Friday, April 6, 2007

Irrelevant questions with Dana White

By Alan Abrahamson

Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship, the leading mixed martial arts brand in the United States, late last month announced it had finalized the purchase of Pride Fighting Championships, Japan's leading brand. Dana White, 37, is president of UFC. He was accompanied on a recent lunch by UFC public relations director Jennifer Wenk and by his nutritionist, Terry King, whom he started working with in advance of a box-off -- prospects now unclear -- with UFC light-heavyweight standout Tito Ortiz. White's affectionate nickname for King: "Wolfgang Sucks."

Q: Is world domination around the corner?
A: I think we're literally five years away from this thing being global. When I say global, we're global now. We're in 160 different countries on some form of television. When I say global, I mean our live events being held in Germany, Australia, Japan. We're actually putting on UFC events. Hey, that really looks good. Looks fantastic. What kind of cheese is that?

Q: I think it's goat cheese.
A: You should see, man. When I first started this thing -- if I eat every two hours, I'm great. If it's an hour and 20 minutes, you start starving. Food has become -- let's see there's something I really love to eat. Cake. I'll be, like, eat that for me, man. I want to watch you eat. It's like porn for me now.

Q: It's sexual?!
A: That's it. Chew it, chew it, baby. Faster. Chew it faster.

Q: Harder. Faster.
A: Exactly.

Q: I never had a sweet tooth. I can pass on the desserts.
A: I have a horrible sweet tooth. Horrible.

Q: So you were saying -- five years.
A: Five years, yeah. We'll be taking -- when I say global, this company being global, like I said, we are now. But what I call global -- we're doing live events in all these countries. That to me is global.

Q: You ever think -- you know this is one of my interests -- about being in the Olympics?
A: Oh, absolutely. You know, we've had short term -- you've heard of short-term and long-term goals? I call them short-term and long-term dreams. For me. One of them was, you know, all the press that covers boxing, all the sports press, covering the UFC one day. We're almost there. I think we're a few weeks away from ESPN starting to cover us on a regular basis. Sports Illustrated just did a big feature on Chuck Liddell and now is doing something on Randy Couture. When I say those two, those two are the pinnacle of sports. So we have broken through those barriers already. The AP -- starting to cover us now. Et cetera. As far as the media goes, we've done all that. For me, basically the last thing -- obviously, we're moving into other countries, we're getting bigger, we're the most successful pay-per-view company out there. Et cetera, et cetera. The big one for us right now -- although I might not have a fight in the state of Idaho, I want it sanctioned in the state of Idaho. It should be sanctioned in every state. Because somebody is putting on a fight over there. And that was our reason for bringing in [former Nevada state athletic commission executive director] Marc Ratner.

Q: Right.
A: Marc Ratner is moving out there, making sure this sport -- because this sport is safe and we want to make sure it stays that way. Because if it is done the right way -- the fighters get the proper medical testing before they go in and fight. Which is CAT scans, EKGs, blood tests for HIV and hepatitis. They're being tested for steroids. Et cetera, et cetera. They show up to the event and they have the right doctors there overseeing the events. There's two ambulances there. These are the kinds of things that need to be done in these other states to make sure the sport stays safe. Then the next big one for us -- it's game over when MMA is an Olympic sport. And it should be. And it will be.

Q: It's no big secret the Olympic people have struggled, really wrestled, with how to reach out to your demographic, which is 18- to 34-year-old men. If you had 30 seconds with Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, what would you say to him?
A: I would tell him it's a no-brainer. This is the most exciting sport in the world. And it really does need an amateur level. What happens is there's a lot of people out there right now that are trying to put on amateur events because the athletic commissions don't oversee amateur events. There's no such thing as amateur mixed martial arts until the United States Olympic Committee gets involved. It's going to happen. It's inevitable. The sport can't be stopped. It's the future of combat sports.

Q: It would probably be impossible to add another Olympic sport. But it's eminently possible to add disciplines. That gets your foot in the door. There is a formal, rigid rule that there can be 28 sports. But within that sport you can have disciplines.
A: Broken down, on their own, you've got wrestling, boxing, judo. It's a no-brainer. What's going to start happening is, boxing gyms are starting to dry up all over the country right now. When I moved back to Las Vegas in 1995, there were 15 boxing gyms. Now, there's probably three -- and I own two of them. You know what I mean? Seriously. I own two of them and Top Rank, Bob Arum, has a place. Other than that, there really aren't any more boxing gyms in Las Vegas. And Las Vegas is the mecca. It's the boxing capital of the world. Which is now becoming the UFC capital of the world. What happens is when these kids aren't participating in it anymore, how are you going to have Olympic box-offs, and Olympic trials, and hold Olympics? And where do these guys go after the Olympics? Not much around anymore. So maybe, just maybe, the UFC can slide into the boxing slot.

Q: It's a really interesting proposition.
A: Yeah, it is. Let me tell you something. There's a revolution going on here in the United States in sports. This is a statistical fact I find incredible. More kids are skateboarding these days than playing Little League baseball. What does that mean to the future of baseball? And it's not like -- well, most people thought, are guys going to skateboard into their 20s and 30s? Tony Hawk! Let me tell you: I skateboard every weekend with my kids. I skateboard all the time. I love skateboarding. It's interesting. It's going to be interesting to see in the next 20 years what happens. One of the ways I've built this company is I believe that these big-time sports got too cocky and ended up losing touch with the fans. I think it's gotten too expensive. You've got these athletes making $40 million playing baseball and won't spend five minutes with the fans. You know what I mean? It's like the fans are an annoyance to them. These guys are paying your salaries!

Q: The disconnect between fans and performers is dramatic.
A: Huge.

Q: There's no disconnect between the UFC guys and the fans.
A: I completely agree with you. That's one of the things I've always felt we had over any other sport. You show up to a UFC event -- it's almost guaranteed you're going to meet tons of fighters. But it's almost guaranteed you're going to get your favorite star's picture. People ask me, there were reporters with me, this last time when we went to Ohio, we first went to Florida, I'm getting mobbed for an hour or more. People are like, you can't do this forever. As the thing continues to grow, you can't spend time with the fans like this. Why can't I?

Q: Are you that smart or are the other guys running these other sports that dumb?
A: At the end of the day, am I that smart? No. But I get it. I think the difference, and I think the advantage we have over all these other organizations -- anybody with money is trying to build an organization just like we are. The difference is, and this is honest to God, I would have done this for free. I love this stuff. I'm passionate about it. It's what I'm into. We put in the work hours we put in and the traveling and everything we do -- it's not work to me. Am I the smartest guy in the world? Not even close. Not even in the zone. But when it comes to the fight game -- yeah, I just might be.


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