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How the UFC became the sports arm of Donald Trump's Maga regime

On a stage set to resemble a mixed martial arts cage at the Tampa Convention Center, Jorge Masvidal spoke to a crowd of several hundred people about the “horrors” of communism and socialism.

The UFC star, dressed in a black Gucci tracksuit, succinctly explained that the United States is the “greatest country in the fucking world”, which is why he had chosen to throw his weight behind Donald Trump’s re-election campaign. As the son of a Cuban immigrant who escaped Cuba on a tire to seek a better life in the US, Masvidal expressed profound concern over the current political climate, which he believes is under attack from radical forces.

“Obviously I am not a politician,” Masvidal told the crowd in attendance. “I may not be schooled in a lot of these political issues like some of you, but I do know Latinos. Latinos are not lazy people looking for a handout. Latinos don’t want free stuff, we want freedom.”

The rally was the first in a four-part ‘Fighters Against Socialism’ bus tour hosted by Donald Trump Jr and the Trump re-election campaign. The bus tour kicked off in Tampa on 11 October, before making its way across the state of Florida with events in Orlando, Coconut Creek and Miami. The Coconut Creek event took place at the renowned American Top Team MMA gym, where dozens of fighters gathered alongside the raucous crowd to listen to speeches from Masvidal and Trump Jr, while the final stop in Miami also featured Florida senator Marco Rubio.

Though this was not the first time that Masvidal had campaigned for Trump – he shared a stage with the sitting president during a Latinos for Trump event in September – it was the first time that the fighter had been a central figure on the campaign trail. In the weeks following Masvidal’s speeches, the Trump campaign released paid ads on YouTube and elsewhere that use some of the fighter’s quotes to garner support from the Latin community.

The Trump campaign’s decision to embrace Masvidal as significant figure in its quest to secure votes from Latinos – votes that usually went to Democratic candidates – emphasizes the pivotal role that the UFC, along with a select group of fighters, have played in Trump’s re-election campaign.

Over the past few months, the UFC has gone to great lengths to campaign for Trump. UFC president Dana White, a loyal friend to the president dating back to 2001, spoke at the 2020 Republican National Convention – his second time speaking at the event – as well as at several rallies along the campaign trail. During his bombastic appearances, White expressed many of the Trump campaign’s talking points.

“President Trump built the greatest economy in our nation’s history and created opportunities for all Americans like no one before him,” White said during a pre-taped speech in August. “Financial markets hit all time highs; unemployment hit all-time lows, and we weren’t facing the lawless destruction that now is occurring in a few of our great cities.”

The UFC president’s efforts did not go unnoticed. During Trump’s Great American Comeback rally in Henderson, Nevada, the US president paid homage to White – “He is an incredible guy!” – and a handful of the UFC fighters in attendance, even going so far as to promote some of their upcoming fights. “These are not people you want to pick a fight with because under those beautiful suits, there’s a lot of muscle, a lot of power, a lot of genius for fighting, and for other things,” Trump added.

Shortly thereafter, Trump was photographed with his UFC guests – the aforementioned White, former flyweight champ Henry Cejudo, Colby Covington, manager Ali Abdelaziz, and Justin Gaethje – and even recorded a backstage video for Covington’s social media where he praised the fighter as a “winner”.

These same fighters, along with boxing legend Roy Jones Jr, were later special guests at a Trump reception hosted by Keystone Corp. Tickets went for $2800 per person.

Beyond the UFC’s direct role in Trump’s campaign events, the promotion has also been involved in some of the Trump administration’s key political strategies, including the “Opening Up American Again” plan in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. At the time, one of Trump’s main pursuits in his plan to re-open the US economy was the return of sports. He enlisted sports executives like NBA commissioner Adam Silver, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, the WWE’s Vince McMahon, and, of course, the UFC’s Dana White.

When the UFC finally held UFC 249 – its first pay-per-view event in the wake of the pandemic – it came as no surprise when Trump appeared on the ESPN broadcast and congratulated the UFC’s efforts to get back to business. “We need sports. We want our sports back,” Trump said in the pre-taped clip.

White also got a call from Trump during the broadcast, where he reportedly congratulated the UFC president for being the first major sports league to get back to hosting events. “I knew you were the guy,” he said. “I knew you’d get it done.”

There are countless other examples of the UFC and several of its most recognizable fighters taking part in Trump campaign events. Covington – whom the Guardian previously labeled as the athletic embodiment of Trump’s politics – took part in a “MAGA boat parade” in Miami alongside Eric Trump while former UFC fighter and MMA pioneer Tito Ortiz is campaigning for a seat on the Huntington Beach City Council using the slogan “Make Huntington Beach Safe Again”, a riff on Trump’s MAGA slogan. Former UFC champion Henry Cejudo spoke at a Latinos for Trump event in September, where he concluded his speech by saying “I love Trump”.

Even White could not resist doing one final ad spot for Trump in the final days ahead of the election, where he specifically encouraged Americans to “vote in person”.

No other American sports league has invested as much time and effort as the UFC has in promoting Trump during the election. The alarming trend of UFC fighters and officials campaigning for the incumbent president – including spreading propaganda and disinformation – emphasizes how the promotion has embraced its role as the sports arm of Trump’s political ideology.

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