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UFC Prez 'At War' With EA, Will Blacklist  EA Sports MMA  Signees
UFC Prez 'At War' With EA, Will Blacklist EA Sports MMA Signees
July 14, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander

July 14, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC

UFC president Dana White says he's "at war" with EA, and any fighter who lends his likeness to the publisher's upcoming mixed martial arts game "won't be in the UFC."

Following the smash success of THQ's UFC 2009: Undisputed, Electronic Arts' EA Sports label soon announced it would make its own mixed martial arts fighting game, EA Sports MMA -- enraging White, who says EA didn't believe in the validity of MMA as a sport until THQ's game became so successful.

According to a report in sport-focused site MMAJunkie, White claims the UFC had approached EA, which holds the game rights to major sports including NFL, FIFA and NASCAR, hoping to collaborate on a sports title, and was rejected.

"EA Sports told us, 'You're not a real sport,'" White said. "'We wouldn't touch this thing. We want nothing to do with this.'"

"We put our asses on the line, THQ and the UFC, to make a video-game deal in the worst economy in the world," White said. "We go out there and do this thing, and it's successful, and now [expletive] EA Sports wants to do a video game. Really? That's not what you told us a year-and-a-half ago.

EA Sports boss Peter Moore has told Gamasutra in the past that the company is very interested in obtaining fighters' image rights for use in EA Sports MMA. Although EA hasn't confirmed any signings officially, famous ex-UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia said in a radio interview that both he and notable former UFC star Randy "The Natural" Couture have deals to appear in the game.

White said any tension with Couture was resolved through a recent court appearance, according to the report, but that it was a special case. "You won't be in the UFC," White said about additional fighters who sign with EA Sports. "EA doesn't give a [expletive] about mixed martial arts. They made that very clear."

MMAjunkie lists potential future UFC fighters Nick Diaz, Mohammed "King Mo" Lawal, Jason "Mayhem" Miller and Jake Shields as potential signees to EA's MMA game, with further claims that Russian fighter Fedor Emelianenko might be on board, but White says he has no awareness as to whom the publisher has actually signed.

THQ's UFC: Undisputed has beaten even high expectations, shipping over 2 million units in just about its first two weeks. Analysts now expect it to top 3 million over the fiscal year.

[UPDATE: On the official EA Sports blog, division head Peter Moore's latest post seems to indirectly address White's comments, as Moore explains, as part of a larger update on EA Sports games:

"I know there has been some recent discussion about EA Sports bringing a challenger to this sport. I love mixed martial arts, and we’ve been working on a game concept since I came to EA two years ago. I have great respect for the organizations and individuals that have invested in the sport’s growth over the past decade – so this is one that is near and dear to me and I’m excited to see such good progress to date.

I trace my MMA video game roots back to my support of Crave’s UFC title on the Dreamcast in 2000, and have been a fan ever since. Our title will bring both innovation and further authenticity to mixed martial arts, not to mention a strong global publishing network that will help spread the sport’s popularity around the world."]

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Lance Rund
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Isn't interfering with UFC athletes' choice to endorse or not endorse a complete violation of labor law?

EA simply is taking the view of "it didn't make sense 18 months ago but now it does, let's make each other more successful". An expletive-laced response to what is simply a business decision only reinforces the stereotype of UFC-types being steroid-crazed barely-controlled trouble waiting to happen. What is he going to do about it, beat up EA executives? White isn't helping his sport, his athletes or his image one bit.

Aaron Eastburn
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@Lance, at first I would agree with you, apparently the forum posters on MMA Junkie would too. but look at the MMA Junkie site link. What is left out is quotes from White like, "You told us you'd never be in business with us. They wouldn't even take a meeting because mixed martial arts disgusted them. This wasn't a real sport. Boy, they got over that real quick, didn't they?". I also find it interesting that the proposed name is, "EA Sports MMA". It would be like EA putting out, "EA Sports Football" by going around to just the players, getting their images and approval and then cutting out the NFL. Still, White is in a business and he should deal with it in a calmer business manner...

Damien Foletto
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There are other MMA organizations that EA can tap, including Affliction and Dream. MMA fans know the organizations, and that's who EA should initially be concerned about pleasing. In reality, UFC needs EA more than EA needs the UFC. And aside from Dana's ranting, I'm sure the UFC is contractually obligated to stay with THQ and not have any of the UFC fighters appearing in a competitive product - at least until UFC: Undisputed 2 comes out.

Lorenzo Wang
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Dana is out of line with his response, and if making MMA legitimate is his only goal, and EA title is the surest way acknowledgement of that. Dana has to realize at some point that the iron first that got UFC to where it is is also going to hinder it from going further.

