UFC President Dana White: What Is He Fighting For? - Rolling Stone
×
Home Culture Culture Features

What Is UFC President Dana White Fighting For?

How a street-brawling, trash-talking hustler from Las Vegas turned the Ultimate Fighting Championship into the fastest-growing sport in America

dana white rs1054

Peter Yang for Rolling Stone

The way things are going, Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, may soon be hailed as the greatest sports promoter ever, of all time, bigger even than boxing’s Don King, bigger even than pro wrestling’s Vince McMahon. He’s taken mixed martial arts, a sport that was essentially moribund seven years ago — the bare-knuckle, anything-goes, kick-’em-in-the-kernels fights were outlawed in 36 states — and turned it into a moneymaking, crowd-frazzling sensa­tion, a new heavyweight pay-per-view box-office champ. He accomplished this by using various business-savvy strata­gems and dodges, but in a sense the inside mechanics are beside the point. How he did it really is by the force of his own multifaceted personality. At 38, he is profane, charming, ambitious, cunning, controlling, a whole lot of fun to hang around with, open like a book, closed like a fist. In fighters and fans, he inspires loyalty and fear, admiration and disgust. He has a shaved head. He wears skintight T-shirts. He looks badass, he talks badass, he is badass. In all respects, he has been the exact right guy to bring the UFC back from the dead.

This evening, White is wheeling his silver Range Rover around Las Vegas, where the UFC maintains its headquarters, and saying a few things about his role in the sport’s phenomenal turn­around. “I’m not your typical head of a sports league,” he says. “I say exactly how I feel. I don’t hide it. I don’t lie. And I swear a lot. Some people think I’m a classless moron. Other people think I’m this monster that screws my fight­ers over. And other people like me. You can’t make everybody happy. But you gotta understand too, in this business, I’m the promoter. My role is I’m always gonna be the fucking bad guy. No matter what I do. Or how many great things I do for people. Or how many fighters I make millionaires. Because if you’re a fight promoter, and if you make a fucking dollar, you’re a scumbag. You shouldn’t get that money, the fighters should.” He sighs, deeply. “I’m the bad guy. Always going to be the bad guy. I get it. I accept that role. I do the best I can.”

The role of fucking bad-guy scumbag fight promoter first came to White in 2001. The UFC was eight years old and failing: Political pressures were about to do it in. At that point, two of White’s high school buddies, brothers Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, a couple of fight-happy Vegas casino operators, stepped in and bought the company for $2 mil­lion. They handed over day-to-day con­trol of the operation along with a 10 per­cent ownership stake to White, a former unknown amateur boxer.

Now the sport is being called “the next Nascar” and “boxing’s replacement.” And while other mixed-martial-arts out­fits have sprung up, none is as big or has as much top-notch talent as the UFC. The UFC has former light-heavyweight champion Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell, whose autobiography recently landed on The New York Times bestseller list. It has furiously funny Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, an African American who likes to refer to his boss as Dana “It’s Good to Be” White. It has grinning, jug-eared Forrest Griffin, winner of the fight that helped put the UFC on the map. For the past three years, it’s also had its own re­ality show, The Ultimate Fighter, which has been a huge hit on Spike TV. In fact, in terms of popularity, the UFC has pretty much eclipsed boxing, which is limping along with few standout stars. The UFC’s pay-per-view numbers have been better. Its TV ratings are bet­ter. Its audience demographics, guys in their early-to-mid-testosterone-driven years, are better. Everything about it is better. And White is the guy who made it all happen.

That said, two of the UFC’s biggest stars, Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz, recently began raising hell over the size of their paychecks and fighter pay in general. Actually, all the fighters want more money. As a result, there has been considerable talk of late about banding together to unionize. And of high hopes that billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, whose upstart cable chan­nel, HDNet, has begun featuring mixed-­martial-arts fights as a main staple, can provide White and the UFC with some honest competition. And Cuban may have the deep pockets to do it.

