There is a media blackout in mixed martial arts with some of the most respected names in MMA journalism today effectively barred from participation at UFC events going as far back as 2005, at least in the case of former Sherdog.com reporter Josh Gross. Another mixed martial arts writer, Loretta Hunt, was denied credentials to cover an event following her first assignment with CBS Sports after an exemplary career at Sherdog.com herself to illustrate the consequences and pitfalls of being a legitimate journalist covering mixed martial arts in the modern era. It’s a world where Hunt, Gross and any other combat sports writer courageous enough to cover topics of a sensitive nature ultimately end up serving as the proverbial bodies hanging from the chain link fence, reminders of the consequences of trespassing on the hallowed grounds of truth.
“I see a lot of MMA media amazed that (Josh Gross) @yay_yee needs more work, but a tweet is not enough. Like I said, three sites should unite and hire him. The UFC won’t get away with a mass media ban NOW. Fedor and I are rooting for you all. #savegross”
A lot of MMA media were amazed Gross needs work because he is perhaps the most respected journalist in mixed martial arts today and Sherdog.com, where Gross spent a number of years honing his craft, has been a hub for mixed martial arts news and information since the mid to late ‘90’s, making it one of a very short list of incredibly influential websites in the sports history. Jeff Sherwood, the founder of the website, played a pivotal role in seeing mixed martial arts through some of the darkest times in the sport’s short existence. It is not an exaggeration to state some of the earliest and most respected MMA journalism of the time came from none other than Sherdog.com writers Josh Gross and Loretta Hunt.
But there have been consequences for this reporting, which the general public is by in large in the dark about as some of the most respected journalist in the industry today are essentially blacklisted from freely practicing their trade due to the sensitive but absolutely necessary nature of the topics Gross, Hunt and countless other mixed martial arts journalist have written about. Sadly, many of their contemporaries are paralyzed with fear, contributing to the atmosphere of silence that permeates over the vast majority of mainstream mixed martial arts media.
In an April 2, 2009 ESPN.com article titled, “White uses slurs in video blog,” the worldwide leader in sports reported that UFC President Dana White took aim at Loretta Hunt from Sherdog.com in a, “Video blog, which was posted for a time on the UFC's Web site. It has since been pulled from the site,” reads the ESPN report. According to ESPN, “The rant was centered around a Sherdog.com article which White believed incorrectly told of his group's credentialing policies for the agents and managers of fighters. He called the Sherdog.com writer, Loretta Hunt, a "dumb bitch" among expletives, and termed the report "an absolutely [expletive] retarded story."
“In Hunt's story, she wrote that Zuffa, the company that owns and operates promotions for the UFC and WEC, notified some fighter representatives that they will no longer receive credentials to sit with their client’s backstage on fight night,” writes ESPN.com.
According to an April 3, 2009 ESPN.com follow up article titled, “White sorry for anti-gay slur,” the UFC President refused to back away from his criticisms of Sherdog.com reporter Loretta Hunt, according to the report:
“White did not apologize to Hunt, a longtime MMA reporter. In Hunt's story that infuriated White, she wrote that Zuffa, the company that owns and operates promotions for the UFC and WEC, notified some fighter representatives that they will no longer receive credentials to sit with their client’s backstage on fight night. White denied any changes.
‘I went on the attack and I ended up attacking someone I didn't mean to,’ White said. ‘I absolutely, positively meant to attack the reporter, Loretta Hunt from Sherdog. Absolutely.’
Hunt, in an e-mail to ESPN.com on Thursday night, wrote: "I stand by the story. It's accurate."
If you think the saga ends there, you would be wrong. In what I have found to be an all too convenient turn of events, a FanPost from an anonymous writer calling himself “bobthewriter” made its way to the front page of BloodyElbow.com titled, “Standing Behind Loretta Hunt.” According to the report:
“Okay, I finally read Loretta Hunt's story over at Sherdog.com, and here's my two cents, from a guy who has worked his entire adult life as a reporter and/or editor for daily newspapers:
If Sherdog.com is "standing behind" Loretta's article, that's a huge sign that Sherdog.com shouldn't be considered a legitimate news outlet, whether they report for ESPN.com or not.
Hunt's "story" wouldn't have lasted five minutes in an editorial meeting with anyone with a legitimate journalism background.
You want to report on a possible controversial tactic by a person, company or governmental agency? Then you'd better get someone on the record. You don't rely on anonymous sources. You get a source ON. THE. RECORD. You do it, or you don't have a story.”
