White responds to the critics and looks ahead
2015 saw the rise of Ronda Rousey. In 2016 it was Conor McGregor. In 2017 it was, comparatively speaking, crickets. However, UFC president Dana White described last year as the best ever, and by a wide margin. During a recent interview with Brett Okamoto for ESPN, White was asked about the disconnect.
“I think the sale has everything to do with it,” said White. “Everybody is looking at that $4 billion sale and asking, ‘Did they deliver?’ F*** yeah, we delivered. We deliver every single year. And still, every year, if you listen to the media, we’re f***ed.”
“WME-IMG Endeavor bought us for $4 billion, and obviously they need to hit certain numbers for the banks. Right now, I’m spending another $1 million [at UFC’s Las Vegas headquarters] on another wing I want. That’s how bad of a year we’re having. [Endeavor CEO] Ari Emanuel wants to buy the building next door and build more s***. We’re still growing.”
The biggest fight of the year, MayMac, took place in a ring, not the Octagon.
“Who cares if it was a boxing match?” said White. “Do you think we knew Floyd Mayweather was going to fight Conor McGregor in 2017? F*** no. We still had our year lined out, a budget and everything else.
“This is the fight business. You have no f***ing idea what’s going to happen. If that fight hadn’t happened, Conor would have fought twice in the UFC and who knows who he would have fought or the fights it would have set up. This s*** doesn’t just happen. We create this s***.”
If there is a single model for the UFC’s success, it’s the WWE, but White has the additional massive hurdle of actual fights. Francis Ngannous appears to be the Next Big Thing, but he has an actual fight on January 20.
“But you’ve got to f***ing win,” said White. “Look at what we did with Conor. Can anybody say we didn’t build Conor McGregor the way he needed to be built? But he delivered.”
WME-IMG bought the UFC and expectations were high that the world’s greatest talent agency could take the sport to the next level. However, from the fan perspective, there’s nothing obvious to point to that White and his original team wouldn’t have done on their own. White replied to that too, pointing to a recent event in Shanghai.
“We’re building an infrastructure in China to find and train these guys,” he said. “We’re working on a deal to build a gym there. The key is finding real f***ing talent in China. And it’s there.”
What is clear is that the UFC has to cover a $4 billion note. The key may be television. The FOX deal with this year reportedly pays $168 million, and then ends. The UFC is believed to be trying to increase that to $450 million, but has apparently not found a taker in that range. Still, White is optimistic.
“It’s getting more interesting by the minute,” he said. “ESPN buys Fox Sports’ [regional sports networks], which the UFC is perfect for. And you look at Fox, they have a load of cash from the [sale to Disney]. You’ve got powerhouses like Amazon, Netflix, and YouTube.”
And the UFC is getting into the boxing business. There’s not likely to be a deal with Oscar ‘Snorting Coke Again?’ De La Hoya (Golden Boy Promotions), Bob ‘Biggest Piece of S*** In All Sports’ Arum (Top Rank), or Stephen ‘F***ing Weasel’ Espinoza (Showtime). However, White appears to have a good relationship with Al Haymon (Premier Boxing Champions) and Leonard Ellerbe (Mayweather Promotions). And White wants to bring the UFC model to The Sweet Science.
“Whoever an athlete is, I don’t care who it is, I want to fly you to Las Vegas and we’re going to meet,” said White. “I’m going to walk you through this new facility, show you the gym, the trainers, all the amenities. Free supplements, physical therapy, we’ll cook your food exactly how you like it three times per day. You’ll get health insurance.
“Who can offer you a better deal than me in combat sports? F*** boxing, MMA, whatever it is. Who can offer a better deal than me? The answer is nobody.
“This is what we do. Keep doubting us.”