justified to pass on signing him in the first place. Not wanting fighters with that sort of past is certainly their right, and as such they ask about a criminal record on the fighter applications. In his interview with Cruz, Chope said that he plead guilty to misdemeanor assault for attacking his ex-wife and included that on his application.
Before hearing that I was operating under the assumption that Chope had failed to disclose his record, but apparently that was not the case. The day after he was released I reached out to Will to see if he could clarify a few points regarding this and whether there was any update in his situation.
The first thing I wanted to know was after getting released via breaking Twitter news if he had actually spoken with anyone from the UFC now that a day had passed. He said that his manager had spoken with them some, but that he still had not been contacted directly by anyone from the UFC. He told me he was still expecting to be cut, but that it will not be official until he gets his release letter.
In his interview with Cruz, Will mentioned the UFC releasing him based upon a “zero tolerance” policy they have towards domestic abuse. I asked him if that was something that they actually specified in the fighter application.
“They have zero tolerance for doing anything illegal when [you’re] signed but as far as past issues there is nothing. I wrote I had a criminal record and they didn’t make any inquiry.”
I could have understood the UFC’s actions if the information had not been disclosed by Chope (even though they should have caught it themselves in a background check), but they knew he had a record from the moment he signed with them. If they were concerned about it, they could have dug into it and found the same record of his appeal that was released by Bleacher Report. They could have asked Chope himself for details. They did neither. Either someone was negligent in the hiring process, or the UFC didn’t care about his record until it became public knowledge and a bad look for the organization.
As a fan of the UFC, it really disappoints me to see the extreme backlash against Chope in large part because they simply failed to communicate with him over and over again. They weren’t worried enough to simply inquire about his record. When it became public, they didn’t call him or look any further into it then either, and when he was pulled from the card and unofficially released they didn’t even give him the courtesy of a phone call to let him know. The UFC has done a lot to legitimize MMA as a sport, but they have shown a lack of professionalism throughout this process that should never happen. They are usually better than this, but serious mistakes were made here.
I asked Will whether the UFC had communicated any reason to him through his manager that his case was different than the other fighters on the roster with similar criminal records.
“They just cited a zero tolerance policy towards domestic violence.”
From a Cage Potato article, December 6, 2012:
Abel Nazario Trujillo, another cage fighter scheduled to compete on the UFC fight card on Dec. 8th in Seattle, has twice pleaded guilty to Domestic Abuse Assault Causing Bodily Injury, an aggravated misdemeanor. In both cases, the victim was identified as the mother of his child. In May 2007, Trujillo also pleaded guilty to Obstruction of an Emergency Communication.
In the plea agreement, Trujillo acknowledged that the crime required the State to prove that his alleged assault victim was making a 911 call, Trujillo knew that she was making a 911 call, and Trujillo hung up the phone. Trujillo competes under the nickname “Killa.”
Zero Tolerance… they keep using that term. I don’t think it means what they think it means. The Culinary Union dug up evidence about Abel Trujillo’s past from 5 years ago two days before he was scheduled to fight at UFC on Fox 8. He was not released immediately under the zero tolerance policy. He fought on the card as scheduled and as far as I can find the UFC never issued an official statement regarding his past at all. Trujillo has fought 5 times under the UFC banner since his record of domestic violence was brought to light.
I personally don’t care for zero tolerance policies because they remove the gray from difficult and complex situations and force them to be black and white, but at least they are a consistent standard that everyone knows to abide by. I don’t know how the UFC can tell someone (or his manager, in this case) that they are fired for a zero tolerance policy when there is a glaring exception to that rule on the active roster that has fought for them 5 times in the last 16 months. That is such a blatant double standard that it is ridiculous.
Looking at the Trujillo case as an example, this statement that Chope told me seems perfectly reasonable and logical.
“I had no idea past transgressions from 5 years ago before I was ever a fighter would affect me fighting in the UFC.”
I’m not bringing this up to try and get Trujillo released as well. His case is relevant here because it shows that the zero tolerance policy isn’t exactly what the name implies, and Trujillo and Chope’s crimes and the timing of the release of their respective pasts to the public (1-2 days before scheduled fights) are virtually identical. Both men pled guilty to misdemeanor assault charges in conjunction with assaulting their wives, and both committed his crime roughly 5 years before it became public knowledge. Rules are worthless if they are not applied to everyone equally, and a zero tolerance policy does not exist if there is an exception to it.
