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Canadiens Magazine

The Last Word: Dana White

Thursday, 26.05.2011 / 4:56 PM / CANADIENS magazine
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The Last Word: Dana White
A New England native, UFC President Dana White is today among the most recognizable sports executives in the world. Having grown up with a keen interest in boxing and martial arts, in 2001 he encouraged childhood friends Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta to acquire the floundering Ultimate Fighting Championship for a modest $2 million. Under the trio’s direction the UFC has since gone from the brink of extinction to the premiere brand of mixed martial arts on the planet, and as a privately-held company is now estimated to have a net worth well in excess of $1 billion. We caught up with the popular and famously outspoken White ahead of what promises to be yet another busy summer for the UFC.
 
You’ve admitted you’re not the most ardent hockey fan, but growing up in the Massachusetts area, was there one of the hometown teams you rooted for in particular?
Dana White: I grew up a Red Sox fan. Or a Red Sox and Celtics fan. To be honest I’m more of a diehard Red Sox fan, and more fair-weather when it comes to the Celtics. If the Celtics are doing well, I’m a fan.

Who were your sports idols when you were young?
DW: My sports idols were all fight guys. You know, Muhammad Ali, Bruce Lee… I was a huge Marvin Hagler fan. Guys like that.

Muhammad Ali in action
Your own personal Twitter account has more than one million followers, while the UFC’s official account has just over one-tenth of that. How do you account for such a massive discrepancy?
DW: I’m active on Twitter. I get out there and interact with the fans, not only on Twitter, but I have them meet me places and do cool stuff and give back to them. The UFC brand can’t do that.

Speaking of Twitter, it appears you and Shaq have become Twitter buddies.
DW: (laughs) Yeah.  Actually, I don’t know if people realize just how good a guy Shaq is.  Shaq and I became friends on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter – he did a favor for me, and I’ll never forget it.  He’s one of the best guys you can ever meet.  He’s the real deal.

You’re as much the face of the UFC as any of its premiere fighters. How much of that was the result of circumstance versus being a conscious marketing decision?
DW: It wasn’t a decision at all. Basically, I’m the promoter. People say that to me all the time: “Oh wow, you’re almost as recognizable as this fighter or that fighter…” But look, every fight that happens, I’m the guy selling that fight. I’m the guy who’s always out in front. When two guys fight, the last time they might have fought was seven months earlier, and you haven’t seen them since. But you’ve consistently seen me for the last seven months selling fights. That’s how it works. It’s like Don King. Don King is as big or bigger than any fighter who’s ever fought in boxing.

Would Twitter help Tiger Woods?
The UFC brand has seen remarkable growth since you and the Fertitta brothers acquired the organization in 2001. What are some of the specific strategies you’ve used to elevate a fledgling sport and distinguish it from other leagues to gain such impressive fan and sponsor equity in less than a decade?
DW: One of the things we’ve done – and I think a lot of sports have either stopped it, or I don’t know if they ever did it, and if they didn’t, I don’t know why – is encourage our athletes to connect with fans using things like Twitter. We encourage that, yet right now Major League Baseball, the NFL, and the NBA are shutting that stuff down. They don’t want their players Twittering. We encourage fan interaction with the fighters. After a fight, we want the fighters to come back out into the arena to shake hands and sign autographs. When you go to a Lakers game, you’re never getting Kobe’s autograph. He doesn’t want to meet you. He doesn’t want to talk to you. I don’t know why, but he doesn’t. It makes no sense to me. We’re the complete opposite. I guess the other leagues worry that their athletes will say the wrong thing, but I don’t believe that, either.  We’re all human beings, and guess what?  People are going to [bleep] up and make mistakes – it’s gonna happen.  It’s how you handle yourself and handle the situation after you make that mistake that people will judge you.  That’s what happened to Tiger Woods.  Tiger Woods became this guy… Some of these athletes do it to themselves, where they make themselves untouchable, where nobody can talk to them.  I think what happened to Tiger, that whole situation, that’s between him and his wife.  That has nothing to do with the media or anyone else.  That’s a home problem that he needs to fix.  But the way these guys build themselves up, as soon as you make a mistake, man, everyone’s ready to jump all over you and beat you down.

