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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Explained: The mixed martial arts push to Donald Trump in Florida

The ‘Fighters against Socialism’ movement saw UFC fighters come out and profess their support for Trump, claiming that a victory for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris would spell the end of their “freedom”.

Written by Shashank Nair , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: November 12, 2020 9:54:04 am
US Election 2020, US Election and Covid-19, How Covid impacted US election, US Election results, Indian ExpressUS President Donald Trump throws a face mask from the stage during a campaign rally, his first since being treated for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Orlando Sanford International Airport in Sanford, Florida, US, October 12, 2020. (Reuters Photo: Jonathan Ernst)

Donald Trump’s easy victory in Florida, historically a battleground state, came after the Republican Party successfully co-opted the Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American vote, which are in significant numbers around Miami.

Around 55 per cent of Florida’s Cuban-American vote went to Trump, according to NBC news exit poll figures. Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, has been Trump’s primary residence, and he has made numerous trips to the state in the course of his presidency.

An important vehicle of the Trump campaign’s successful outreach to Latino voters (even though it seemed likely on Friday that the President will fail to win re-election), has been Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the world’s largest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion organisation, some of whose biggest stars are Latin American, and whose president, Dana White, threw the full weight of his giant cagefighting empire behind Trump.

The Trump campaign turned to some of UFC’s fighters to create a mini-movement called ‘Fighters against Socialism’.

What is this ‘Fighters against Socialism’ movement?

The UFC has always had a good relationship with the Trump family, and has benefitted from it. And Trump has used the UFC’s Latin-American demographic of fighters to campaign for him.

The ‘Fighters against Socialism’ movement saw UFC fighters come out and profess their support for Trump, claiming that a victory for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris would spell the end of their “freedom”.

Biden was falsely portrayed as a “socialist” belonging to or under the influence of the “radical” far left of the Democratic Party — a portrayal that often conjures up images that Cubans and Venezuelans who fled authoritarian socialist or communist regimes to the United States, find frightening.

How involved were the UFC fighters in Trump’s campaign?

The poster boy for ‘Fighters against socialism’ was Jorge Masvidal, whose Cuban father escaped the regime of Fidel Castro on a self-made raft. Masvidal — who made UFC history in 2019 by knocking out Olympian Ben Askren within five seconds — became the face of Cuban-Americans who believed that the Democrats winning Florida would mean a return to the socialist ways of Cuba that had forced his father to look for a new life in the USA.

“The Democrats just think they are entitled to the Latino vote. They think we just have to hand it over to them,” Masvidal said at one of Trump’s rallies. “That’s right. We sure as hell don’t. They’ve got to show us what they can do for us. We aren’t going to buy the same wolf tickets and false promises that destroyed great countries like Venezuela and Cuba. It’s not going to happen.” 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

Masvidal was a part of the ‘Fighters against Socialism’ bus tour that went to Tampa, Orlando, Coconut Creek, and Miami and spoke at each event.

The Trump campaign then went to the American Top Team Gym in Miami, a house for some of the UFC’s best fighters — many of whom took pictures with Trump and vowed to support him during the campaign.

Fighters like Henry Cejudo also came out in support of Trump. Cejudo, whose parents were immigrants from Mexico, is an Olympic gold medallist (London 2012, wrestling) and has been inducted into the wrestling Hall of Fame.

UFC fighters Colby Covington and Justin Gaethje have also actively been a part of Trump campaigns.

Is the UFC as a whole politically active?

UFC president White and Trump have been friends for a long time. Dana White spoke at the Republican National Convention.

When the novel coronavirus was beginning to shut down businesses in America, Trump looked to the UFC and other sports to start once again in a bid to show that the US economy was ready for business.

When UFC 249, the first sporting event to happen during the pandemic, was taking place, Trump appeared in an ESPN broadcast, congratulating White and the UFC on successfully holding the event.

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The UFC’s support for Trump was further highlighted towards the last days of the campaign when White specifically asked people to vote “in person”, a message that Republicans were making to their voters and differed from the Democrats’ message of voting through mail-in ballots.

In another local political race, former UFC light heavyweight champion, Tito Ortiz won a seat on the city council of Huntington Beach, California. Ortiz, 45, has been a longtime supporter of Donald Trump since making an appearance on the ‘The Celebrity Apprentice’ in 2007. “Good for him,” White congratulated Ortiz on his election.

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