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MMA's main man - An interview with Dana White

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MMA's main man - An interview with Dana White Getty Images
The UFC president offers some thoughts on the state of his sport

The sport of mixed martial arts had some rough beginnings. Its perception as a niche sport, its constantly shifting rules, its punching-bag status among politicians who didn't truly understand it all of these were obstacles that MMA needed to overcome.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship has been at the forefront with regards to bringing the sport into the mainstream. From humble beginnings, the UFC has been transformed into a sporting empire rife with sold-out arenas, superstar fighters and huge broadcast deals.

None of that would have been possible without Dana White. As the president of UFC, White has spent the past decade-plus building UFC into the global phenomenon it is today. He is the face of the organization and one of the primary driving forces in its exponential growth. He's a brilliant promoter and a savvy businessman who is one of the main reasons MMA has entered the mainstream consciousness.

Mr. White was gracious enough to sit down recently with The Maine Edge and share some diverse thoughts on all things UFC.

On UFC 152

(This event, which crowned UFC's first-ever flyweight champion and featured Jon Jones versus Vito Belfor as the main event, took place in Toronto at the end of September.)

The Maine Edge You crowned the first flyweight champion in UFC history in Toronto. However, the crowd's reaction to the fight was less than enthusiastic, including some boos.

Dana White Which didn't make me too happy.

TME You had some choice words for those 'fans' at the post-fight press conference.

DW I did.

TME So what's next for these guys? Do you think Demetrious Johnson [the new flyweight champ] has some staying power?

DW I do. [John] Dodson is going to fight next, the guy who won the Ultimate Fighter. He wins, he fights Johnson. That's an entertaining fight. Two of the fastest guys ever. Ever. I mean, that fight should be insane.

TME There was some controversy after Jon Jones pulled out of his scheduled match for UFC 151, leading to that card being cancelled. Did you wind up getting a fight that satisfied you?

DW - Hell yeah. The fight was great. The crazy thing is, Jones turns down Sonin, but accepts the fight with Vitor Belfor 10 days later off a full camp. Sonin on eight days accepts him on a full camp. And look what happens - he gets caught in an armbar. He's got some damage to his arm now.

TME Is he [Jones] going to miss any time?

DW - I hope not. We're still trying to figure it out.

TME And have you come to terms with the UFC 151 situation, the first card you've had to cancel?

DW - Ever. Twelve years since I've been here. I was pissed at the beginning, but I got to the point that all good streaks come to an end. Now we gotta go for another 12 without cancelling one.

Being Dana White

Dana_White_026-website-medresTME You're an incredibly busy man. What's your schedule look like?

DW - Spend a couple days here and relax, then I go to England, I go back to Vegas for a couple of days, then I go to Minneapolis, Minnesota, then I go to Brazil, then back to Vegas, then I go from there straight to Australia. We've got an event in Australia and in the US on the same day. But because they're a day ahead, on the 15th I'll have a fight there, I'll do the fight, leave as soon as the fight is over and be back here on the 15th for our fight here.

TME So that's what a 40-hour 15th for you? Is this how it usually goes?

DW - All the time. That's my life, yeah.

TME Does that schedule change at all in the lead-up to a big fight? Do you settle in one spot?

DW - Yeah, I'll start on Wednesday. Get there Wednesday, press conference Thursday, weigh-ins Friday, Saturday's the fight.

The Ultimate Fighter'

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TME You mentioned 'The Ultimate Fighter' earlier. You've done what, 16 seasons now?

DW - It's one of the longest-running reality shows on television. With the other countries that we're doing now, it's up to 18 seasons.

TME So has the show become one of your primary places to recruit fighters?

DW - Not only primary source of recruitment, because we bring those guys into the UFC. There are guys we know we can bring in from the show already, but this showcases them to the world. People get to see them. It's the fast track to building a star.

TME It gives you a chance to expose them to a mainstream audience.

DW It's like when I was just telling you about Dodson; if you're an 'Ultimate Fighter' fan, you know that Dodson won that season of TUF. You know who he is.

TME So are you personally still out there looking for fighters?

DW - Not like the old days. In the old days, I used to fly everywhere. I was in Hawaii all the time because there were a lot of fights in Hawaii. Hawaii, Southern Cal; I came to Boston once that's where I found Kenny Florian. But now with the internet back then, you couldn't stream on the internet, you couldn't watch video. But now, you can do all that stuff online. You don't need to actually attend all the events.

TME Do you worry at all about being removed from the process?

DW Nah. We've got two matchmakers that are real good and they scout talent.

Boxing vs. MMA

TME You're a boxing guy from way back. What are your feelings regarding the differences between boxing and MMA?

DW - These guys were so cocky and arrogant that when we first came onto the scene, they never thought in a million years that we'd get anywhere close to competing with them. But we changed a lot of things in the fight industry, tried things that had never been done and revolutionized the business. And now you see that they're starting to copy a lot of the things that we do.

But Oscar de la Hoya, who's a friend of mine, he'll come right out and admit, 'What these guys have done has been amazing; we look at what they do.' Bob Arum on the other hand, this guy always has something negative to say, something stupid to say.

The sport of boxing, I love it. It's got a lot of problems. There are some guys out there who have money and the power and the knowhow to fix it, but will they? The biggest problem with boxing is all the guys that are involved with it, none of them have ever invested money into it; all they do is take. There's no business on Earth that you can sustain by taking and not investing. You have to put back into it. So we'll see what happens.