It’s true – you think of guys like Tito Ortiz and Rampage Jackson; both of them had some issues away from the Octagon, but because they have remained humble and approachable by their respective fan bases, they’ve been able to bounce back pretty quickly.
DW: They’re human!  Human beings are going to make mistakes.  It happens every day.

ESPN moved its MMA Live broadcast from the Web to television for the first time on the weekend of UFC 113 in Montreal.  How critical is it for the growth of the sport to gain the mainstream coverage that ESPN delivers?
DW: We love it.  Listen, I’ve been supportive of ESPN doing an MMA show since the beginning.  This thing started online, now it’s finally getting onto television, where it belongs, and I think it’s going to be successful.  It’s a great show, they’ve produced it very well, it’s good for us, it’s good for the sport, and I think it’s going to be good for ESPN, too.

Quebec native Georges St-Pierre helps White draw in crowds worldwide.
Montreal has hosted three UFC events in three years. What is it about the city that appeals to you?
DW: I was asked in another interview, “Take Las Vegas out of it, and what’s one of the top cities you guys have been to?” I told him, “Leave Las Vegas in it, and Montreal still makes the top three.” The first event we held here sold out like that, but the craziest thing about it – and I’ve done events all over the world – is that we couldn’t even leave our hotel rooms when we were here. There were so many people in town that if you left your hotel and went out on the corner, you’d be there for three hours surrounded by people who’d just swarm you. It’s awesome. Montreal’s crazy – I love the atmosphere here. And someone else asked me, “Don’t you wish you came here when the hockey games weren’t going on?”, because we’ve always come up the same time of year, and you guys are always in the playoffs. But it’s fun! There are tons of people in town fired up about their hockey team winning, and they’re excited about the UFC.

By now even casual fans know about Georges St-Pierre, but who, in your view, are other Canadian fighters on the rise that people should watch for?

DW:  There are tons – the list goes on and on.  Georges St-Pierre is the king; this guy is not only the best welterweight in the world, but pound for pound he’s one of the best fighters in the world, and he’ll go down in history as being one of the best ever.  Mark Bocek is from Canada, and he actually was my and Lorenzo’s Jiu-Jitsu instructor – when he was 16 and we were both like 30, he was kicking the [bleep] out of us.  He’s somebody to look out for.  But the list of Canadian talent is very long, and it’s only getting longer.

Rampage Jackson keeps it real in The A-Team
On a scale of Hulk Hogan in Mr. Nanny to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Airplane, where will Rampage Jackson’s performance in this summer’s The A-Team rank among the major film roles played by professional athletes?
DW: (laughs) I’ve got to be honest with you. You know the history on this one; he and I got into a huge, huge fight over him taking the role in this movie. But he was right. Have you seen the trailer? It’s the real deal. This isn’t Never Back Down II. This is a real movie, and for his career and his legacy, he made the right decision. When you look at movies that have been done by athletes, other than the Rock, nobody’s made a real good one. The A-Team looks like a summer blockbuster, and I wish him all the luck in the world.

Are you worried that like the Rock, he might eventually make the leap to the silver screen full-time?
DW:  No.  Listen, guys are either going to fight, or they’re not.  You can’t make guys fight; it’s either in you and you want to keep doing it, or you don’t.  If a guy in mixed martial arts has the talent and the ability to go and make big major movies, good for him.

In your view, would the business world be a better place if executives dropped the F-bomb more liberally in interviews?

DW: (laughs) No, I don’t think so… I think that you know, if you like to swear and it’s part of the way you talk, then [bleep] it. (laughs)

Follow Dana on Twitter at twitter.com/danawhite, or get your daily dose of UFC news at UFC.com. The A-Team, featuring UFC figther Quinton “Rampage” Jackson as B.A. Baracus, is out on DVD now.

This article, written by J.S. Trzcienski, was published in CANADIENS magazine Vol. 24 No. 6.