None of this appears to worry White, however. It’s around midnight, and he has pulled into an underground garage, taken an elevator one flight up and is milling around his office, surrounded by all the gimcracks and gee-whizzes of his success: a monster-size photograph of MuhammadAli striking a classic, defiant pose (“Isn’t that badass?”), four television sets, a hand-carved onyx skull (“Isn’t that badass too?”), a few Bruce Lee action fig­ures (“They’re first editions! One of a kind!”) and his own personal, portable AccuBanker money-counting machine. He sits down at a computer, checks on the Yahoo popularity rankings of an up­coming UFC fight, then looks up.

“Like Mark Cuban really thinks he’s going to beat me?” he says. “I eat, sleep, breathe and live mixed martial arts. I love this shit. It’s what I do. But look, at the moment, this thing we have is still really pure. It’s not all fucking dirty like boxing. I know that day is coming. And when it does, I’m gone. But I love a good fight and, seriously, I re­ally do have secrets and reasons for the things I do. So he’s never going to beat me. Never, ever.”

The UFC’s fighters eat, sleep, breathe and live MMA too, of course, and in any story about the continued rise and dominance of the UFC, they think they ought to be front and center, not White. It makes sense. They’re the ones who climb into the Octagon cage where all UFC fights take place and face round after round in which they will ei­ther get knocked out cold or get caught in an armbar, a kneebar, a rear naked choke, a guillotine choke or similar move such that they either pass out or are forced to tap out or escape, only to get clobbered two seconds later. Or they might win. No matter: They’re still the ones stumbling around with the cauliflower ears, the mashed, pulpy noses, the black eyes and the fractured jaws. And it’s the fighters, not White, who on occasion shit their pants midround and have to live with that forever after. Or who last only 17 seconds after nine months of exhaustive preparation and windup, in some cases, taking home no more than $3,000. Or who work out at gyms where the train­ing can be just as ferocious as the fights — and where signs in the bathroom read “If you bleed or vomit, please clean up your mess.”

“We really want to put a lot of emphasis on the fighters,” White de­clared back in 2001, four days after the Fertittas bought the UFC. “We want to create superstars.” And he has, a few, like Liddell, Couture and Ortiz. But the UFC is still mostly about the UFC. And about White, who has become the company’s most visible and valuable public asset.

Nonetheless, he’s not always an easy guy to deal with. “If he feels you’re a per­son who is not straight with him,” says a former UFC business associate, “he can flip on you, bro, and then he’ll put as much energy as he can into tearing you a new asshole.” But the great thing about White is he’s more than happy to say the same thing about himself. “If I’m your friend, I’m the best fucking friend you could ever hope to have,” he says. “But if you try to hurt me, that’s a whole other ballgame, and you couldn’t have picked a worse fucking enemy ever. Ever. I am going to fucking hurt you.”

Today, White’s big public battles are with Ortiz and Couture. Last year, Ortiz began a long-running feud with White and the UFC after hearing that the company made $42 million from one of his fights, while he took home $1.5 million. “Why should the company keep all the money?” he asked. “Why do they get the pie and we get the crumbs?” He called it “ridiculous money” compared with the money boxers Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather get paid. He also called White “a big bully.” He’s said these things numerous times since then, and every time he does, the press heads on over to White for a response.

What White usually does first is take a deep breath and school the writers on the difference between boxing’s business model and the UFC’s. A boxing promoter like Don King, he explains, takes no risk for putting on a fight: Madison Square Garden and HBO put up all the money. “The UFC is different,” he says. “We assume all risk, we get no fucking guaranteed fees, we pay for everything. We can’t pay fighters the same.” What White usually does second is pretend Ortiz’s comments aren’t worth a moment’s further consideration: “He’s a dumb guy, a fucking dummy, the worst kind of idiot, the biggest fucking moron you’ve ever met, a knucklehead.” End of story.

“Dana tells it like it is,” says Lorenzo Fertitta. “And sometimes he’s going to come off as crass. And sometimes he’s not going to be appropriate. But that’s Dana. And certainly things seem to be working pretty good right now, so why change? If he feels it makes sense to call Tito a moron, then go call him a moron.”

