He was the brash, tough-talking face of the largest and most powerful MMA organization in the world, and you voted him MMA’s Leading Man for 2008 in the Fighters Only World MMA Awards. UFC president Dana White was a man with a plan way back then, and he’s still executing that plan today. We turn back the clock to January 2009 to recap FO’s chat with White from Fighters Only Issue 45…
The sport of mixed martial arts is a young one, with barely 15 years of history supporting its modern incarnation. There has been a flurry of activity in the United States in the last eight years, with the UFC enjoying a growth period like no other promotion on the planet. This, of course, is due to the efforts of White and his team, but don’t think for a moment things are going to slow down.
“First of all I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface of how big this thing is going to be in the United States,” he said via a transatlantic phone line. “Everyone has heard what we we’re talking about, going global. There is a lot of hard work to do. We keep our heads down, and keep running forward. Keep building it and growing it.”
Penetrating the president of the UFC’s schedule requires patience and planning akin to that of a big bank job – stealing precious moments of his time is a delicate operation, but when we informed him that he (and his company) had won a number of awards that had the entire industry talking, he was quick to make time for us. “I’m honored,” he told us. “I thank the fans, believe me.”
White’s relationship with the fans is a strong one. He can often be found at official UFC events happily posing for photos and signing autographs. He even makes his daily life available on the UFC’s YouTube channel, allowing the fans the chance to see exactly what goes into running the most popular MMA organization in the world.
The astounding thing is that White never set out to elevate his own profile to rival that of his star fighters. “That’s kind of the crazy side to this thing – it’s not like fans are coming up to me like I’m some fucking superstar,” he said. “The cool thing about our fans is that whenever I’m out in public they come up to me and tell me how much they love the UFC. When they see me, it’s not like when they see Chuck Liddell – when they see Chuck they go crazy! They come up and tell me, ‘I love the show, I love the UFC, I love what you guys have done’. It’s cool.
“That’s one of my big beefs with professional sports: they look at talking to the fans like it’s a chore or a pain in the ass. If you really love what you’re doing and you got 17,000 people in a building one day who love that shit as much as you do, why wouldn’t you want to talk to them? You’re shooting the shit about stuff that you really fucking love! You all love it, and you all enjoy it, and I think that’s part of the energy when you go to a UFC event. You get all these people in there who respect the sport, respect the athletes, and love being a part of it – and me and my staff are the same way, so why would I not want to talk to these people and hang out with them?”
Money aside, it’s easy to see why Dana White does what he does: he genuinely loves it, although the problem of maintaining a healthy work-life balance proves a bit of a problem when you’ve got a schedule as punishing as his. “I’m a bit of a workaholic,” he laughs. “But you know the thing I always say is that this isn’t work for me, I really enjoy it, it’s what I love to do. It’s my passion and I’m blessed that I’m able to do it.
“There are ups and downs every day. Here’s one thing I can guarantee. Every fucking day that I wake up, something bad is going to happen. I’m serious, I’m fucking dead serious – it’s not even a joke. That’s a fact.
“Man, it’s hard, let me tell you, my kids don’t even know me anymore. It’s not easy to balance everything. It’s very hard; people don’t realize how hard it is and how much sacrifice there is. I’m not crying or looking for sympathy. It is what it is. I was home six days these last two months. I haven’t been home this month yet at all, I’ve been on the road like crazy. We’ve got this fight this weekend, I leave Monday and I’m gone for another two weeks.”
With a schedule as punishing as his, White relies on UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta to make sure the company is firing on all cylinders. “I’m doing all this shit to sell the fight and grow the company. While I’m at it, Lorenzo’s in the office doing all the shit I can’t do, or flying overseas and doing the international stuff. Lorenzo coming over was so big, and what this guy has accomplished in just a few months that he has been on board: it’s sick, I’m telling you.
“It took us eight years to get where we’re at. I had a limited staff, we were losing money like crazy, I was the only fucking guy running around and doing anything, and we did it in eight years. With the crew that we have now, and the team that we’ve built – we’ve got over a hundred employees over two continents and Lorenzo on board – we can knock out the rest of the world in four fucking years.”
White and the UFC have made no bones about the fact they are planning on nothing less than total and utter world domination. With the USA, Canada, and the UK already under their belt, countries such as Germany, Brazil, the Philippines, and even Dubai are on their hit list. But one criticism levied at White which he considers to be unfair is that he’s anti-competition.
“Here’s the thing on other promotions: everyone thinks I’m anti-competition. I’m not anti-competition at all, there are tonnes of competitors, there are people who put shows on every weekend all over the world. The difference is the guys you’ve seen me very verbal about and battle with – the IFL, EliteXC or Affliction – the way that these guys started their business was they came out and said, ‘You know what? We’re gonna get into this business, we’re going to do it better than the UFC, we’re going to treat the fighters better than they do, they don’t treat their fighters well, they don’t pay their guys…’ They don’t know me, they don’t know how we run our business, they don’t know shit! They don’t know anything about this business!
“So now they’ve just started a fight with me, and the way that I fight is that we fight until there is a winner and a loser. There’s no ‘I’m sorry’. No, you picked a fight with me, and that’s the way that I do it, end of story. I don’t go out there and start talking about other people, there are tonnes of people all over the place, I could rattle off four or five other promotions right now, do you ever hear me talking shit about them? No. Because they don’t talk shit about me.”
It is this fierce approach to business that has taken White and the UFC from a barely-functioning semi-regular sideshow oddity, found in dingy casinos and small arenas, to the mega-promotion it is now: an entity with almost weekly events and millions of fans across the world.
“It’s been fantastic. Every year we’ve tried to raise the bar, we’ve tried to raise it to another level. Trying to one-up yourself every year is a big challenge, but that’s what we try to do. It keeps getting better and better, man!”
Originally published in Issue 45 of Fighters Only magazine.