TME So you think there's room for both in the world of combat sports?

DW - Absolutely. I watched the Chavez fight [versus Sergio Martinez]. I'll watch any of the Pacquiao fights.

TME Speaking of Pacquiao, do you think you've got an advantage over boxing in being able to schedule the fights that people want to see?

DW (laughs) We have a lot of advantages over boxing. More than just that.

Expanding the brand

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TME Over the past few years, the UFC has been acquiring a number of rival promotions.

DW (laughs) You mean buying them? Yeah, we've been buying some.

A lot of people think that we went out to try and buy out the competition, but the reality is that the companies we bought Pride, Strikeforce Pride and Strikeforce were both going out of business. They were big-money upside down. These guys were losing millions of dollars, so what they had was libraries that we were interested in, as well as some fighters under contract. So that's why we went in and purchased them.

There was another company called WFA that we bought, just a little s--t organization. We bought that one because they had Rampage Jackson's contract. So really, we bought that company just to acquire that contract.

TME So it's not about trying to establish some sort of monopoly?

DW - There's always a reason why, and it's not to knock off the competition. We're not a monopoly. If you look around, every weekend, not only in every state here but all over the world, fights are happening. There are plenty of promoters out there; they're just not as big as we are. They can get some fight experience, make some money and then eventually make their way up to the UFC.

TME So has there been a visible impact with regards to mainstream appeal after the new broadcast deal?

(Last year, the UFC signed a seven-year broadcast deal with Fox.)

DW - No doubt about it. It definitely has. But at the same time, it's been challenging. We came from this channel where we only lived there and people knew where to go. For seven years, that's where they went to watch us. Now, we're on FOX four times a year, we're on FX six live fights a year, plus all the prelims are on FX and then on Fuel; there's a ton of other stuff. People don't know where we are and when.

For instance, 'The Ultimate Fighter.' 'Ultimate Fighter Fridays,' it's called now. Telling people where we are, what time, what day. So it's been a little challenging right out of the gates, but we're working on it.

It's all coming together. You get a deal like this, you get right on FOX. You're like, 'Oh, this is it? All we have to do is throw the programming on FOX.' Nothing works that easy. You've got to maneuver things the right way and brand them the right way.

Fighter health
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DW - The only thing that's put a real kink in our business is that the number of injuries we've had is insane. Other stuff, you can tweak things, you can fix things. But you put together these big megafights and one of them gets injured that's been tough.

You end up switching the fight and it's not the fight that we made. It's not the huge fight that people were waiting for.

TME There's a lot of talk in the sports world these days in the NFL especially about concussions. It's a hot button topic. Do you guys have a concussion issue or is it primarily a strains and sprains kind of thing?

DW - The problems we're getting are the problems in training. A guy blows out his ACL and has to have his ACL fixed or a guy does something to his shoulder, something to his elbow; those are the problems we have. Concussions? No. We don't have a concussion problem.

In boxing, there's that three knockdown rule if I hit you so hard that you're almost unconscious, you have until the count of 10 to get up again and I can do it again. Three times before the fight's over. In our sport, if I hit you that hard, I then have the ability to jump on you and start hitting you again. Then fight's over.

Even if a fighter does sustain a concussion in the fight, he's on a three-month medical suspension; he can't even be cleared to train unless a doctor says he can. In the NFL, Brady gets a concussion, you need him next Sunday. That's the difference. Hockey, too.

TME So the UFC is really on top of things as far as medical care for fighters?

DW - Our fighters get the best medical attention that this country can provide. Literally the best. If a guy blows his knee out, he goes to LA, to the guy that works on the Lakers, the Kings - he's the best in the country. We do the same thing for shoulders and joints; we've got the best shoulder and joint guy. Guy has a concussion, he goes to the best f---ing MRI guy out in Los Angeles. No matter where these guys live, we fly them into LA for the best medical attention in the country. Not a bad deal.

Favorite fighters and fights

TME So do you have an all-time favorite fighter?

DW - I do. I have two. Chuck Lidell and Anderson Silva. Chuck Lidell is my man. He helped me build this whole thing. He was a good fighter, a good friend and a good partner to have early on. Then he went on to become the most popular mixed martial artist ever. And that's why when he retired, I brought him in. He still gets paid, he still gets a paycheck. He 'works' for the UFC. He hasn't set foot in the f---ing office once, ever. But he gets paid. He gets a big fat paycheck every week.

I think Anderson Silva is the greatest fighter of all time. The guy's a pain in the ass to deal with he is but I enjoy it. It's like dealing with an artist he's so talented and gifted with his hands and feet what he can do to other people, it's amazing.

TME How about a favorite fight?

DW - That's a tough one. I used to be able to pull them off the top of my head, but we've had so many great fights. I still love Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg II, that's one of my all-time favorites. Shogun-Dan Henderson that happened last year, that was one of the greatest fights you'll ever see too.

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And at the end of the day, Dana White knows that it's all about giving the fans what they really want.

DW - It's what we want. It's what we try to do. I mean, they're the ones buying the pay-per-view, I pretty much figure I've got to put on the fights they want to see. That's what we try to do.

Last modified on Thursday, 11 October 2012 13:43

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