Written by Trevor Lane
Dana White, love him or hate him, is the driving force behind the UFC. His stocky, bald figure can be seen in the front row of every show, right in the middle of the action.
While his actions and foul language can make him a very polarizing figure, there is no question that Dana has made his mark on MMA as well as the sports world in general.
In 2001, Dana and his partners, the Fertitta brothers, bought the failing UFC for $2 million. MMA was being promoted as being little more than street brawls, but Dana was able to change the image associated with it, and breathe new life into the fledgling sport.
Now the UFC gets more pay-per-view buys than any other event, and has spawned a hit reality show, The Ultimate Fighter. The current value of the UFC is estimated at somewhere around $1 billion, as MMA madness is sweeping the world.
While every MMA fan, myself included, is certainly happy with the success of the UFC, let’s take a look at how things would have turned out had the hand of fate pushed things in another direction…
What If Dana White Hadn’t Created The Ultimate Fighter?
While there’s no question that the UFC started gaining in popularity after Dana White got involved, it wasn’t until Spike TV aired the first season of TUF (and Forrest Griffin had a legendary fight with Stephan Bonnar) that the sport really took off.
Moreover, TUF has done a tremendous job of humanizing the athletes, which was one of Dana’s goals when he took over. Rather than being seen as mindless warriors, the audience gets to see them as men with families, friends, and problems.
White was at an all-night brainstorming session when the concept for TUF was developed, and had to ante up $10 million to get the show produced. Had White not been willing to do that, millions of people would have never been exposed to the lives of professional fighters, and never would have been captivated by the effort put forth by Griffin and Bonnar.
Had Dana White not believed in The Ultimate Fighter, the UFC could very well still be considered a fringe sport, rather than one that is currently Superman punching its way into the mainstream.
What If Dana Had Fought Tito Ortiz?
Vince McMahon excluded, owners don’t typically compete with their athletes. David Stern and Bud Selig certainly aren’t expected to face off with Kobe Bryant or Alex Rodriguez, but that’s exactly what Dana White set out to do when he accepted Tito Ortiz’ challenge to a boxing match.
White grew up around boxing and is skilled in the sport, but was out of shape. Ortiz, who at one point was managed by White, knew of his background and made an exhibition match with White as part of his contract stipulations. Dana agreed and went on an intense training regimen to get back in shape. He had a camera crew follow him during his training and planned to air the bout on Spike TV.
Unfortunately, shortly before the scheduled match, Tito backed out of the fight. While the exact reason for this is still a bit hazy (White says Tito wanted money, Tito says he wanted a producer credit for the show), had this match gone down, it would have set a very interesting precedent.
If Tito beat Dana, would other fighters who had issues with the owner try to put similar stipulations in their contracts? Or what if the fight went the other way and White pulled off the upset? Rather than being remembered as a dominant ground and pound expert, Tito would have forever be known as the guy who lost to his boss, a fact that may have played a factor in him pulling out of the fight.
What If Dana Had Sold The UFC?
While the UFC has exponentially improved under Dana White’s control, the financial turnaround of the organization didn’t happen overnight. At one point, when the UFC had cost Zuffa, its parent company, an excess of $40 million, Dana White was instructed by the Fertitta brothers to look for buyers so they could cut their losses and get out.
White did the legwork and found a buyer willing to pay somewhere in the $6-7 million range, and the Fertitta’s took the night to think over their options. In the end they decided to stick it out, and today the UFC is worth roughly $1 billion, but what if they had accepted the offer White found?
While the identity of the potential buyer hasn’t been revealed, it’s tough to see anyone being more successful running the UFC than White. His personality and leadership helps to mold the UFC for better or for worse. While overall, White has done a tremendous job, one has to wonder if another owner would have succeeded where White has failed, most notably in trying to bring Fedor Emalianenko to the UFC.
What If Dana Had Never Bought The UFC?
Dana White and the Fertittas buying the UFC was never a sure thing. It was a chance encounter with a UFC fighter in a Las Vegas casino that really sparked their interest in the sport. Had that meeting never occurred, it’s very possible that the UFC would have never been bought by Dana and Co.
While the UFC likely would have been bought by someone eventually, it’s safe to say that without Dana on-board, the level of success that has been achieved today would not have been possible. In fact, the entire mixed martial arts world would look completely different…if it exists at all.
Of course it’s possible that another organization could have filled the UFC’s spot at the top of the MMA food chain, but it’s far more likely that without Dana White, MMA would be nothing more than an afterthought in the sports world today.