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Josh Gross leaving Sherdog for SI.com

Normally I spend almost no time and attention towards covering the MMA media, because in the end, do the masses really care about my thoughts on other websites and other writers? You’re hear to read about fights and fighters, and I get that.

However, I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that Josh Gross is leaving Sherdog.com as its editor in order to accept a position with Sports Illustrated. In fact, I think today is his last day on “Beatdown” with T.J. DeSantis.

While I’ve been a fan of MMA and traditional martial arts for quite some time and have been a sports writer for over ten years, I did not start covering MMA until December of ’06. As such, I feel it necessary to give respect to the journalists in this field who were covering the sport even when there was no money in it. Not that there is much money in covering MMA now, but at least you can earn a living wage if you’re one of the chosen few.

So on behalf of 5 Oz. of Pain, I wanted to congratulate Gross on his new gig. I’ve never met the man, but I respect him and his contributions to the sport.

But the move is not without some controversy. In the April 28 print edition of the Wrestling Observer, Dave Meltzer raises the following point:

A very interesting situation in the MMA media arose when Josh Gross, formerly at Sherdog.com, left this week to take a job as the main writer for MMA for the Sports Illustrated web site. SI.com has been way behind in covering MMA, as CBS, NBC, FOX, and Yahoo! have gone into varying degrees. However, Dana White hates Gross. I’d describe the situation as similar to Vince McMahon and me in 1985, but there are major differences. The people on White’s bad side took it way too personal and I never did and really never cared… From my standpoint, the behavior of both in the situation was wrong. Point of all this is everyone is wondering with Gross with SI if White will now be cooperative with him. I don’t know the answer but I’m betting he won’t be. Whether that leads to a negative slant, I don’t know, because I can’t see SI caring about anything except UFC and maybe EliteXC because of Showtime and CBS…

Meltzer is right in that since word broke that Gross was going to SI, a lot of people have wondered whether he would begin to get credentialed by the UFC. Like Meltzer, I would also bet against him getting access but I’m hoping that’s not the case. However, White just doesn’t seem to be the forgiving type.

I don’t think not having access will hurt Gross’ ability to cover the UFC. It has always been my contention that the multiple angles you get when you watch an MMA event on television provides a much better perspective than what you see live. But if you really want to cover an event live, you don’t need free passes. A promotion can deny you credentials but they can’t prevent you from buying a ticket.

You do miss some access to fighters when you don’t get credentialed, but MMA is not like baseball, basketball, football, or hockey where you get access to the athletes in the locker room. Someone like Gross has plenty of contacts in the industry so if he wants to talk to someone, he can still get to someone even if the UFC isn’t helping him. And fighters are some of the most down-to-Earth athletes in the world and if you can’t catch up to them at the event, they are usually more than willing to talk if you run into them at the hotel.

So while I don’t think not having access to the UFC would hurt SI’s coverage, I do think it could hurt the UFC. As I’ve stated in the past, the UFC has some very rigid media policies and as a young company in a young sport, I still don’t think they understand the concept of balanced coverage. Not everyone is going to be 100 percent positive about their product all of the time and when someone is negative or gives coverage to another promotion, I think the UFC takes it personally. I don’t know if they realize that journalists are different than that of a public relations writer.

But by dealing in absolutes when it comes to certain members of the media, I do feel the UFC is hurting the long-term growth prospects of not only its own company, but also the sport. There are still many skeptics of MMA within the mainstream media and there are still many hurdles to climb when it comes to convincing people in key editorial positions that MMA is worth time and attention. Trying to be over-bearing when major media outlets try and cover you is not going to win you allies and not cooperating with a Time Warner-backed company such as SI isn’t going to help the sport grow.

As a writer who doesn’t get credentialed by the UFC, I am a little biased in this regard. However, you can’t tell me that possibly denying full access to a major media player like SI is a good business move.