The Couture situation, however, is different. Couture has long been considered one of the UFC’s premier good guys. His nickname is Captain America. His fights — he’s won nine title bouts — have provided the UFC with some of its most dramatic wins and unexpected defeats. When, at the age of 43, Couture came out of retirement to beat heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia and take back that belt for the third time, White said, “Not only is he an incredible athlete and an incredible fighter, he’s an incredible person and human being. I have nothing but respect for Randy Couture.” Then, later last year, while still champion and with two fights left on his contract, Couture abruptly left the UFC and claimed that the company had gypped him out of a $500,000 signing bonus. The UFC, which is a privately held company, never talks about its finances, but in this case it made an exception. White held his own press conference and passed out copies of Couture’s signing-bonus checks with Couture’s signature on them.

Since then, the situation has devolved into a kind of he said/he said mess, with secret hurts and slights seeming to propel Couture forward more than the facts. Like Ortiz, he has also begun to speak out about the UFC’s pay, especially when it comes to the lesser-known fighters, and to hint that unionization might be necessary. “Dana tells fighters he’s going to take care of them,” says Couture. “He’s going to make them rich, he’s never going to steer them wrong. That’s his MO. But the UFC’s contracts control fighters from top to bottom. And if anyone makes waves, they’ll be dropped and blackballed in a heartbeat. And most of the guys are just struggling, getting the chance to fight maybe three times a year and making only between $6,000 and $10,000 a fight. Now that the sport is successful, the UFC’s athletes need to get the right kind of treatment.”

White, a former boxer himself, is not without sympathy for fighters like Couture. “The thing is, mixed-martial-arts guys are fucking smart guys,” he says one afternoon on his way to a hideously expensive lunch at the Four Seasons. “Most of them went to college. They’re sharp. But when the maggots and cling-ons start whispering shit into their ears about how they should be getting this or getting that, they are very easy to mislead. Anyway, here’s the life of a fighter. One minute you’re the champion; two losses later you’re nothing. Then you might leave the UFC for a while, win five fights and come back. And when you can do that, you’re a real fighter. Those are the guys I respect. Win, lose or draw, they get back on that horse to prove in front of millions they’re the best fighter in the world. It’s amazing. It’s their destiny. It’s what they were born to do.”

White’s own destiny came to him courtesy of Whitey Bulger’s Irish mob. This was back in 1995, in the hard-knocks Southie part of Boston. White was 25 and an avid amateur boxer. He’d dropped out of UMass Boston, spent some time as a bouncer, a paving-company laborer and a bellhop at the fancy downtown Boston Harbor Hotel. Then one day he quit the hotel job and started a youth-boxing program in Southie, to get kids off the street, and for a while thought about becoming a professional boxer.

“All I cared about was boxing,” White says. “Then I saw this professional boxer in the gym, he was in his 3os, and he was all punchy, and I thought to myself, `Holy shit, you don’t ever want to be like that’ And to be a fighter, that kind of thought can’t ever enter your mind. It’s one of the things I respect about them, how they think. And when I saw that guy in the gym, I realized I was never going to be like that.”

Around the same time, though, White was teaching boxercise to the local yuppies, and that’s when Whitey Bulger’s crew came into his life, changing everything. They said, “You’re doing business in our town. We want $3,500. You got two days.” White slept on it overnight. He was a tough guy. Not long before, he’d beat the crap out of a guy for touching his girl’s ass at a bar, got sued, lost, was fined $17,000, refused to pay it, was arrested, had his paycheck attached. OK. He decided to never street-fight again. But this was in a whole other league.

The next day, just like that, leaving everything behind, he got on an airplane and relocated to Las Vegas.

In fact, he was returning home. He’d been raised in Vegas. His mom had been a nurse there, his dad was a fire-man back in Massachusetts. They got divorced when he was three. After that, he didn’t have a dad around to teach him dad-type stuff. His mom wasn’t around that much either. Mostly she worked, trying to earn enough to pay the bills. White the teenager was a troublemaker. He liked to fight, and he went out looking for fights, mostly taking on kids from rival schools. He and his friends also liked to go beat up stoners —”dudes with long hair, wore rock T-shirts.” He got shot at by Mexican gangbangers. He got thrown out of his high school twice. And whenever he did something wrong, his mom would say, “Let me tell you the difference between you and all these fucking rich kids you hang around with. They’re always going to be rich and you’re not. And if you fucking blow it, you’ll be pumping gas into their cars one of these days. You’re their pal now. But just you wait.” Finally, when he was 16, he got into a drunk-driving accident, after which his mom shipped him off to Maine to live with his grandparents.

