Dana White’s billion-dollar baby
How a Southie tough made mixed martial arts the sport of the decade, and the UFC a moneymaking empire.
So I’m out in Vegas with Dana White, and we’re driving to his house to eat dinner and he starts checking his messages.
He listens to one, kind of shakes his head and laughs, then he gives me that look like he’s glad I’m there because he couldn’t make this stuff up. It’s Snoop Dogg. White hits the speakerphone.
“Dana White . . .” it starts. “I’m trying to go to the Rampage Jackson-Evans fight. My people reached out to your people and they said it was sold out. From you to me, me to you. . . . Come on, man, let’s make it official. It’s Snoop!”
“Are you buddies with Snoop?” I ask. He looks up from his phone and smiles. “I guess we are now.”
“Mike, how are you?”
Mike Tyson wants tickets, too.
“Anything for you, brother,” he tells Tyson, one of his childhood idols. “You know that.”
One day in the summer of 1995, while he was in the middle of teaching a class at the Boston Athletic Club in Southie, two men walked in and told him he had to go outside with them. They were, White says, from the Irish mob.
“The details of what went down were a little cloudy, but the bottom line was: You owe us some money,” he says. “I don’t know why they were [expletive] with me, what the real reason was, but to come after me and bust my balls and try to shake me down was a little weird. They wanted a couple grand from me . . . and I said, ‘I don’t have it.’ They said, ‘Get it from your girlfriend.’ I said, ‘She doesn’t have it, either.’ They said, ‘Well, you better figure it out.’ ”
A couple weeks later, his phone rang. The caller told him he had till that Sunday to pay them, he says, “or we’ll kill you.”
He took his dog for a walk. He’ll never forget that feeling. He was looking over his shoulder, feeling scared and crazy and alone. He wasn’t going to pay them; that much was certain. He went back to his apartment, packed some clothes, left everything else, and got on a flight to Vegas.
“When you talk about stuff like destiny, and [expletive] that happens for a reason, if that isn’t proof, then what is?” he says. “What are the odds that a kid who’s riding a [expletive] mountain bike around Southie, teaching housewives and businessmen and kids how to box, is going to be shaken down to the point where he’s like, ‘[Expletive] this, I’m out of here,’ and leaves?
“And then,” he adds, pausing, “this [expletive] happens.”
He plays $25,000 in his first hand and wins. He looks at me and says his life is actually pretty simple: He does his job, he spends time with his kids, and he plays cards to relax. It’s just that the stakes are different now. Forty minutes later, Dana White has lost a half-million dollars like it’s nothing. Because it is. He’s won and lost a million plenty of times, he says.
“This is the only thing that relaxes me, bro.”
“I’m flattered that we make it look so easy that these guys think they can just go out and do it,” he says. “We’re the ones that built this industry. We’re the ones that started this [expletive]. It’s like me and you sitting in my house watching NASCAR, and say, ‘Look at all the people there. What we should do is go out and steal some of their drivers and start our own thing.’ ”
“If you come out and say you’re going to compete against me, we’re going to compete. We’re going to fight until somebody wins or somebody loses.”
“Guess what? Mark Cuban owns HDNet. He owns the [Dallas Mavericks]. Donald Trump owns casinos and everything else. CBS is a television network. You know what I do? I’m in the [expletive] fight business. That’s what I do. Every day, all day, 365 days a year, seven days a week, 24 [expletive] hours a day. That’s the business I’m in. You are never gonna [expletive] beat me. Never.”