Ask any Mixed Martial Arts fan, casual or hardcore, who the most influential figure in the sports history is in any capacity.
Some might say any of the fighters, Royce Gracie, Tito Ortiz, Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, to name a few. Others might turn the clock back further, Ken Shamrock, Bas Rutten and others who helped carve out the sports early days and pave the way for the former group to pick up the mantle.
But one name that will always be near the top of any fan’s list, regardless of their view and opinion of the landscape of the sport, is Dana White.
And for good reason, as ever since his instalment as the President of the UFC by Zuffa LLC owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta when the the brother bought the burgeoning MMA promotion from SEG, White and the UFC have been inseparable in every facet of the word. Anything that goes on both in front of the camera and behind it, Dana White’s fingerprints are all over it, for better or for worse.
To many fans, Dana is the UFC. He has been at the helm for so long, many fans have forgotten a world wherein White wasn’t the figurehead, and many others simply weren’t around for those days. And when you factor in how MMA simply hasn’t been in the public limelight for as long as other sports such as football, many fans simply cannot picture the UFC, or MMA as a whole, without Dana White.
A lot of this notoriety White has gathered can be partly attributed to his one-of-a-kind persona among other people in his position. White has been in the public eye for 21 years now, and across those many years he has taken any preconception of a suit-and-tie-wearing sport executive and stamped on it several times, with absolutely nobody being able to even come close to the level of fire that Dana can bring.
And where better to start than his infamous EliteXC rant?
Quick bit of background info, on October 4th 2008, relatively new MMA promotion EliteXC put on a show, EliteXC Heat, headlined by their notorious, street-fighting golden child, Kimbo Slice and the aforementioned icon Ken Shamrock.
Except…it wasn’t. Shamrock had to pull out of the contest on the day of the event with a training injury, so in a scramble, the promoters bumped undercard fighter Seth Petruzelli into the main event to fight Slice. Very few gave Seth a ghost of a chance, given his relatively unknown status and the frightening amount of power his opponent brought to the table. But there the knowledge that if Petruzelli could get the fight to the ground, it would be his best chance to defeat his mammoth opponent. So, how did it go?
Kimbo Slice lost the fight by KO in fourteen seconds.
But somehow, that was not the biggest story walking out of the event. That honour went to the interview that Petruzelli gave after the fight, telling a Florida radio station that the promoters “hinted to me, and they gave me the money, to stand and trade with [Slice]. They didn’t want me to take him down.”
Safe to say, this interview went over in the single worst way possible. EliteXC were swiftly under investigation, and eventually closed up shop due to the controversy.
And then, on October 11th, the now-iconic interview with Dana White emerged on Youtube. This interview was nothing short of White and his explosive best, throwing bombs at the fighters, promotion, promoters, and everyone in between. Among the various lines are the often quoted “That’s f***ing illegal” line, and that is barely scratching the surface. It simply must be seen to be believed. Be warned, the following does contain strong language.
Now, let’s pose a question. Can you name any other sporting executive who could conduct an interview like that and get away with no consequence? Better yet, name any other sporting executive who could conduct an interview like that and finish the whole ordeal with more popularity? Eddie Hearn? At a push?
This is just one of the one-of-a-kind characteristics of Dana White, and why there will simply be nothing or no-one like him ever again. He is a product of the early-2000’s counter-culture that the modern UFC spawned from that is somehow still kicking and screaming. And the best part? The EliteXC rant is only one of the many jewels in Dana’s crown.
Look at the fallout from Georges St. Pierre vs Johny Hendricks. Dana was a man possessed at that press conference. He was much less hosting a press conference than he was hosting the verbal execution of champion St. Pierre.
Look at the press conference from when the UFC failed to sign Fedor Emilianenko for a super-fight with Brock Lesnar? Once again, Dana was spitting absolute barbs at anyone who would listen, he would lash out at all he believed were at fault.
Look at the infamous “Stitch Duran was never my friend” interview. As cold as that interview is to look back on, it simply pulls the curtain back further on the UFC’s internal operations, and the man who has the heaviest hand in them all.
However, it’s the latter interview, or rather it’s implications, that causes some cracks to form. Dana is, first and foremost, a businessman. And it’s his nature as such that leaves to an often cold and cruel detachment from the world of MMA that he has created. And there can be no better summary of this than the ongoing row over fighter pay.
Regardless of where you may stand on this issue, it cannot be denied that the nature of this conflict between fans, fighters, management, and everyone in between is leaving an increasingly bad taste in the mouth of all involved. And who’s arguably at the centre of it all? Dana White.
Now, this isn’t to throw the blame exclusively at White, far from it. There are plenty of others within the UFC pulling the strings and giving some of the fighters the shortest end of the shortest stick, just look at former matchmaker Joe Silva and his escapades of immorality. But there is, to a certain degree, a justified amount of blame to be put at the feet of White. And his recent social media scuffle with Jake Paul can be a testament to this.
As President, Dana has the power to make these issues go away at almost the flick of a switch. Or at least…in theory. As of the WME/IMG takeover in 2016, Zuffa no longer hold all the cards. The UFC has since become a publicly traded company, which simply complicates the matter even further, as investors can be a fickle bunch.
But through all the legal nonsense, one thing can be made absolutely clear. Without Dana, none of us would be where we are today. And when he inevitably calls it a day, the MMA world will sorely miss him. Whether or not the future is brighter without him, we will all yearn for the days when Dana was at the forefront of this strange sport that we all find ourselves in love with.