Dana White talks T.U.F. drama, makes future promise
As season seven of The Ultimate Fighter comes to a close, SI.com got a chance to speak with Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White about all things T.U.F., the UFC's laundry list of future endeavors, and even boxing's demise and today's sports heroes and losers. Not surprisingly, the man was rather candid.
Jhabvala: How did season seven of The Ultimate Fighter compare to the last six?
White: I loved this season. I thought this season was a great season and it's not over yet. This Wednesday, it was literally the most shocking ending to any season we've ever done.
Jhabvala: What was the most memorable T.U.F. moment for you this season?
White: [Wednesday]. This Wednesday's show was the most memorable thing out of seven seasons of doing The Ultimate Fighter.
Jhabvala: In your mind, how has T.U.F. changed the face of MMA?
White: It's exposed mixed martial arts to millions of people who didn't know anything about it. You get to look inside and see what great athletes these guys are. Listen, there's nothing nastier out there than the Diaz brothers (UFC veteran Nick and T.U.F. season five winner Nate). Those kids are so mean and so nasty, it's unbelievable. Nate Diaz told me at the end of season five, 'Me and my brothers used to sit at the end of the couch and make fun of everyone on the show. I will never, ever make fun of anyone on this show again. I can't believe how hard this is, I just had no idea.'"
Jhabvala: How do you feel about the marketability of this season's fighters? Who do you think will be a big name down the road?
White: It's one of those things that's hard to tell. You never know what's going to resonate with fans, or who fans are really going to get behind. It's always interesting to see. At the end of the day, fans are either going to love a guy for his personality or his fighting skills. If we can find a guy that has both, it's a [deleted expletive] homerun.
Jhabvala: Is MMA ever going to be sanctioned in New York?
White: Of course it's going to happen. I've been saying all year that I'm very confident that we'll have it done by the end of this year. Have we ever not delivered? A lot of people can talk a lot of [crap] about the UFC and say this and that, but at the end of the day, we deliver. We always deliver. When have we ever said we're going to do something and not have done it?
Jhabvala: Who do you think is the best presidential candidate for MMA?
White: I'd have to say McCain. I consider John McCain the guy who started the UFC. If it weren't for McCain I wouldn't be here right now. What people don't understand about mixed martial arts and the UFC is, what [McCain] was saying to the old owners is that you cannot put on fights in states that aren't sanctioned. It's illegal. You can't do it. You have to be sanctioned by an athletic commission, which we agreed with him on 100 percent. John McCain wasn't saying this thing shouldn't happen, or it shouldn't be running. He was saying, if 'You're going to do it, it has to be sanctioned by an athletic commission.' We agree.
Jhabvala: Talk about the new UFC action figures?
White: I'm excited about it, actually, because what we've been working for a number of years on getting the fighters more money while not fighting -- how to get these guys paid while sitting on the couch. And this new merchandising deal that we did with all these guys is a step in the right direction. The action figures -- we did it with JAKKS, which is one of the best action-figure toy companies in the world -- will be in 60 different countries. We're working on our global footprint right now and we're in 170 different countries on some form of television. So, now this deal, it's good for us, it's good for the fighters and it's good for the sport.
Jhabvala: So the fighters get a piece of the action figures?
White: Yeah, they get a piece of their action figures, whatever they sell.
Jhabvala: As a former boxer, do you think boxing is dying and MMA is taking its place?
White: I don't see that were really taking over boxing. Boxing has done what it's done to itself. I'm not out there trying to hurt boxing. I love boxing. The reason I'm sitting in this chair talking to you is because of boxing. I love the sport. But the fighters, the promoters and all the other leeches have destroyed the sport of boxing. And boxing's in big trouble. Unless someone steps up with big money and tries to save it, the way we did with the UFC, then it's going to die. It's going to die on the vine.
When we came in, we shook up the entire industry. We rebuilt this industry, we rebuilt the fight business. And we think we have the right plan and the right strategy over the next five years, and I think mixed martial arts and the UFC is going to be the biggest sport in the world. Bigger than soccer, bigger than football, bigger than anything.
Jhabvala: Do you think the UFC will continue to grow at this pace?
White: Even faster. I don' even think we've scratched the surface of the potential for what this thing is. See, everybody tries to talk about how big we are. We're not [deleted expletive] big yet. The biggest means mainstream. If I went out on the Vegas Strip right now and asked everyone 'What's American Idol?' everybody could tell me what American Idol is. Not everyone could tell me what the UFC is. We are not anywhere near mainstream yet. There is so much room for growth not only hear, but globally. [Shoot], people talk about how big we are and we're not even sanctioned in New York yet! We just did a big fight up in Montreal and it's the only place you have a fight up in Canada. There is so much work to do.
Jhabvala: What else is on your to-do list in the UFC's future?
White: This list is long. There's not enough time in the day to knock out the things on my list. That's why everyone's been chirping about this announcement. Remember the Bud Light deal? When I announced that Anheuser-Busch was the sponsor of the UFC now, that thing didn't get anywhere near the pop that it should have. You know why? Because the media and the fans don't really understand how [deleted expletive] huge that is, the magnitude of an announcement like that. We couldn't get a sponsor to save our life five years ago. I flew around on a plane and went to all the majors, trying to get them to sponsor The Ultimate Fighter and nobody would touch it with a 10-foot pole. Now the biggest and the baddest sponsor in the world, Anheuser-Busch, Bud Light is the sponsor of the UFC now. And people are like 'Oh, good for you. You got a Bud Light sponsorship and you're going to get money." [Forget] the money. I don't care about the money.
Not only is [Anheuser-Busch] the biggest beer company, they're the biggest sports marketing company on the planet. And it's global. So they're an amazing and strategic partner to help us take this sport to the next level.
The announcement I [made June 18] is so [deleted expletive] huge in terms of what it means to the business side of this thing, what it means to the fighters and where we're going to take this thing in five years. Everyone's looking at "right now." I'm working on things that are going to happen two, three, five years down the road. We're in this thing for the long haul. Remember that I told you this: in the next five to eight years, this thing's going to be the biggest sport in the world -- bigger than the [deleted expletive] NFL, bigger than Major League Soccer, bigger than World Cup soccer or whatever the hell they call it. Bigger than anything. So remember I told you that.
Jhabvala: What do you think of the Mets firing Willie Randolph at 3:14 a.m. earlier this week?
White: Wow. I don't even have an opinion on that. "That sucks," I guess?
Jhabvala: What do you think of Tiger U.S. Open performance?
White: Awesome, man, awesome. Listen, you will hear me say this in a million interviews, I hate golf. I hate it. I think it's the dumbest game ever [deleted expletive] played, it's a complete waste of land and everything else. I've smashed golf 57 million ways in 57 million different interviews. But I'm going to be honest, I watched every [deleted expletive] minute of that thing. We actually had it on in the office, and, if you knew how much I hate golf, you'd think 'What a hypocrite, that's hysterical,' but I [deleted expletive] love Tiger Woods. The guy's one every major title on the planet, he's got more money than God, when he hits those shots he goes [deleted expletive] crazy. He's so passionate about the game you cannot help but love him. He's one of the classier human beings you will ever meet or speak to.