Now, more or less run out of Boston, he was back in town. He got it together to open a boxing gym and started to meet a number of fighters, including early UFC standouts Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. White befriended them, became their manager and fought to get them bigger paychecks just as hard as he fights against handing out bigger paychecks today. “When I was willing to fight for almost nothing, he had me sit out,” recalls Liddell. “He said, ‘No way am I letting you fight for that.’ In three months, I went from $1,000 a fight, with another $1,000 if I won, up to $10,000 and $10,000. You know what? He’s never done me wrong.”

White was instantly taken with the sport. Mixed martial arts is explosive and kinetic, alive with opportunity and chance, and adds to fist strikes the kick-boxing of Muay Thai, along with the ground game of jujitsu, as well as the ins and outs of numerous other fighting disciplines. It’s multidimensional, like 3-D chess. And the best of its practitioners are some kind of intense breed apart.

“To be the best, you’ve got to have what I call the five D’s: dedication, desire, discipline, drive and determination,” says Juanito Ibarra, who is Rampage Jackson’s manager and trainer. “You’ve got to have heart. And you’ve got to have some kind of ugliness in you. We all have ugliness in us, like we all have pain and sorrow. But the best fighters have a switch in them that lights that ugliness up. And you either got it that way or you don’t.”

Pretty soon White himself started sparring, nothing serious, just for the hell of it, mostly with a couple of guys at the gym who were old high school friends of his and big UFC fans, too, Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta. At the time, the UFC had been around for seven years. The brainchild of Brazilian jujitsu master Rorion Gracie, film director and Gracie student John Milius, and fight aficionado and ad executive Art Davie, it had originated out of an idea first postulated by Davie: Let’s see which of all the world’s fighting styles is best. There were no judges, no weight classes, no mouthpieces, no gloves and practically no rules. “Two men enter the Octagon, one man leaves” was the official slogan.

The Octagon was Milius’ idea, taken from his movie Conan the Barbarian. “In Conan, the pits for the pit fights were octagonal in shape, because in an octagon there’s no corner for a guy to hide in,” he says. “And then, for the se fights, we said, ‘Let’s add a chain-link fence,’ because there’s something about chain-link that is so wonderfully American.”

During the UFC’s first event, in 1993, one switched-on, ugly-filled fighter kicked another fighter so hard that his teeth scattered into the seats, which about said it all. Audiences loved it. They went nuts in the stands and brawled among themselves. “It was just fabulous,” recalls Milius. “You’d hear this roar and look over to your left, and some guy would be pounding away at some other guy, and girls would be running around with their blouses ripped. It was Roman. It was total blood lust. Why do people watch the news every night? To see people get shot. We have that. That’s one of the things man does. He makes war. He loves war. It’s like gravity. It’s a force.”

But then one crazy, fabulous, bloody fight led to another, and pretty soon TV commentators and politicians like John McCain got wind of it. Naturally, they jumped on their high horses and began expressing moral outrage; it didn’t take long for 36 states to ban the events and pay-per-view providers to cancel all of the company’s fight contracts.

In late 2000, UFC owner Bob Meyrowitz let it be known that he might be willing to sell the thing. When White heard about it, he called Lorenzo Fertitta, and in short order, the deal was done, for $2 million, just like that. “It was literally that simple and that quick,” recalls Lorenzo. “We had absolutely no plan. We bought it as a hobby.”

But soon enough the brothers, a couple of coolheaded, soft-voiced, dark-suit-wearing guys, wound up sinking so much money into their new purchase that it made even them begin to sweat. Sure, they owned a casino empire, which their dad started in the mid-1970s, that helped put them on the Forbes 400 richest list, with a combined estimated net worth of $2.6 billion. Even so, by 2004, they were about ready to scrap the whole UFC thing.

