Tito Ortiz, Dana White, Colby Covington
Andrea Austria // Media Matters

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UFC figures have found a home for their bigotry and conspiracy theories in right-wing media

Right-wing media have amplified conspiracy theories and bigotry from Ultimate Fighting Championship figures including UFC President Dana White and a number of high-profile fighters. 

In doing so, these media platforms have mirrored former President Donald Trump's efforts to use the prizefighting league to boost his 2024 campaign. They’ve also provided a megaphone for White and his current and former fighters — some of whom have expressed support for QAnon and claimed the U.S. government orchestrates mass shootings — to espouse racism, anti-LGBTQ bigotry, false claims of election fraud, and a claim that Pfizer-sponsored athletes are “taking handouts from the devil.” 

  • UFC fighters have delved into right-wing politics and fringe conspiracy theories like QAnon, finding allies in conservative media

    • An MMA journalist noted that a number of UFC fighters have repeatedly used their public platforms to court conservative fans and endorse extreme right-wing conspiracy theories, including QAnon. MMA journalist Karim Zidan has reported that dozens of MMA figures have embraced fringe beliefs like QAnon, COVID-19 conspiracy theories, mass shooting denialism, and even 9/11 trutherism. He has written: “MMA's embrace of outsider sports fans and right-wing politicians has helped create a wave of athletes activating around extremist causes and conspiracies.” [Bloody Elbow, 9/15/20; Global Sport Matters, 10/20/22]
    • Former President Donald Trump employed endorsements from UFC fighters in the 2020 election and now sees the organization as a major component of his 2024 campaign, as his team hopes to target “young male audiences with little interest in politics.” During the 2020 election cycle, a number of fighters endorsed Trump and joined campaign events like the Trump Jr.-led “Fighters Against Socialism” bus tour; the former president’s 2024 campaign is now doubling down on this strategy, which Trump aides say “puts him in front of potential voters who may not closely follow politics or engage with traditional news sources.” [Politico, 10/29/20; The Guardian, 8/5/23; The Associated Press, 12/15/23]
    • Right-wing media have previously defended bigoted commentary from UFC fighters, even backing middleweight Sean Strickland after he described being transgender as “a mental fucking illness” and suggested he would have “failed as a man” if he reared a gay son. A number of right-wing figures, including podcaster Steve Bannon and white nationalist Nick Fuentes, also championed UFC star Conor McGregor after his anti-immigrant commentary came under investigation by Irish authorities last year; Fuentes notably told McGregor to “rise up” because “it’s either going to be the Irish or it’s going to be the blacks. Only one side is going to come out of this alive.” [Media Matters, 11/30/23, 1/31/24; Sports Politika, 11/30/23]  
    • Outside of direct interviews with these fighters and figures, some right-wing media have attempted to harness what Bannon’s War Room called “one of the last patriotic sports left” for political gain. Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, for example, has advocated for the Republican Party to embrace “the alpha male culture of Joe Rogan, Dana White, and the UFC” in order to “win over millions of other voters,” even suggesting he would contact White in an effort to “get voter registration and ballot chasing at every one of these UFC fights.” [Bloody Elbow, 4/14/21; Real America’s Voice, The Charlie Kirk Show, 7/10/23, 6/3/24]
  • Here are some examples of how right-wing media have platformed UFC figures, elevating their bigotry and conspiracy theories:

  • Dana White

    • UFC President Dana White is a Trump ally and donor who has repeatedly used the organization to benefit the former president’s political ambitions. Besides directly endorsing Trump at the 2020 Republican National Convention, Karim Zidan reported in September 2020 that “White, along with a select group of UFC fighter[s],” had “spent the last few months advocating for the incumbent president in an attempt to ensure his re-election. From campaign rallies and bus tours, to TV appearances and ad spots, the UFC went to great lengths to campaign for Trump.” [The Guardian, 8/23/20; Bloody Elbow, 11/11/20; The New York Times, 5/12/20]
    • In coordination with Rumble, the right-wing streaming site which exclusively hosts White’s “Power Slap” show, the UFC has connected right-wing content creators with Trump at its events. These include Andrew Tate acolytes Sneako and Adin Ross, as well as Rumble creators JiDion and DJ Akademiks. [Media Matters, 4/11/23, 4/12/23, 4/20/23]
    • Some right-wing media figures praised White for “keeping the UFC apolitical” after he refused to punish fighters for public displays of bigotry. Former Daily Wire host Candace Owens called White’s defense of fighter Colby Covington, who had called his Black opponent advocating for the Black Lives Matter movement “a communist, a Marxist, [someone] standing up for lifelong criminals,” a “breath of fresh air.” White also declined to reprimand Sean Strickland after his anti-LGBTQ rant, arguing the fighter was “baited,” leading OutKick founder Clay Travis to say that he wished “every CEO in America adopted the position Dana White took there.” [The Daily Wire, Candace, 4/25/21; ESPN, 9/24/20; Media Matters, 1/31/24]
    • On an episode of Gutfeld!, White used a six-year-old story about the U.S. women’s national soccer team losing a friendly scrimmage to a boys soccer team as evidence that “biological males need to be as far away from women’s sports as possible.” [Sports Illustrated, 11/10/23; Fox News, Gutfeld!, 11/10/23]
  • Colby Covington

