For a couple of decades, Dana White helped build the UFC from a fledgling, banned pay-per-view sideshow into a mainstream $ 4 billion global giant.
White grew up in a tiny, working class town outside of Bangor, Maine. Now that he had a homemade fortune to spend despite the odds, a man who unfortunately likes to make it big was determined to think of everything – a Boston Celtics-themed indoor basketball court, a view of the golf course, an arcade, and a cinema with first shows.
What he hadn’t planned on was a pandemic that would cause him to run the entire UFC from there.
There was a lack of reliable cellular coverage that guaranteed that a call would not be abandoned, regardless of whether he chose a fighter in Dagestan, for example, or lobbyed a governor in two states in order to be able to stage safely – and would become a combat card even if no other sports organization tried anything.
This was March and April when the world was locked and almost no one in the sport tried to move forward.
Was white. always. And there were many of them – politicians, officials, media, etc.. who forged intense opposition.
« Listen, » White said last April, « there are people who care about what they think of me – my co-workers, my family, my friends. I don’t give the rest of the people [expletively] what you think of me. ”
Undeterred, White fulfilled the promise that the UFC would be the first major sport to return to activity during the pandemic. That was the 9th. May, just a few weeks behind his preferred schedule.
UFC 256 on Saturday is 42. Company show during the pandemic (including TV cards from the « Contender Series »). . The UFC claims to have over 26. 300 tests on 1. 470 athletes, coaches, staff and other personnel, including 164 fighters from 40 countries. 210 positive results are reported, a rate of only 0. 8 percent. There have been no outbreaks within the UFC.
While there have been some canceled bouts and last minute substitutions, the problems, let alone positive cases, have been relatively minor overall, especially when compared to other sports. The protocols were tightened through trial and error.
White credits his tireless collaborators and fighters, many of whom already lead disciplined lives and train in near isolation, for getting something working that so many said couldn’t.
Last spring, while locked out of his Las Vegas office and still trying to keep his company going, White found a single chair by the pool with his stained cell phone always working.
So this became the makeshift office. White took almost every major call in that one chair, brainstorming with staff, advocating his case with government officials, and worrying shooting issues that no one could have imagined before coronavirus became a household term.
White is not a classically trained businessman. He left his first semester at the University of Massachusetts at Boston to become a boxing coach. Maybe that was the key.
He ran his business, at least in part, for a long time like a demolition company. Whatever obstacle is in the way, he essentially removes it by all means at his disposal. And while he sometimes uses the precise placement of surgical charges to intelligently drop them in one fell swoop, he’s not afraid (and maybe even prefers) to step on the old school wrecking ball and get himself up over and over again admitting the problem until it crumbles.
For White, 51, it was the pandemic. An obstacle. He didn’t want to stop holding battle cards. He didn’t want to shut down the UFC. He did not want to give leave of absence to the men and women – both employees and fighters – who count on him.
It wasn’t that he didn’t understand the virus, it was just that he wanted to know what it would take to move forward.
How long should fighters be quarantined? How far is the distance between the judges sitting at the cage? What legal protection do you have against a state government when operating on tribal land? Can a fighter from Brazil enter the US if they stop in Canada for the first time? Or the other way around?
Just think of an answer. Just give it a standard. Then his company would find out, one wrecking ball / backyard cell phone call after another.
What he couldn’t understand was why other sports were doing the opposite. The NBA, NHL, MLB, MLS, NASCAR, PGA, etc.. will be shut down.
He kept hearing about those rich leagues – much richer than the UFC – and rich team owners – much richer than him – who played sports that seemed comparatively easy – golf? – Go on vacation, cut wages and pretend they can’t do anything.
« Everyone was just so willing not to try, » White said. “They were content to switch off and not figure out how to beat this thing and win. ”
That was incomprehensible to white. It ran completely against its wiring. Did they just fear the backlash?
By trying to keep his staff and pool of male and female fighters (and all of the people they employ) to make money, was he a bad guy? But if he’d just cut salaries, laid off people and splashed around in his pool, would he be a hero?
« I could do this forever, » he said in April of quarantine life if you are rich. « But we shouldn’t do that. We have to be responsible, but we have to get out there and find out. How do we protect the people who need to be protected but bring the rest of the people back to normal in the world? Let’s do what we do. ”
White said his late March / early April days often consisted of solving a series of problems and believing they had made progress, only to have new problems or reversals a few hours later by a third party making the days completely worthless.
There, in that garden chair by the pool, White hit rock bottom. One night he took a call from UFC attorney Hunter Campbell, a close white confidante who passed on a series of new hurdles that seemed impossible to overcome. White hung up and leaned back in his chair.
« I sat there for a second and said, » What are you doing? « said White. All others shut down. Is that the right thing? «
For once, White thought he was wrong and everyone else was right. Maybe he should just down staff, sit back for a few months, and set someone else on fire.
Events were mostly hosted from the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, but there were three breakthrough tickets in May in an empty arena in Jacksonville, Florida, and nine during two stints at Fight Island in the United Arab Emirates. The company said it took 1. 700 commercial and 34 charter flights to handle it all.
It wasn’t easy or cheap. The UFC says it has already spent $ 17 million on COVID-related expenses. It lost about $ 100 million in gate revenue because fans were not admitted – White won’t even have a partial audience, although many venues now allow it – « full house or nothing, » he said. « For me, a quarter or a half, it’s not the same. ”
Ratings for ESPN are up 16 percent this year, according to the UFC. E-commerce is up 166 percent, FightPass is up 41 percent, and global sponsorship is up 16 percent.
He is most proud to discover that he has kept all 385 UFC employees on full pay and has kept the contracts of all of the company’s fighters. White has announced that the promotion will have to cut off up to 60 athletes from what White calls a « bloated » roster, but that’s not uncommon.
“This is No.. I finished my career because this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, ”said White. “When people left before they could get another job and do other things. This time they couldn’t. If we had given them leave or broken contracts, people would be hurt. ”
White is on family vacation next week, his first break in what he calls « the toughest year of my life. ». ”
He’ll make it big, of course. He, his wife and their three children will spend 10 days on a 210-foot yacht in the Caribbean. For a man who is used to having dinner, staging cards all over the world, and playing cards in Vegas a few nights a week, a man who hasn’t stopped moving for two decades was this is a year of greatest boredom – work and work at home, work and home.
« I have to break the monotony, » said White. “And I know I can do more things than most people. ”
Not that he’s complaining. This year confirmed his confidence in himself, his company, his employees, his fighters and the problem-solving spirit.
« There’s no right or wrong side, » said White. « It’s a virus . . . I said I would do anything to make events safe. We made.
« There is always a solution for everything, » he said. “Quitting is not a solution. As Americans, that’s not who we are or what we do. ”
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Ultimate Fighting Championship, Dana White, Mixed Martial Arts, Bellator MMA, Anthony Johnson
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