Yet, there is some poetic justice in all of this... EA should have vetted the UFC's response before making such an announcement. I hope for both companies that they find a compromise because there is a fantastic game stirring in this brouhaha, and that's good for both of them.

Jordi Fine
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An Dang
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Casual MMA fans wouldn't know one fighter from the next, and even if they knew a few names they won't particularly care. Hardcore MMA fans will know the fighters from the other MMA organizations.

The only thing I would care about in an MMA game (or any sports game) would be gameplay and an awesome career mode. Of course, I'm probably not representative of the market (I don't buy every iteration of every sports game because of updated rosters like most folks). People like names.

Amir Sharar
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Dana White was never one to mince his words so this sort of response isn't unexpected, for better or for worse.

It really seems that THQ and the UFC took a risk bringing this game to market (beyond the UFC game on Dreamcast, I can't remember another MMA console game, well, besides Street Fighter, heheh), while EA was more interested in making safe money rather than to promote the sport itself (with the possibility of making money).

Now that THQ has shown that it can work, EA has gone into "me too" mode. EA is simply trying to cash into the latest craze, a craze that Dana White himself and the talent at the UFC is largely responsible for.

I can understand Dana's stance, as harsh as it may seem. Going to a large publisher like EA before anyone else, then being told that they are not interested in taking the risk, then taking that risk yourself will a willing publisher, making an excellent playing game that rightfully sells well, and then the first publisher you approached suddenly wants to do what you are doing in a manner that can affect your business...Dana has to be very protective of the UFC and the sport.

I do think that had EA approached any other MMA organizations and created a game for them this wouldn't be as big of an issue. But it looks like EA is looking to take ownership of the sport itself, in the videogame space.

James Smith
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Dana White is an idiot who would rather kill his own company than see others suceed in the MMA world. UFC is a joke, because it is ran by a joke. The more he bitches the more you can see why he hides behind big men.

EA actually have my support on this one.

Franklin Brown
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The truth hurts. MMA still isn't a real sport. It's loosely-moderated thuggery.

Damien Foletto
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@James - Dana bought the UFC for ~$2 million dollars and turned the organization into a worldwide phenomenon that eclipsed boxing. Yeah... he's an idiot all right. He may need to lighten up sometimes, and you may not agree with how he does things, but to call him an idiot and a joke is just ignorant.

James Smith
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No, I LOVE a good MMA show. However Dana White is beyond being a joke. Showing ignorance is to just bow down to the fact he has money like that makes him a winner. He is ignorant. He is stupid. He is a joke. I dont see any other mma companies fucking around with their fighters, threatening them and making an ass of themselves at almost every public opportunity.

Back in the day, when there was the choice of WWF and....wcw he had a brilliant opportunity which indeed he did capitalize on, there was a growing niche which needed filling but fuck me, I would never pay to see UFC these days, and I pity its fighters. What exactly are you defending about him?

Other organizations are growing, rapidly. UFC is stagnating. Its fighters are UNHAPPY. It is down to him and his hyperbole, greed, and nothing else. The guys a douche.

Dan Robinson
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@Franklin Brown - Whether MMA is a sport or not isn't up for debate.

However, as much as I admire Dana White for what he has done to increase visibility for MMA, he is off point in his threat to blacklist any fighter for any reason. I didn't agree with him forcing his fighters to relinquish the rights to their likenesses. I don't agree with him blacklisting any fighter who appears in the EA game. Yes, EA missed out. And White should be bitter if what he said actually played out that way. But preventing someone from competing solely because the organization doesn't have control over the likeness of that fighter is way off point. Even more so as UFC fighters in particular become more and more popular, potentially earning more from endorsements than fighting.

Brent Orford
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If fighters want to fight in the UFC these days, they're required to sign away their likeness rights to the organization. I'll refer you to on the story.

Dana's not telling EA they can't make a MMA game... he's saying "You can't use my [Expletive] fighters". And contractually, he's correct. The UFC gives these fighters a platform to gain popularity with fans, if they're successful in the ring, they're getting endorsement deals outside the ring (Faber/No Fear, Liddell & Franklin xyience, etc.) He's simply forced his fighters to not compete with him in businesses he's in... and he and the UFC are dipping their toes in the video game business.

If the fighters unionized, like the NFLPA/NHLPA/MLBPA, etc... then they'd be in a better position to control their likeness, but the fight game doesn't work that way. There's a lot of competition to be on the promotion's fight card, and careers are typically short.