    • UFC fighter and Trump ally Colby Covington has used racist rhetoric on multiple occasions. Covington, an outspoken supporter of Trump who “routinely wears a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat,” attributed his rise in the organization to a 2017 post-fight speech in which he referred to the Brazilian crowd as “filthy animals” and described the country as “a dump.” Besides his racist “smoke signals” comment aimed at a Nigerian opponent, Covington also called Black Lives Matter protesters “complete terrorists” and “criminals,” and that same night, “received a congratulatory call” from Trump on his victory. [Politico, 11/2/20; MMAJunkie, 12/9/19; The Washington Post, 9/24/20
    • Covington claimed Democrats “made a fake pandemic so they could commit fraud” during the 2020 election. Speaking on Fox News’ Jesse Watters Primetime, Covington also alleged that Democrats “opened up our borders, wide open, so illegal immigrants can come in and they can use those to vote for Biden.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 12/20/23]
    • Covington told former Fox host Tucker Carlson that NFL player Travis Kelce was “paid and bought for by Satan himself” and “sold his soul to the devil” to sponsor Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. Covington made similar comments on Newsmax, accusing Pfizer-sponsored athletes of “taking handouts from the devil. Literally, like the devil.” [Twitter/X, Tucker on X, 12/27/23; Newsmax, Eric Bolling: The Balance, 12/26/23]
    • On The Ingraham Angle, Covington attacked USA Boxing for its trans-inclusive policies, saying that “biological men shouldn’t be allowed to compete in women’s sports” because “when they dig up their bones in 200 years, their bones won't leave pronouns.” Covington has also appeared on Ingraham’s show for an interview on a potential fight between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, the latter of whom he said brings “beta soy-boy energy.” [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 1/3/24, 6/22/23]
    • In an interview with Trump ally and right-wing radio host Roger Stone, Covington called Trump’s hush money trial “election interference” and spread a baseless conspiracy theory that “42 out of 50 states are allowing illegal aliens to vote in our election.” Covington said: “We need to get Trump back in office. I know the deck’s stacked against us, you know, all these different, you know, indictments, you know, to slow his campaign, all these illegals flowing through our border that, you know, Trump kept so secure before. … We all know now they’re passing that vote that 42 out of the 50 states are allowing, you know, illegal aliens to vote in our election.” [Rumble, The Stone Zone, 4/16/24; Media Matters, 3/4/24]
  • Tito Ortiz

    • Retired UFC champion Tito Ortiz pushed violence in a video seemingly discussing QAnon, calling to “hang all these motherfuckers” and “line them all up just and execute all of them.” In a recording of an apparent livestream in which he seemed to be discussing QAnon, Ortiz said, “Let’s hang all these motherfuckers. That’s what I’m talking about. I think we should line them up and just execute all of them. That or we should torture them.” Ortiz continued, “2021, all this shit’s gonna be exposed. So … all those scumbags, they’re all gonna hang. I can’t wait.” [YouTube, 7/27/23
    • Ortiz was elected to the city council in Huntington Beach, California — and even served as mayor pro tempore — as an avowed supporter of the QAnon and great reset conspiracy theories. Ortiz publicly promoted QAnon and adjacent conspiracy theories as a candidate for office, including warning of “a ‘globalist’ conspiracy to diminish American freedoms” and calling COVID-19 a form of “population control,” and even “used his platform to sell apparel marked with QAnon slogans such as WWG1WGA (Where we go one we go all).” [Sports Illustrated, 3/4/22; The Guardian, 12/17/20; Right Wing Watch, 10/26/20]
    • In an appearance on Fox Business, Ortiz repeated a common anti-migrant claim that there is an  “invasion coming over” the southern border. Ortiz warned that “it’s no longer just the immigrants coming over. We have a full-blown invasion coming over,” arguing that migrants are largely “in a military-age group,” calling them “fighting men that are coming across the border, and we don’t know who they are.” [Fox Business, Mornings with Maria Bartiromo, 3/27/24]
    • On Newsmax, Ortiz advertised Freedom Fight Night, a conservative-themed MMA event which served as a fundraiser for Republican Kari Lake’s failed 2022 gubernatorial campaign. According to Freedom Fight Night’s website, the event was intended to counter “America’s freedom’s being challenged and slipping away.” [Newsmax, National Report, 9/23/22; Freedom Fight Night, accessed 5/20/24]
    • Ortiz later returned to Newsmax to endorse a measure banning flying the LGBTQ pride flag on Huntington Beach city property, claiming the “normalcy” of pride was “weakening the country.” Ortiz stated: “They’re indoctrinating my kids in the school and putting stuff like this of the LGBTQ, the rainbow flag, in the schools and making it OK, making a normalcy for that. And when you do that, you’re weakening a country.” [Newsmax, National Report, 3/7/24]
  • Bryce Mitchell

