Tuesday, July 7, 2009 | midnight
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Las Vegas Sun boxing/MMA writers Brett Okamoto and Andy Samuelson discuss their quick predictions for UFC 100 and recap a sit-down interview with UFC president Dana White.
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Sun Expanded Coverage
Dana White’s not hurting for money.
If the blacked out Ferrari the UFC president revs off in one of his recent video blogs doesn’t offer enough proof, there’s always that little 10-percent ownership clause for a company that Forbes recently valued at a billion dollars.
So why not just speed off into the sunset after Saturday’s historic UFC 100 show and leave the everyday headaches of the world’s fastest-growing sport behind?
“I’m 39 years old, I’m not ready to retire yet. When you talk about retiring, retiring to me is you’re done. You’ve accomplished everything you could accomplish. There’s nothing left to do, it’s all been done. We’re not even close to that yet,” White said last week, kicking back in a comfy chair inside UFC headquarters in Las Vegas.
“When we sat down and we started this whole thing, we were passionate about it. We loved it. It was never about the money with this thing. We loved the idea of building a sport. When’s the last time a sport was built?
“Take soccer for example, the same game of soccer that we play here in the United States is the same game they play in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Croatia, Italy, etc., etc. When mixed martial arts is played all over the world by the same rules, then it’s a sport. That’s my goal. When I’ve accomplished that, maybe that’s the end for me.”
White is the fiercest fighter in a sport based on the primal instinct. The more he’s challenged, the harder he fights back.
“One of the things about me is that I don’t (expletive). You’re never going to wonder where you sit with me,” White said. “If we’re cool, you’re gonna absolutely, positively know we are. If we’re not, you’re gonna absolutely, positively know we’re not.
“Some people are weirded out by how competitive I am. But I’m no different than any other business, I just let you know. You’re never going to hear Nevada State Bank try to say they’re going to kick Bank of America’s ass, but they are. That’s what they are trying to do. They’re trying to beat them at the same business.
“People that come in and say I’m gonna try to compete with the UFC because they don’t do this right, and they don’t do that right, or we’re better at this and we’re better at that. Now you just picked a fight with me and now we’re gonna fight until somebody’s here and somebody’s not.”
White’s brash attitude and speech like a sailor rubs even a contingent of fight fans the wrong way. The former boxing promoter’s style — he prefers T-shirts and jeans — doesn’t mesh with his corporate counterparts in NFL commissioner Roger Goodell or Major League Baseball chief Bud Selig — although both represent sports White says the UFC will one day surpass.
And his now infamous personal attack of a mixed martial arts Web site writer in April not only caused an instant backlash, but also pushed mainstream media to question whether the UFC has the right leader in place to lead its global charge.
White’s response is filled with expletives, but his supporters — which include everyone from co-workers, fighters, even rival promoters — believe without Dana White, the current mixed martial arts landscape, let alone an event like UFC 100, would be just a dream.
“I think at some point the MMA Gods said ‘You know what, we need a franchise player to save this sport,’” said UFC site coordinator Burt Watson. “Maybe they put their hand on Dana’s shoulder and said 'alright, this is our franchise player, we got to get the job done.'
“He got it where it is. I think he can take it to the next level. That’s what franchise players do. When people tag a franchise player they don’t try and tell them how to play the game. They say we got to get to the next level and however you can get us there, get us there.”
Of course, getting to the point hasn’t been easy.
White joined up with his high school buddies from Bishop Gorman, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, and purchased the struggling organization from Semaphore Entertainment Group in 2001 for $2 million.
Another $40 million more of the Station Casinos moguls’ money evaporated, prompting the Fertittas to consider pulling the plug on a venture they had been advised not to take on from the beginning.
“I’m telling you the first four or five years of this thing I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy,” White said. “It was miserable, it was harder than I could ever image, or ever explain to you.”
Luckily for MMA fans, White has the opportunity to try.
Lorenzo Fertitta, a former Nevada State Athletic Commission member, decided to stick it out, and in doing so made history.
The organization caught a break when it launched “The Ultimate Fighter” in January 2005. The success of the popular reality TV show’s inaugural season — which included future stars such as Forrest Griffin, Stephan Bonnar, Mike Swick, Diego Sanchez, Josh Koscheck and Kenny Florian — offered the UFC a new audience that not only turned into the free cable show on Spike, but followed their favorite fighters via pay-per-view buys.
There were other breaks along the way, but UFC vice president of regulatory affairs Marc Ratner credits much of the organization’s continued success to White’s fan-like passion.
“He looks like one of the fans, he talks like one of the fans, he’s not going to be a buttoned down Ivy League guy running the company,” said Ratner, formerly the longtime executive director of the Nevada commission.
“He’s gonna run it that way. He’s certainly going to take it to the next level and I think it’s directly because of that passion.”
UFC light heavyweight legend Chuck Liddell can’t relate to White’s public persona. He sees White as an average guy, someone who he exchanges friendly punches with each time they see one another.
“We still talk (expletive) to each other the same way we used to. I’ll give him a little kick or hit him when I see him, and he’ll still cheap shot me like he always has,” Liddell said with a big laugh.
“It’s a little different for me, I know him as my good friend and manager. But I know he loves the sport and he’s a driven person, and he’ll keep driving himself until he wins the competition of promoting this thing all the way.”
Andy Samuelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-948-7837.