Tim Silvia isn't marketable, the UFC doesn't like Nick Diaz and wouldn't care if they didn't have him on their promotion anymore. The other fighters are about as generic as you can get... EA might as well put the faces of the guys developing the game on ripped body's and play as themselves. The only exception I could see Dana making to his rule would be if Fedor suddenly decided he wanted to come to the UFC. EA should suck it up and sign with Affliction (an organization that Dana absolutely hates) and promote Fedor and the Affliction fighters. EA can't raise the UFC's brand awareness... but they could make Affliction a much more popular promotion.

alex velazquez
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Lance I hope you see the irony in you claiming White is violating labor laws.. This is EA we are talking about here. EAspouse ring a bell to you. And what a strange pro-business, Dana white hating crowd we have here. Don't developers always say that publishers have no vision, and they destroy creativity with their money grabbing, marketing driven mentality. Yet here we have an example of EA obviously not having faith in an idea, as soon as it makes money they want to milk the cow dry. Why are we making excuses for this. Because Dana White is angry and he curses, and its business? What are you emotionless EA seat filling robots. He is getting fucked, he should be angry, I would be too... Its good to see someone speak their mind, not through a filter of lawyers, and marketing memos. Can we not stand anyone being real anymore.

Damien Foletto
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Well said, Brent. I agree completely.

And @ James - I'm sorry Dana slept with your wife. ;p Seriously, though, all organizations "fuck" with their signed talent, you just don't see it as much with lesser known companies like Affliction and Dream. The UFC is top dog and is open to more criticisms, like it or not (it's kind of like all the "hard-core" MMORPG players constantly saying how much WoW sucks and Blizzard caters to morons - top dogs always get the most hate mail). All organizations are in it to make a profit - period. No one opens a company just to be the nice guy or baby their niche. Dana, for good or ill, has brought MMA to the mainstream and is trying to protect his assets - and his fighters are his biggest assets. Their not his "buddies," their assets and their paid to do a job. If the fighters don't like it, they can leave and sign with another organization. Sounds cold and maybe it does suck, but that's business. It's not a love fest of mutual friends.

Damien Foletto
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And yes I know I used "their" incorrectly and it should be "they're." I'm living on 8 hours sleep over 3 days, here.

Nothing But Homeruns
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The fact of the matter is - this is just EA's typical arrogance biting them in the ass in a profound way. It was obvious to everyone except, evidently, the biggest sports video game maker in the world, that UFC was exploding, even 3 years ago. I personally am going to revel in watching all of that revenue flow into the pockets of someone other than EA. At a practical level, missing the UFC opportunity should result in someone very senior at EA being fired, period - the shareholders should demand it.

Let mediocrity reign in video games!

Tony Stone
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EA screwed up (MMA is a legitimate sport and the fastest growing one globally) and a lot of you guys in here don't understand the world of MMA and the politics behind it. The UFC owns 90% of the MMA market and everyone knows of the brand! Who cares about Affliction (financial troubles and having only one star) and Dream (relatively unknown fighters and new promotion) as casual fans are unfamiliar with these companies and fighters. EA will need to fix things with the UFC in the near future if they want to experience some success with MMA titles.

Nothing But Homeruns
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"Fixing things" with the UFC will be much easier said then done IMO. If you understand how the development cycles run, and how they are affected by runaway success of a title - then you can assume THQ is already working on the sequel + downloadable content ++. That means, for EA, that trying to interrupt what to all appearances is a successful, profitable partnership - would be a TALL order (especially after telling the UFC to get lost, AND insulting them, when they were first approached). Zuffa was an underdog company and THQ is an underdog publisher - seems to me that's a hard barrier to break under the circumstances.

I'd be sincerely surprised, barring EA backing a truckload of $$ and humble pie up to UFC's door (and even then they might rightly tell them to get lost), to see any change in partnership before 2012 or later.

Apparently, "don't you know who we are?!!!" just isn't cutting it anymore for certain publishers.

rob miller
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Well put Alex. Dana's threat is just a scare tactic to prevent fighters from signing with EA. Even if Fedor is the cover boy for EA's game im sure Dana would still sign him in a heartbeat. I've seen similar threats in our industry from publishers trying to prevent employees from leaving to form other studios.

Daryoush Nekooi
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I'm in a state of mixed emotions about this story. On one side i feel that EA are getting what they deserve; as they did a similar thing that white is doing now to other nfl and nba game creators: by totally licensing the leagues to EA so no other publishers could create a game. On the other side, i really appreciate what (the majority of) EA are producing in the last 1 1/2 and hope that they can get enough licenses to make a great game (not to mention the fact that if they use the Fight Night Round 4 engine, they will be creating a fantastic game, in my opinion. I also think that EA have the experience in this style of game (again with reference to fight night franchise) and so will be able to remedy some of the mistakes made in "undisputed".

I'm prity sure EA will release this game with very little problems!