    • UFC fighter Bryce Mitchell is a flat-earther who has claimed that the U.S. government stages mass shootings as a ploy to seize guns. Mitchell, who argues that “the Earth is flat” and “gravity ain’t real,” once alleged that the government “set up mass shootings and then blame the AR-15s,” adding, “I would die before I hand these guns over to my government.” [Bloody Elbow, 10/19/22; Instagram, 2/20/24; Media Matters, 2/21/22]
    • Mitchell claimed COVID-19 “was made by the government” in a plot to “try and take our guns,” alleging “they infected the people on purpose to cause some type of chaos.” [MMAJunkie, 3/25/20]
    • Mitchell has said that “we’re going to have to home-school all our kids or they’re all going to end up turning gay.” In a video posted to Instagram, Mitchell encouraged his followers not to vaccinate their children “because I think it’s bad for their health. It could potentially kill them, give them some type of — make them autistic.” He said he would home-school his son because “I don’t want him to be a communist. I don’t want him to worship Satan. I don’t want him to be gay.” [NBC News, 5/23/24]
    • In 2022, former Fox host Tucker Carlson interviewed Mitchell and praised him for his “honest” political commentary about Ukraine, failing to mention that he has spread a conspiracy theory about mass shootings. [The Washington Post, 3/9/22; Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 3/8/22]
    • Right-wing commentator Glenn Greenwald also praised Mitchell, commenting that it's often “amazing what you hear when you listen to people who don't pay constant attention to politics for a living and therefore don't have their basic values corrupted and perceptions warped by constant propaganda.” [Twitter/X, 3/5/22]
    • The Daily Caller’s Andrew Powell praised Mitchell for going “on an epic tirade about how evolution is ‘bullsh*t,’ because it is.” Mitchell had called the theory of evolution by natural selection “a lie of Satan,” leading Powell to say that “Bryce Mitchell gets it, man. … Evolution is dumb.” [The Daily Caller, 9/22/23, 12/16/23]
  • Tim Kennedy

    • Retired UFC fighter Tim Kennedy, who frequently appears on Fox News, was an “associate” of imprisoned Proud Boys organizer Joe Biggs. According to Reuters, “Kennedy’s Twitter account shows that he has been an associate of Joe Biggs, a leading organizer of the right-wing Proud Boys group who is being prosecuted for his role in the U.S. Capitol riots. … In Twitter posts, Kennedy discussed going on motorcycle rides with Biggs; named Biggs as his Interior Secretary in an imaginary presidential cabinet; and posted screenshots of their text-message conversation about an anticipated rally by antifa, the loosely organized left-wing anti-fascism movement.” [Fox News, accessed 6/10/24; Reuters, 5/6/22
    • Kennedy partnered with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to sell supplements and espoused extreme Islamophobia on Jones' Infowars show, saying that Muslims “will kill you, they will kill your kids, they’ll behead you … because you are against what they stand for. That’s Islam.” Kennedy made this claim while discussing the 2015 San Bernardino shooting on The Alex Jones Show. Jones said the “weirdo leftists want to control all culture and they’re allied with it. This is mental illness. I mean, this is crazy town. Kennedy replied: “It’s lethal. … They’re actually seemingly enabling these people to kill us. It’s past crazy. It’s intentional” [Infowars, The Alex Jones Show, 6/15/16, 6/15/16
    • In another Infowars appearance, Kennedy said of Islam, “we can’t call it a religion anymore,” claiming Muslims want to “change, at a fundamental level, a way of life and destroy any form of liberty.” Kennedy continued: “The idea of tolerance, that we can just be more accepting … that is completely moronic and idiotic.” [Infowars, The Alex Jones Show, 3/23/16]
    • On a 2022 episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, Kennedy “appeared to link police inaction during the Uvalde shootings with the ‘defund the police’ campaign, calling it a ‘byproduct of what society’s forced the police to become.’” Kennedy told Rogan that “we’ve been emasculating the law enforcement for a while” and speculated that “Uvalde is a great example of not being properly trained, with broken systems, that are not ready to do the right thing.” [The Independent, 6/21/22]
    • Kennedy repeated this sentiment on Fox & Friends, claiming that “we have been emasculating our police officers” and describing anti-chokehold laws as “taking away all the protection” that police have. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 7/28/22
    • On another episode of Fox & Friends, Kennedy advertised a mentorship program he founded as an alternative to modern public education, suggesting that children in schools are “brainwashed” like the Hitler Youth were. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/26/23]
  • Jorge Masvidal

