UFC: Has Dana White Lost Touch with MMA Fanbase?

Matthew RyderFeatured ColumnistOctober 24, 2012

Oct 5, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; UFC President Dana White talks with the media after the bouts at the UFC on FX 5 at the Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-US PRESSWIRE
Bruce Kluckhohn-US PRESSWIRE

The UFC's issues in 2012 have been beaten to death. It’s no secret that it hasn’t been the best year in the history of the company, even if no one has the right solutions. One thing that we can’t help but wonder, though, is whether Dana White might be slipping away from the MMA fanbase as he tries to navigate some choppy seas.

On the surface, it’s a ridiculous thing to even offer, considering White is a pretty active poster on The Underground forum and certainly isn’t afraid of engaging fans on Twitter. But looking at it in other ways, there are warning signs.

The fact that he so vehemently told people who didn’t love the inaugural flyweight title to “never buy a UFC pay-per-view again” represents bad form from the president of the promotion. Given that buyrates have been uneven (to put it mildly) in 2012, poking the bear by begging fans to stop paying for fights was not the wisest course of action.

At a time when a UFC card was a can’t-miss event, with four or five relevant fights guaranteed, White could get away with a little bit of bluster. Now, with so many fights and so many cards, fans have to be more selective with their cash. Encouraging them to never give it to you again isn’t exactly indicative of a guy who relates to the masses.

Only a few weeks later, Anderson Silva battered Stephan Bonnar in a surprisingly successful main event. White sold the fight as the greatest mixed martial artist ever stepping in to save a card, something Silva obviously did with his violent finish of Bonnar.

Still, whatever criticism of the card and the main event came, White essentially batted away as being absurd, claiming that Silva saving the card and Minotauro Nogueira jumping into a co-main event was more or less the only support he had to make people buy the event.

He also postured that there’s nothing wrong with having a fun fight.

The numbers are in, and the estimates are good on UFC 153, meaning White was right. But he was right for the wrong reasons.

People do want to see Anderson Silva, and people do want to see him in fun fights from time to time. But that has nothing to do with saving events, the UFC’s marketing capacity or anything else. That has to do entirely with the history of violence Silva has in the cage and the fact that he will almost always deliver something memorable when he straps on the gloves.

There have been other issues during 2012 that have shown White to perhaps be a little off in his assessment of the fans.

Any criticism of the FOX television deal, no matter how constructive, is met with rhetoric and ruthless vitriol that usually boils down to White saying one of two things: Either the deal is the best thing to happen in the history of MMA, or if you don’t like it, don’t watch.

Again, trying to grow a sport by telling your fans not to watch or claiming that they’re not fans at all if they don’t love even the worst garbage you serve up is not the best way into their hearts, or wallets for that matter.

In reality, White is among the greatest sports executives of his generation. His vision and scope for his sport is unmatched, his gift for promotion is perfect for a sport clamoring to break into mainstream culture and the ferocity with which he attempts to protect and expand the brand is remarkable.

He’s also more accessible than any other figurehead out there and garners unanimously positive reviews in his willingness to give back to fans and the community.

That said, it wouldn’t kill him to listen more than he talks sometimes. The fanbase has genuine concerns and some intelligent insight on the sport, and baiting them to stop buying the UFC product or telling them what they’ll like and why they’ll like it is an incredibly dangerous game to play.

Regardless, one thing is for sure: The relationship between Dana White and the UFC fanbase will never be boring.