As it stands right now, if you are a fighter or a fan, and if you don’t like what Dana White is offering you, then that’s just too bad, because his is essentially the only show in town, so you better get with the program and start singing “All Hail to the Chief” or go on to something else.
Think about it: Would White have dared to call the fans “morons” back in 2003? Sure, he was just as vocal and knee-jerk back then, but he wouldn’t have called the fans morons in front of such a large audience.
He also wouldn’t have thrown his biggest rising star under the bus and placed the entire cancellation of an event on said fighter's shoulders. But then, a lot of things have changed since then.
Believe it or not, when Zuffa first took the reins, White had a very different attitude about things in the world of MMA. In a 2001 interview with Tommy Rojas of PrimeTimeFighters.com, White discussed a great many things that show the difference between then and now.
The first thing I did when we bought the UFC was call Yukino Kanda from PRIDE. I told her there was always a war between the UFC and PRIDE…I told her the war is over. Our office staff started clapping and cheering when I made that call. Then I called Terry Trebilcock from King of the Cage, Paul Smith from IFC. I talked to Jamie Levin from WEF today. Basically, these guys were all at war with each other and I wanted to work together.
Hard to believe that at one time White was happy to assume the role of peacemaker, singing songs of unity all toward a greater end that sees everyone seated at the table.
Obviously, a lot can change when you’re the only game in town. Suddenly, you don’t have to take caution in your tone or else risk the possibility that your fighters might seek refuge in the arms of another organization equal in size to yourself.
And as for his views about the fighters themselves?
Tommy Rojas: There has been a lot of talk that the UFC didn’t pay very well. Will that change?
Dana White: Right. That’s gonna change. See, that’s what we really want to change. We’re gonna bring back a lot of the fighters that left the UFC for that reason and the other reasons that they were chased away. You have to understand Lorenzo and I. Lorenzo comes from the Nevada State Athletic Commission, and what do they do? Their job is to look out for fighters. I was a manager, what was my job? To look out for fighters. So we really want to put a lot of emphasis on the fighters. The old UFC’s emphasis was the UFC. That was the main thing that they wanted to promote and publicize. We want to create superstars.
And to be honest and fair, White and the rest at Zuffa have done that very thing. Fighters like Jon Jones and GSP may not be as well known as Michael Jordan, but they enjoy a status far beyond what any dreamed possible for the sport of MMA.
But there is something ironic about White’s words back then, especially when he was talking about the SEG-era UFC: “The old UFC’s emphasis was the UFC.” As much as it would seem things have changed, they also stayed the same. When looking at the UFC 151 fiasco, White was quick to say it wasn’t his fault or the UFC’s fault that the card was cancelled; Jon Jones was to blame.
When looking back on things, White and Zuffa looked to be at their best during those times when they had a rival company to consider. Competition brings out the best in not only fighters, but promotions as well.
Back when PRIDE FC was going strong, the UFC seemed to go about business with painstaking detail; they were willing to take big risks, but they also took care to make sure they didn’t overspend their budget and that they didn’t burn too many bridges. They had their eyes set on the future.
They weren’t lashing out at fighters or coaches in public, mainly because they knew a scorched-earth policy is only good if you never plan to plant crops in those fields again.
Now, there is no other true rival for them to worry about. Every other promotion is a clear step down, and thus it seems that we are seeing an even newer version of the UFC, one that wants to make superstars, as long as those superstars are almost totally subservient to the company line.
The sport needs a new promotion (probably overseas) that can uphold the mantle that PRIDE FC once did, albeit with more fiscal responsibility. They need to be dedicated to bringing the best fights they can to the public, and they need to be dedicated to putting their fighters into the spotlight.
Contrary to what many believe, White is right about a great many things. It’s easy to understand the hard-line stance he takes when backing up most of his decisions regarding who is going to fight whom; he doesn’t want MMA to go down the same road as boxing, where the fighters usually decide who they are going to fight and title belts are the byproducts of business deals.
He is also right about the sport of MMA becoming one of the biggest sports in the world, globally speaking. Nationally, football in America will always be bigger, but globally? That becomes a totally different conversation.
Already, MMA is so big that the UFC alone (and some of the smaller organizations) cannot encompass it all as it deserves. And as the sport continues to grow, so does the need for choices—especially for the fighters.
White clearly wants to make superstars out of his fighters, but none of that means anything if he alone decides what a fighter is worth. When that is the case, then a low standard might be set, and from there low expectations usually follow.
That is not to say that White tries to set the bar so low that the fighter trips over it; it simply means that choices give a fighter confidence in what they are doing, and with confidence comes desire.
Also, the more promotions there are of worth, the more fighters there are to be discovered and groomed for the mantles of superstars and champions. Simply put, it’s a big, wide world, and were it to see another promotion of the same caliber as the UFC, with that same financial power and sense, then more and more fighters would be discovered. With that would come more thrilling rises to glory and title fights—perhaps even champion vs. champion.
Then, there is the idea of co-promotion with the goal of giving the fans the fights they really want to see. When PRIDE FC was thriving, sending Chuck Liddell to fight in their tournament wasn’t a threat because PRIDE was an established entity and clearly just as big in the sport as the UFC.
The same cannot be said for M-1, who wanted to co-promote with the UFC for all of the events that their main star, Fedor Emelianenko, would be fighting in. M-1 wasn’t an established entity in the promotional business, at least not near the level of the UFC, so co-promoting with them was indeed laughable.
The sport needs honest promotions that are willing to go about the business of serving the fans by bringing them the best fights possible from the best fighters available. They should look to the UFC and see how it can be done, because the UFC has proven they do it better than anyone else.
But if White and Zuffa have proven anything of late, it’s that they shouldn’t be doing it alone.