White was doing everything he could. He had been lobbying state athletic commissions to get sanctioned, pointing out that the UFC had cleaned up its fight rules, instituted weight classes and put a scoring system in place. He made UFC fights more crowd-friendly, along the lines of Vince McMahon’s WWE events, with bright lights, giant video screens, loud music, big-boobed ring girls and “all kinds of funky shit.” Then he and the Fertittas came up with the idea for a reality show: Call it The Ultimate Fighter, put 16 fighters in a house, let them go at it in the Octagon week after week, and the last man standing wins a six-figure UFC contract.

It was a deal Spike TV could not resist. And right out of the box, The Ultimate Fighter pulled big numbers. Negotiations for a second season were ongoing even as the first punches were thrown in the season-finale bout between light-heavy-weights Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar, which ended up becoming, as White likes to say, “the most significant fight in UFC history.”

Going into it, Bonnar was known as a submission specialist trained in jujitsu. What set Griffin apart was his go-for-broke attitude. “I love having black eyes and stuff,” he said. “It’s sporty. It’s a good conversation starter.” His plan for the fight: “To go out there and get hit in the mouth. And figure it out from there.”

The way it worked out, though, whatever game plan the guys had, they threw it out within the first few punches, and basically the bout evolved into a street fight of a very high order. It was about straight rights, counters, jabs, Muay Thai clinches and knees to the noggin. They went to the ground only four times. Each time, they stood again and traded punches. Bonnar socked Griffin. Griffin smiled and socked Bonnar right back. The announcers started hyperventilating with the excitement of it all. “It’s really kind of unfortunate that someone is going to lose this battle, it’s so entertaining,” one of them said. Early in the second round, Bonnar opened up a gash on Griffin’s nose. Blood streamed onto the canvas and all over Griffin’s face. The ref called time. Griffin smiled as he walked over to his cut man — he couldn’t have been happier. And you could tell right then, in the honesty of that smile, that whatever ugliness he had in him was switched on and itching to get back to work.

They went at it again. Bonnar, getting pretty ugly himself, trapped Griffin in a clinch and pounded him with his knee. The crowd was on its feet. “Welcome to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, world!” the announcer shouted. Sweat dripped off both fighters, slicking their skin, and the clinches wouldn’t hold. White, ringside, was clapping his hands. By the third round, the fighters were staggering. But then they engaged one more time. Bonnar tried a wheel kick that went wide, but it stunned the announcers that he even tried. And then the horn sounded. The fight was over. Both men raised their arms.

“How do you call anybody a winner in that fight?” one announcer wanted to know.

A few moments later, Griffin won the decision, and Bonnar fell to the canvas, defeated. It was time for White to say a few words. He took the microphone and said, “Oh, my God, that is what it’s all about right there.” He fussed over Griffin and gave him his prize, but then he said, “Frank, Lorenzo and I have gotten together and we’ve decided there is no loser in this fight. And we’re going to offer Stephan Bonnar a six-figure contract with the UFC.” Griffin and Bonnar hugged a couple of times. “Yeah!” the crowd went. “Yeah!” And White said, “What a war.” And 3 million viewers had watched it live.

A half-hour later, Spike TV and the Fertittas agreed on a second season of The Ultimate Fighter. For the year 2006, based on interest generated by the success of the show, the UFC set a pay-per-view sales record, with more than $222,766,000 in revenue. It was now bigger than professional wrestling. Boxing, too.

White lives in a gated community for rich folks in the Vegas burbs. Lorenzo lives here too, and Lorenzo’s brother, Frank, is nearby. Outside, White has his Range Rover, his Ferrari and his two Mercedes. Out back, he’s got a humongous rock-garden swimming pool, with waterfalls and hidden cave grottoes. (His neighbors sued to get it removed, won, and now White is paying a $2,000 monthly fine until he tears it down — and just out of spite, he plans on paying that fine in perpetuity.) In his garage, he’s got a pet turtle, which he loves, and when the weather gets warmer, the turtle will hang out by his swimming pool alongside Anne, his wife of 13 years, and their three young kids. Inside his house he’s got Rembrandts, Dalis and Warhols — not copies, originals.