Incidentally, according to a September 26, 2019 Twitter social media post from BleacherReport.com senior writer J.E. Snowden the, “UFC used to have employees post on message boards and in the comments of influential websites to sway public opinion. A lot of the anonymous wrestling discourse has the same energy. Which of the very active members of the IWC are, like, some middle management figure in Stamford?”
With “bobthewriter” coming down so hard on Loretta Hunt, Sherdog and ESPN.com, one can only speculate on his ultimate motives in attempting to undermine the veracity of Hunt’s report, though Snowden’s revelations are food for thought in the modern age of social media reporting where one is left to their own devices to extrapolate who is on the other end of some of these more entertaining messages.
According to a May 6, 2011 FightOpinion.com article titled, “Loretta Hunt: UFC has created a climate of fear that has killed real reporting,” author Zach Arnold did the Just Bleed God’s work in transcribing some of the finer points from a Sportstown Chicago interview with Hunt on the politics of mixed martial arts writing.
“I’m not just speaking up for myself but I’m speaking up for other people, you know, other smaller outlets and people that are just starting out in this business. I don’t want people to invest all this time in their lives into this sport as journalists, you know, only to be silenced and made to feel intimidated to not write what’s really going on,” Hunt told Sportstown Chicago. “I want the history of this sport to be documented truthfully, not what we’ve got going on right now where people are just kind of afraid to talk about things. It’s not what journalism is about. And it’s not like this in any other sport.”
As someone who has followed the sport of mixed martial arts before MMA was even a term, I’ve literally seen Sherdog.com evolve from the ground-up, including the days when Gross first arrived on the Sherdog Radio Network reminding listeners of his heel hook proficiency and perhaps the entirety of Loretta Hunt’s career for the website.
Having written about mixed martial arts off and on for approximately a decade myself, I can tell you I’ve encountered deafening silence from the mixed martial arts media community in attempting to get my foot in the door at many of the most respected outlets in combat sports today. And being in the same boat as Loretta Hunt in believing the true history of this sport needs to be documented and feeling quite unsatisfied with how the vast majority of mixed martial arts reporting is actually done, I’ve arrived at no other conclusion myself than having to agree with Hunt’s assessment that, “people are just kind of afraid to talk about things.”
In attempting to explain just how far things have escalated between the now former Sherdog.com writing staff and UFC President Dana White, Hunt told Sportstown Chicago that, “Well, I think Josh Gross was hired by ESPN.com. I’ve been hired by SI.com and others, The Los Angeles Times, and I do my books. I think our body of work speaks for itself and there’s reasons why these outlets have hired us, despite Dana White’s efforts to not get us hired and make sure that we kind of just float away in the sport and never come back. You know, for Dana to say that ESPN and SI needs to be careful about who they hire, you know, that’s… that’s an interesting remark to make.”
“When it comes to big MMA media sites writing controversial or heavy-hitting stories, there are plenty of politics involved in what gets published and what gets spiked,” writes FightOpinion.com author Zach Arnold who has no doubt encountered many of the same obstacles as many of us have in attempting to relay some of the most sensitive and controversial topics in combat sports to the reading audience over the years.
According to the FightOpinion.com report, Hunt would go on to tell Sportstown Chicago that, “Yeah! I’ve had people tell me! I’ve had people, you know, my peers tell me. I’ve had outlets say to me, you know, ‘we’re just trying to fly under the radar so Dana doesn’t get mad at us.’ Like, these are our major outlets and, you know, like when Jeff Wagenheim did the story for SI.com, he did a mailbag a couple of days later and when I talked to him about the original story, I said, “Jeff, you know, there are media that have told me that they’re afraid to write about this media ban. Like, you’re being brave to do this.’ And he was just like, oh, okay, like Jeff told me later, he said he was like, “okay, Loretta,’ you know. But when he wrote the story he said all these media people contacted him, thanking him for writing the story but then saying they wouldn’t dare write the story ourselves and he said, you know, ‘Loretta, now I believe you, I believe there is some kind of fear and intimidation going on in this sport.’”
Today, Josh Gross is a senior writer for TheAthletic.com and Loretta Hunt, though retired from mixed martial arts journalism for some years now unfortunately, is enjoying a surge in interest lately due to the rise in popularity of mixed martial arts following the UFC signing a revolutionary deal with ESPN to host the promotions sporting events. But the fallout from the old guard at Sherdog.com, which has since put its plight with Dana White and the UFC behind them, remains the 800-pound Gorilla in the room that stands as a stark reminder of what happens when mixed martial arts media begins to fly over the intended targets; heavy casualties will result with bodies hanging from the chain link fence to remind everyone else to be very careful where you trespass on the hallowed ground of truth.