The president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship talks the human thirst for violence, women who can kick your ass, and why MMA really is the safest sport out there.
This feature appears in Complex's December 2012/January 2013 issue.
In 2004, the Ultimate Fighting Championship was $40 million in debt and its founders were on the verge of giving up on their idea of bringing mixed martial arts to the masses. Today, UFC broadcasts fights in 175 different countries, in 22 different languages, and has a net worth estimated at over $1 billion. UFC president Dana White led that turnaround, which helped legitimize MMA, the world’s fastest-growing sport. Far from complacent, he’s looking to put a choke hold on the fight game until the competition taps for mercy.
What’s the driving force behind the growth of MMA over the last decade?
I don’t care what color you are, what country you come from, or what language you speak—we’re all human beings, and fighting is in our DNA. We get it and we like it. It doesn’t have to be explained to us, and once you go to a live event, you’re hooked. The NFL is huge in the United States and has been trying to break into other countries, but Europeans didn’t grow up playing American football. They don’t understand the rules. They’ll never be invested in the teams. People in England don’t care about the Giants.
Other companies jump in because it looks easy and they copy everything we do. Nothing about what they’re doing is innovative or takes the sport to another level.
Do you see the UFC having any legitimate contenders in the future?
There are a million promoters doing events all over the world. People try to compete with the UFC but we’re the best at what we do. This is a tough business, and we’ve been successful at it because we’re fucking animals. We love this shit, and we have a plan. Other companies jump in because it looks easy and they copy everything we do. Nothing about what they’re doing is innovative or takes the sport to another level. There’s no passion in it.
We got into this shit when people thought we were fucking lunatics. People said, “This thing’s never gonna work. They’re gonna lose all their money.” We dug in, figured out ways to make it work, and changed the fight business forever. We’ve done things that people never did in 100 years in the fight business. All of our fighters have full-blown health insurance. No fight company has ever done that! We pay fighters more than what it says in their contract. We’ve created something like 57 millionaires. We’ve created a global industry that affects television, pay-per-view, T-shirt companies, equipment companies, gyms, mixed martial arts studios, and more.
What was the defining moment when you knew the UFC had arrived?
It was season one of The Ultimate Fighter. We had to get on free TV and everyone was afraid to put live UFC fights on TV. The Ultimate Fighter was our Trojan horse. You were watching UFC, with the fights, without even realizing it, because it was wrapped up in reality.
Did you foresee the decline of boxing back when you were starting the UFC?
I’ll tell you where I saw trouble for boxing early on. If you look at boxing’s heyday the United States dominated international competitions. Mexico and the United States, all our guys had world titles. At the Olympics our guys were always winning medals, then the sport fell apart at the amateur level. USA Boxing used to control it and they sold it off to some private organization, when the amateurs fall apart, you know what’s next. Plus [boxing sanctions] shoot themselves in the foot so many times, it’s crazy.
Where do you see the UFC in five years?
The UFC is gonna be in every country. We’re running The Ultimate Fighter in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Australia, and China.