He is the most polarizing and yet galvanizing person in America not running for president (and that includes both parties). Without his leadership the UFC would not have garnered a $4 billion dollar price tag as it did earlier this week.
There is no mistake Dana White is the President…of the UFC, and appropriately the last man standing in the deal where he will remain in his current role with a few more duties under the new management of entertainment superpower William Morris Endeavor/IMG.
When the Fertitta brothers Lorenzo and Frank formed Zuffa, Inc. and bought the UFC for a much relatively speaking low $2 million in 2001, White was there advising and urging and the former boxer/promoter was immediately brought in as part frontman, showman, hustler, and go-to. Rapidly he became the face of the organization as much if not more than any fighter and remains that way to this day.
In the present it is hard for a generation to remember when it was still a novelty sport and even ‘sport’ was usually mentioned with a wink in the mainstream. It was the hard-nosed Bostonian who realized knocking on the door wouldn’t bring the quick recognition and respect needed to make certain the investment wasn’t a folly, so he simply kicked down every door in his path. While Lorenzo was always in the picture, the attention was always directed toward White. You could like him or hate him, he couldn’t care less. His job was to make this thing work. That was the unflinching focus that hasn’t lost a blink.
White told me last year during an interview at the UFC offices in Las Vegas, he still remembers riding around in a van with fighter Chuck Liddell to peddle the product. Though he now travels in his private jet its easy to understand that drive never dimished one iota, no matter how many figures, now nine, mounted in the banking account. Staying hungry has never been his problem with an appetite for controversy and confrontation as fierce as anyone who has ever stepped in the octagon.
He’s never backed down from a fight or a fighter, that never more seared into the minds of fans as the recent UFC 200 when he sat his biggest male draw, Conor McGregor, on the bench for not adhering to his rules of showing up at press conferences to promote the event. He lured WWE megastar and former UFC champ and rock solid Pay-Per-View guarantee Brock Lesnar back to the cage. When Jon Jones failed a drug test forcing him out of the much ballyhooed light heavyweight unification bout with Daniel Cormier, no fretting just action was taken. White, an outstanding blackjack player, pulled out a needed ace in Anderson Silva, even past his prime a star wielding force, to step in. Number 200 had bounced off the fence but was never out and the card was worthy of such a milestone.
That’s just what White does. He might have become more user friendly, less profane, and available like never before but he has not, emphasis on not, softened when it comes to the brand that he predominately helped build from a yawn fifteen years ago into a colossal bang of attention this week in one of the biggest sports deals in history. Extraordinary for a sport less than a quarter of a century old and in the second decade under the Zuffa umbrella. It’s the stuff of financial legend and a reason just a few years ago White spoke at ultra-prestigious Oxford University of how the UFC had grown into a global force. The UFC was a major economic phenomena before this ceiling shattering deal.
The body count, at least figuratively, exceeds that of the “Expendables” trilogy during the Fertittas/White reign. Pretenders many, contenders few, and bona fide greats even fewer. Those that called themselves “king” or some other royalty moniker and those self-proclaimed “baddest-ever” have come and gone with barely, if any, of a mark on the sport for all the marks they absorbed from in cage beatings. Through them all, there has been White, mocking, reprimanding, shaming, cajoling, encouraging, challenging, and daring and sometimes within the same sentence.
From a distance he has done everything the de facto commissioner of MMA should never do, saying some of the most outrageous things ever uttered by the leader of a sports group. Upon closer inspection there is no one else who could’ve made us look so long at the sport once described–and not as unfair as some might argue at the time–as “human cockfighting,” and see there was something to this evolving MMA, it was legitimate and people far from the grass roots days of the 1990’s were marking down UFC events on their calendar to tune in or buy tickets.
The Ferttitas deserve a multitude of credit for their far sight in making the deal to buy a floundering, near the end UFC in 2001 and overseeing the astonishing transformation, and especially for making sure White was on board. They remain as what is described in the deal as “passive partners.” Not White, he is the president and it’s hard to imagine WME/IMG even having a discussion of who else was available.
Plus no one could ever put a qualifier of “passive” in describing White’s role. He and the UFC didn’t get to where they, at that staggering price, are by being that way. It would’ve never worked.
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