Dana White: Love him or hate him
Interview by Anthony Springer Jr
Photo by Chris Cozzone
Seven years ago, the Ultimate Fighting Championship was nearly dead in the water.
There was no Ultimate Fighter reality show, no sell out shows or millions of pay-per-view buys. For many aggressive, yet disciplined youth, the idea of fighting professionally was limited to professional boxing, the sports entertainment industry that is professional wrestling, or traveling overseas for combat in Japan’s Pride FC.
In 2008, domestic and foreign fighters alike who can cut it inside the Octagon have a home with the UFC, thanks to one man: Dana White.
Love him, hate him, or simply don’t give a damn one way or the other, Dana White commands your respect. The brazen talking (this writer swears Mr. White’s favorite word is “fucking”), 38-year-old UFC president—with the help of Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta—transformed mixed martial arts in America from “human cock fighting” ( © John McCain) to a multi-million dollar a year business.
Speaking with White, who can talk about the business of MMA for hours, it comes as a total shock that the man credited for the sport’s turnaround in the States didn’t initially like the sport at first.
“I watched the first event they had, but I really didn’t like the UFC," he says. "I was a huge boxing guy.”
To a hardcore MMA fan, not being entertained by the athletic prowess of Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock is sacrilege. A chance meeting with jiu-jitsu instructor John Lewis allowed White to see Octagon combat in a new light.
“Once I learned jiu-jitsu, it was like taking the fucking blue pill in The Matrix,” he explains enthusiastically. “It opened my eyes to a whole new world. It wasn’t until I took jiu-jitsu that I fell in love with MMA.”
Falling in love is an understatement, but then again, love makes men do outrageous things, but it doesn’t make them go out and buy million dollar promotions. For all the love for mixed martial arts, it was love mixed with a stroke of destiny that got White involved with the organization.
“Lorenzo and I were talking about starting a boxing promotion because we thought the way boxing was run was horrible. Then the UFC opportunity literally fell on my fucking head and we owned the company two months later.”
As history tells it, the UFC didn’t fall on Dana White’s head. It was dumped in his lap, half dead, paralyzed and destined for obscurity. A fly by night phase, a mere chapter in what many moral purists would call America’s obsession with all things depraved. In the beginning, there were no weight classes and aside from prohibiting biting and eye gouging, no rules. The ultra violent sport found itself in the cross hairs of the federal government, namely current GOP presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona. While McCain’s charge that the sport was like “human cockfighting” (note: cockfighting is also banned in the United States) drew the ire of fans, White credits McCain for driving the sport to reform—not trying to drive it out of business.
“What people don’t realize is that Sen. McCain wasn’t trying to ban the sport, he was saying ‘you can’t put on unsanctioned events.’ That’s what he was saying. The old owner was like ‘fuck you’ and he started going to Puerto Rico and other places. This is the government; they kicked him off cable and shut him down.”
After White and the Fertitta’s took over the company, a massive PR makeover was necessary: weight classes were established, fighter safety became a top priority, and new rules took effect. Even with the makeover, there was still one problem: state sanctioning. Due to the carelessness of the previous owner, mixed martial arts were banned in the majority of the country—and that’s bad for business. What followed was a massive lobbying effort on the part of the UFC to get MMA sanctioned, a process that White refers to as an “education” for legislators, but also an uphill battle.
“We’re out there running towards these states and there are a couple of states that aren’t trying to sanction us. What do you mean you won’t sanction that? It’s your fucking job. That’s what you exist for. You exist to sanction combat events that happen in your state. It’s crazy and it blows my mind.”