Junie Browning is a bona fide attraction.
The problem is that the former Ultimate Fighter lightning rod is an attraction for all the wrong reasons, first gaining an audience as the alcohol-fueled, foul-mouthed kid from Kentucky who talked a big game but failed to deliver during Season 7 of the Spike TV series.
A different audience took notice when Browning was involved in an October altercation at a Las Vegas hospital, where the fighter known as “The Lunatik” was admitted after allegedly taking too many anti-anxiety pills. The night ended with charges being pressed and a warrant being issued for Browning’s arrest.
While the news of Browning’s hospital incident caught the eyes of many within the media and MMA community alike, not enough questions have been asked ab out why the former UFC lightweight fighter is stepping back into the cage as the main attraction at an MMA Big Show event tonight.
The biggest question of all is when does the health and well-being of a fighter become more important than the organization’s bottom line?
When Brent Brookhouse of Bloody Elbow posed questions of a similar nature to MMA Big Show owner Jason Arnold, the man who booked Browning just a couple of days after the hospital incident responded thusly:
“I’m a fight promoter. If Junie did anything illegal, then a judge will do their job and place judgement but it’s not my job or anyone else.
“As far as me snagging Junie as an attention grab…of course there is value in media attention as a fight promoter, but this certainly isn’t what I had expected to come out of it. So many focus on the negative side of Junie. Fact is, Scott Cornwell as a very talented up and comer that Junie needs to be concerned about and both men are training hard for this fight. This is whatJunie needs. A goal set and the desire to achieve it to keep his head focused and clear. Far too many people would rather stand under a man on a ledge and tell him to jump than offer him a hand and a way to rebuild himself.”
Ignoring the obvious irony of a man who will surely see increased ticket sales and revenue from Browning’s appearance on this card waxing philosophical about what Junie needs, the fact that a kid with obvious issues is stepping into the cage to fight should be setting off far more alarms than it has so far.
If Dana White had put Quinton “Rampage” Jackson back into the main event of a UFC card less than two months removed from his dangerous vehicular voyage after losing to Forrest Griffin, the uproar and outrage would have been deafening.
Yet few have so much as batted an eye at this event outside of the spotlight of the sport and that doesn’t sit well with me.
While Junie Browning is a fighter, he is a human being first and foremost, and one who has very recently shown signs of having some serious issues that need to be dealt with.
Though he has flippantly responded to questions about the event in interviews, allegedly swallowing a handful of Klonopin and threatening to kill hospital staff and “rape [their] family” is something far more dangerous than the action of a kid who is simply dealing with issues of immaturity.
I’m not a doctor or a psychologist. What I am is a fan of Mixed Martial Arts that sees what looks like a potentially dangerous situation shaping up who can’t understand why more isn’t being done to prevent it from happening?
Browning’s trainer Shawn Tompkins said after the incident that he and his wife would take Junie into their home, and the kid from Kentucky who Jake Rossen from Sherdog.com referred to as a “misanthrope with all the charm of a mutating virus” in branding him their #3 Turkey of the Year earlier this week has repeatedly said the Las Vegas-based trainer has always treated him like a son. Personally, if my son had just allegedly downed between 16 and 20 anti-anxiety meds and became violent and threatening with a bunch of hospital workers who were trying to help him, the last place I would be sending him two months after the fact is into a cage.
While a great deal of the duty of care in this situation certainly falls on the shoulders of Browning, his management and training team, some of that onus also falls on both Jason Arnold of MMA Big Show and us as fans.
Turning a profit and gaining exposure is the goal of every small promotion, but it shouldn’t come on the back of a fighter who is more freak show than fundamentally sound, both inside and outside of the ring. There are going to be a number of people turning up to this event who aren’t there to see Junie Browning’s skills in the cage; they’re coming to see the crazy kid from The Ultimate Fighter who went bonkers at the beginning of October. Anyone who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves.
As fans and media members, we certainly should have been on this story with greater force, doing what we could to bring the situation more attention; not to capitalize on the traffic that comes from controversial figures like Browning as Arnold accused Brookhouse of attempting, but to further raise the questions of whether organizations should be doing what is right for their bottom line or what is best for the fighter.
But where do we draw the line?
Sadly, the fact that we’re even asking that question is answer enough.