Typically when it comes to discussing a fighter’s “background” it has to do with the disciplines an individual has trained in or the level of past success achieved. Likewise, when the word “character” is thrown around in MMA it has to do with a competitor’s zany behavior in the ring or when promoting match-ups rather than the quality of one’s moral fiber.
Unfortunately those two words had a completely different meaning this past weekend at Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey when the organization inexplicably booked Brandon Saling for action on the undercard against Roger Bowling. An Ohio native meant to draw some cheap approval from fans in Columbus, Saling’s “background” and “character” were immediately brought into question based on a pair of tattoos associated with the Neo-Nazi movement with things taking a turn for the worse when it was also discovered he is listed as a “high risk” sex offender in the State based on a 2004 conviction for sex with a girl under the age of 13.
Saling’s presence on the card was not indicative of a common problem in the sport by any means. However, to allow him to represent their brand, let alone in a televised fight, is unfathomable and can only be explained as gross incompetence on the part of Strikeforce. A company with millions of dollars in resources backed by those with tens if not hundreds of millions could not do in two weeks what it took random fans on Twitter to do in two minutes.
Furthermore, instead of showing any level of accountability for the mistake, CEO Scott Coker stated the Ohio Athletic Commission would be investigating the situation. There was no apology to the fans or groups likely to be offended by Saling being put on a platform as large as Strikeforce’s, nor any statement relating to an internal inquiry to figure out exactly how Saling’s multiple infractions slipped by the matchmaking team. 24 hours have since passed and nothing has changed on that front even though the facts surrounding Saling’s past are well-documented.
Until the matter is addressed in a serious manner I will have lost all faith in Strikeforce as a professional institution. They are not a regional organization – they’re supposed to be one of the premier MMA companies in the world. If I could chalk it up as a simple oversight I would gladly do so but even without a check for criminal history his tattoos were clearly visible and easily identifiable in nature, and I will not accept the idea it’s easier to get a job fighting for Strikeforce than it is to get a job at McDonalds. Whether it means mandatory background checks for their employees or actual familiarity with the people they’re bringing on board, Saling’s signing should serve as a wake-up call for all involved. Strikeforce may have slightly dodged the bullet because he lost but it still winged them, especially since the commentary team was talking up Saling’s ability throughout the fight with Pat Miletich even saying he’d like to train with him sometime to help develop his raw skills.
Should Saling be prevented from ever fighting again because of a mistake he made seven years ago when he was still a teenager or because he supports a cause associated with racism? Absolutely not. He simply has no place on the roster of an organization like Strikeforce. Not only do they have too much to lose but the sport of MMA does as well based on the scope of their impact and size of their profile.
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PHOTO CREDIT – STRIKEFORCE