He’s also got a collection of Chinese throwing stars and a collection of billy clubs. By his bed, he’s got nunchucks. Elsewhere, he’s got his in-laws taking care of his kids, because his wife is away. He’s got a shower that holds eight. He’s got a hundred T-shirts hung up and sorted by color. And inside his mind, he’s got himself and just who that might be.

On the one hand, he says, “Dude, I have no idea who I am. You fucking tell me. I don’t know who the fuck I am.” On the other hand, not io minutes later, he says, ‘At the end of the day, I know who I am. People who criticize me don’t know me. I’m 38 years old, man. Halfway to dead. You gotta do that shit now. Get out there and achieve. Do every fucking thing you want to do right now.”

One night, White wants to go gambling. Actually, White wants to go gambling every night, and he usually does, always at the same place, the Fertitta-owned Palace Station casino. On the way, he says, “I won $50,000 last night, I won $22,000 the night before, I’ve won $460,000 in the last 38 days. I love this fucking town.”

Inside the Palace Station, he sits at a cordoned-off, high-rollers blackjack table. A cocktail girl comes around and White gets a water. Though he occasionally has a glass of wine with dinner, he hasn’t really been a big drinker in 16 years.

“Gentlemen,” the dealer says, “What can I get for you?”

“Twenty,” says White.

“$20,000?”

“Yup,” says White.

The cards are dealt. Dealer takes the first hand, players take the second.

The third-hand cards are dealt. White leans over and coaches another player. “What d’ya got?” he says. “Hit it. This is the maker or breaker. Flip ’em both up so I can see ’em. Five? Nice. Now hit it again and hope for a 10. There you go, baby. Stick ’em. It’s a winner!” And White wins too, a big win after doubling down.

He riffles the chips with his fingers. “Right now, I’m up $30,000,” he says. “We’re leaving, party’s over,” he says to the dealer, tossing him a $1,500 tip.

Four and a half minutes have passed since the first hand was dealt.

“Here’s the thing,” White says on the way out. “I don’t play to get rich, I play to have fun. These guys haven’t beat me since before Christmas. In the last week, $110,000. I’ve taken some man-size beatings, too. I was down $200,000 and came back. But here’s the thing: You just gotta hang in there. Hey, what a life, huh? It doesn’t suck, my friend.”

Back in his Range Rover, pulling out of the Station lot, he turns up Ram Jam’s version of “Black Betty” on the stereo and sings along. “Oh, whoa, Black Betty…had a child/Bam-ba-lam/The damn thing gone wild/Bam-ba-lam…I said, Oh, Black Betty/Whoa, Black Betty.”

Off into the Vegas night he goes, and the way he operates, he really is like some kind of damn thing gone wild himself. Here’s the deal: White hung in there and raised the UFC from a grave $44 million deep. By any measure, it’s a remarkable achievement. So what if he doesn’t have a major network deal yet? It’ll happen. And when it does, just wait. “If you’re in business with Dana, you are not going to lose, OK?” says Lorenzo. “So if I’m putting my money behind somebody, I’m putting it behind Dana. Give me the guy who does battle. Yeah, he may call somebody a funny name, but who cares? Dana will not lose.”

It’s fight night at Mandalay Bay. Outside the arena, one of the UFC’s biggest, gnarliest fighters is signing autographs for fans, mostly guys with tattoos and girls with large breasts — the tits-n-tats crowd, as they are known. The big guy seems happy enough. But then, in a private moment, he frowns and says, “So how come you’re doing a story on Dana? I don’t understand that. The fighters are what make the sport.” And he goes on from there to make some pointed comments about White and the UFC, none of them laudatory. It’s kind of great to hear. Most fighters won’t say anything critical of White. But then he stops to think, and what he says next is “Don’t use any of what I just said. Please. I will hunt you down. You don’t understand how this guy operates. He will destroy me.”

