UFC CEO Dana White has announced that the UFC will no longer ban athletes from donning their flags during fight nights. White made the announcement as part of the UFC Vegas 80 post-fight presser on October 7.
White unwittingly suggested that fan outrage was the reason flags were banned in the first place, “The no flag thing drove me crazy, I was like, ‘Yeah f*** that. We’re bringing flags back,” he remarked. “…Everybody’s too soft, everybody’s too sensitive about everything. …If any flags are hurting your feelings, too f****** bad.”
When asked why the UFC had banned flags from their events back in 2022, White remarked “You guys know why… Let’s not even play that f****** game.” It would seem that White and the UFC would keep their reasoning close to their chest.
The leading theory on the ban is the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war which coincided with the UFC’s decision to ban the flags. The promotion likely didn’t want its fighters to embroil their product into international conflicts. As well as this, there were controversies sparked by fighters like Edmen Shahbazyan, who walked out with an Armenian Separatist flag, sparking some major online backlash.
“The Golden Child” stood in the octagon with an Artsakh flag as his backdrop, and a successful fundraiser was raised to hold the UFC accountable. As a result, a UFC employee was fired, and Shahbazyan’s head trainer Edmond Tarverdyan was fined.
Well flags are back now, and the hiatus of fighter representation was more than likely a policy change on the UFC’s behalf. Athletes are allowed to use flags of internationally recognized states, so the unbanning is possibly a shift in gear in terms of the UFC enforcing the policy – they’ll be dishing out fines in other words.
The unbanning also comes in light of a few incidents concerning fighter’s ‘freedom of speech’: Two fighters at UFC Sydney called the crowd “f****ts” on Sept 14; Noche UFC, despite being a celebration of Mexican independence, was stifled by fighters not being able to represent their flag; Bryce “Thug Nasty” Mitchell reveled with his Bible during his introduction at UFC Fight Night 228 , and called others to prayer in celebration of his victory.
White’s response to a lot of these incidents was a resounding ‘They can do whatever they want, we won’t stop them.’ “There’s no muzzles here,” White remarked.
The unbanning of flags is a step in the right direction for UFC fighter representation. So lets hope the change is a shift in the UFC product to allow fighters to express themselves appropriately without fear of corporate repercussion.
For more mixed martial articles, be sure to bookmark this website, and follow The Fight Fanatic on Instagram!
Mathew is a UK-based combat sports journalist. He currently works for MMA Knockout, part of the Sports Illustrated FanNation network. The Fight Fanatic is Mathew’s one-man operation. His past bylines include Heavy on UFC, Sportskeeda, and MMA UK.
Contact Mathew via Twitter or through [email protected]