    • Retired UFC fighter and Trump ally Jorge Masvidal reportedly has a history of pushing conspiracy theories, including about QAnon. According to Global Sport Matters, Masvidal “posted a screenshot of a fake Kurt Cobain quote claiming to predict Trump’s ascendancy and captioning it with the hashtag #qanon. While he later claimed not to be affiliated with the conspiracy movement, he continued to share other unfounded (and QAnon-supported) conspiracy theories about the coronavirus and the 2020 presidential election.” [Global Sports Matters, 10/20/22]
    • After Trump was indicted in his Manhattan criminal hush money trial, Masvidal released a statement calling the case “a play right out of the Communist playbook.” The former welterweight fighter also proclaimed that “we can’t let the left take over.” [Twitter/X, 3/30/23]
    • On Jesse Watters Primetime, Masvidal attacked then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) warning to Olympic athletes visiting China: “They said this leads to what Cuba is now, what Venezuela is now, it leads to communism, you know, and we have to stop it as soon as we get a chance.” After Pelosi told athletes not to “risk incurring the anger of the Chinese government because they are ruthless,” Masvidal suggested the United States should not send athletes at all and said that the decision “leads to communism.” Masvidal also described America as a “twilight zone” because of “pandemic mandates,” saying, “You can be out on the street, but you have to be robbing and stealing.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 2/4/22]
    • Outside of interviews, Masvidal’s involvement in culture wars and politics has repeatedly been covered by right-wing media. Masvidal has drawn right-wing media attention over the years as he attacked the “woke mob,” called former NFL player Colin Kaepernick a “coward,” and — with Trump as witness — led a crowd in a “Let’s Go Brandon” chant after losing his final UFC fight. [Fox News, 7/11/20; The Daily Caller, 7/18/21; New York Post, 4/9/23; OutKick, 4/9/23]
  • Frank Mir

    • Retired UFC champion Frank Mir has been outspoken in opposition to trans women participating in women’s sports. In an op-ed for USA Today, Mir and co-author Terry Schilling of the American Principles Project claimed the 2021 Equality Act, which seeks to prohibit “discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in areas including public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system,” would leave “the entirety of women’s athletics … deeply imperiled.” [USA Today, 2/25/21; Congress.gov, accessed 6/6/24]
    • Mir appeared on Newsmax to suggest that those who “dare speak out against transgender or any of the groups” are attacked by “cancel culture.” Mir also praised Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) for having “taken a leadership role in this.” [Newsmax, American Agenda, 6/3/21
    • On Lara Trump’s The Right View, Mir lamented that we are “allowing transgender athletes, former males, to compete about — with women.” Mir continued, “There is no way that you guys can think that you want to be that open-minded that a person who’s not a woman gets to now compete against women.” [Right Side Broadcasting Network, The Right View, 1/20/22]
    • In an interview with former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker broadcast live from the Conservative Political Action Conference, Mir claimed trans athletes are part of an “agenda” pushed by the left. Mir said, “I don’t think I should have to worry about my daughter wrestling against a male that now feels like they’re a female,” warning that this alleged “agenda by the left … is extremely dangerous and it corrupts and breaks down all kinds of areas that I think that leads to a very negative outcome.” [Rumble, Liberty & Justice with Matt Whitaker, 3/4/22]
    • Mir was involved with Freedom Fight Night alongside Ortiz and advertised it on Fox & Friends, saying conservatives need to “win this culture war” among American youth. Mir warned that “the left has done a good job of owning Hollywood, entertainment, all the big sports, higher learning. And so our youth, that’s who is capturing their minds and imagination.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/18/22