He’s probably right about that. Unless you spend some time on White’s bad side, you can’t get a complete picture of the guy and what he might be capable of. One guy who has been there is a middle-weight named Matt Lindland. He was once a UFC star. In 2005, however, two days after Lindland won a bout, the UFC fired him for attending a weigh-in wearing a T-shirt that bore the logo of an unapproved sponsor. And that was it. He was out, with White reportedly saying things like “He fucked me, and he knows he fucked me.”

Lindland thinks the T-shirt just provided White with a handy excuse to get rid of him, because he’d never kissed White’s ass the way some fighters do — and because White was grooming fighter Rich Franklin to be the next middleweight champ and Lindland was more than likely to win any contest between the two. Even so, Lindland would like nothing more than to get back in the UFC, because when you’re a fighter, the UFC is where you want to fight, but White will no longer have anything to do with him. “They’ve let guys back in who’ve done steroids and who’ve tested positive for cocaine,” Lindland says. “But I wear a T-shirt and that fucked Dana White? Come on. He’s really grown our sport, so God bless him. But you really don’t want to get on Dana White’s bad side. Trust me. That’s why none of the other fighters will say anything. They’re terrified. He’s got powerful guys behind him, and he goes around acting like a gangster.”

Another person who has felt White’s wrath is his mother. White got mad at her three years ago, some big family thing he won’t go into, and hasn’t spoken to her since. Last he heard, his mom was telling people that her son is a world-class jerk, “a tyrant who thinks he is God.”

But there’s no time to dwell on that now. The main event, pitting Tim Sylvia against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira for the heavyweight championship, is about to start. A few celebrities have shown up, including Jay-Z and Barry Bonds. Chuck Liddell is ringside, wearing a “Dana White for President” T-shirt. Even Randy Couture is here, lost somewhere in a crowd of nearly 11,000 fans.

Once the fighter introductions are made, the lights are turned up and the grandiose Cecil B. DeMille music is turned down, the referee says the only three words that need to be said: “Let’s do it.” And the fight is joined, with fists, feet and elbows flying.

Meanwhile White, sitting near his pal Liddell, is really pissed off. Before the fight, he and Lorenzo had gone down to Tim Sylvia’s dressing room. Sylvia has been in the UFC for six years, has a contract that expires after this fight and isn’t exactly a fan favorite.

“Get ready, boys,” Sylvia said to his UFC bosses. “When I win tonight, we’re going to break open the bank.”

White was dumbstruck. All he could think was “Wait a minute, dude, you’re going out to fight for the fucking world championship, and you’re talking about breaking open the bank right before the fight? It’s bad. It’s just bad, bad, bad.”

As it happens, Sylvia doesn’t last long. In Round Three, Nogueira gets Sylvia in a guillotine choke and Sylvia taps out. Karmic justice, thinks White, still riled up.

“See, this is the one part of the business I fucking hate,” he says when it’s all over. “Everybody wants more money, and they want it now. And then all these fighters are like, ‘We’re the superstars, not the UFC! It should all be about us.'” Pauses, takes a deep breath. “You dumb motherfuckers. You don’t know what you’re fucking with. I’m a promoter. And a lot of this shit is built with smoke and mirrors.” Pauses again. “When Lorenzo and I first got into this, we were like two fucking idiots. This is going to be so much fun! We’re going to put on big fights! We care about the fighters! We’re going to make them millionaires! We’ll all be friends! It’ll be so great!’ But this is the way it goes. And right now this is my fucking life. I don’t know how much longer I can take it. I just don’t know.” Pauses again, then starts laughing and shaking his head. “Oh, I still have fun. I’m excited for these guys to come out and fight. I still get goose bumps. And no, I don’t regret anything that I’ve said or done, because everything has gotten me right where I am. I could be parking your car or picking up your bag at the hotel. The thing about me, seriously, I’m high on life, man. I love life.”

And then he says again what he says so often — and what his fighters also say, no matter how bloody, beaten and underpaid they might be. He says, “And I love what I do.”

Newswire

Powered by
Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.