There is the argument to be made that a zero tolerance policy for domestic abusers is a good thing for the sport and the UFC brand, and I would certainly agree that anyone that is a UFC fighter that commits domestic abuse while under contract should be cut. But zero tolerance policies when it comes to the past eliminate the possibility for people to change. Look at someone like Alexander Gustafsson. He served 15 months in Swedish prison in 2005 after being convicted of his third offense, the last being aggravated assault causing grievous bodily harm. It may not have been domestic abuse, but it was serious enough to merit more than a year in jail and was a crime of violence.
Like Trujillo’s case, the UFC did not make a big deal about the reveal of these past troubles. Gustafsson admitted to them himself in an interview with Swedish language site Expressen.se, expressing remorse for the things he had done and crediting MMA with helping him to turn his life around. He is pretty clearly not that same person anymore though, and it is a textbook example of how people grow and change. It is not an easy thing to realize you are not a good person and make an effort to change. With so many people getting into MMA from rough backgrounds having bad things in their past, the ones that change for the better should be included and can be a great example for future fighters that they don’t have to be defined solely by their mistakes.
When I questioned Chope why he would have been released where the other situations had been so different, he thought the way his past was revealed to the public played a factor.
“I think it was just how bad Bleacher Report posted the article but me and my ex-wife will address this when I am back in the USA on Wednesday.”
Whether Chope falls into the same rehabilitated category as Gus still remains to be seen. The fact that his ex-wife is supporting him in this and that they have become good friends after all that has happened would indicate that is a real possibility though. I don’t know the man personally so I can’t speak to his character but I would be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt if the victim of his crime says he has changed. Based on the precedent the UFC has set in handling these types of cases I think that they should at least consider softening the stance they have taken in this case.
I took a deeper look into the UFC’s official Code of Conduct they instituted last year, and it would appear there should still be quite a bit to happen before Chope is released for his misconduct. Domestic violence is one of the first things they mention that a fighter can be disciplined for, but there is no mention of any specific policy regarding it as more severe than other offenses listed. The disciplinary process is especially interesting though.
Upon discovery of potential fighter misconduct, UFC will direct an investigation, which may include interviews and information-gathering from medical expert, law enforcement officers, and other relevant professionals. As appropriate, the affected fighter and/or his/her designee will have the opportunity to provide information on the conduct at issue. Upon conclusion of the investigation, UFC will have full authority to impose disciplinary measures on the fighter as warranted in its sole discretion.
Discipline may take the form of fines, suspension, and cessation of service and may include conditions to be satisfied prior to the resolution of the incident.
Determination of the appropriate discipline for an incident will be based on the nature of the misconduct will be based on other relevant factors.
Immediate disciplinary measures may be imposed, provided that following a full investigation of the incident, UFC may review the measures and make appropriate adjustments. Unless the incident involves significant harm, a first offense will generally not result in immediate disciplinary measure until an investigation is completed.
Previous violations of this Policy may be taken into consideration in making disciplinary statements and may result in immediate disciplinary action. Misconduct prior to a fighter’s provision of service to the UFC may also be considered.
The last line of the disciplinary section is the only mention of prior misconduct that I saw anywhere in the Code of Conduct, and it seems to fairly narrowly construe it toward factoring in toward discipline for current offenses. The good thing about the Code if you read the whole thing (you can do so in the linked version) is they do have a listed appeal process, so Chope should eventually get his opportunity to speak his case to the powers that be. After the swift and harsh initial reaction from the UFC, as long as the Code is followed regarding the disciplined fighter we may end up with a just result after all.
All in all, that is what really matters out of this. There is no argument about the morality of what has been done in the past (domestic abuse is always wrong and should never be condoned), but only that the UFC handles the situation in a way that is fair and consistent with their rules and the precedents they have set in the application of said rules. They have not handled the situation in the most professional way possible to this point, but there is still the opportunity for them to remedy that. Before they sever all ties with Chope if they take the time to go through the full process they have listed in the Code, learn the whole story, and then make a decision based on all the information available on him then and on who he is now. If with all the information the UFC feels he doesn’t belong, so be it. Either way we will have a fair decision made in a professional manner, and for fans, fighters and the UFC that is the best outcome we can ever ask for.
-Josh can be reached @jhall282 or at email@example.com