I have often stated that UFC president Dana White is as close to an indispensable figure as we have in mixed martial arts. However, his recent behaviour should perhaps be cause for concern for anyone who values White’s contribution to the sport.
If you were unfortunate enough to miss out on the immediate details from yesterday’s media conference, I feel for you.
A handful of reporters had the pleasure of being in the room with the UFC president as he, by all accounts, ranted and raved like a man who had neglected to take his daily meds. Indeed, simply following the live tweets was so utterly compelling that it could have qualified as premium content.
This is an incredible rant.— Jeremy Botter (@jeremybotter) February 13, 2014
When Lawrence Epstein, the UFC’s chief operating officer, made an appearance to see what all the commotion was about, those in attendance must have been wondering whether he was wielding a tranquilizer gun.
Staff from the UFC just walked into the room wondering what all the yelling was about. Dana: "WE'RE HAVING A PRESS CONFERENCE IN HERE!"— Dave Farra (@DaveFarra) February 13, 2014
From drug testing to Ronda Rousey to Alistair Overeem to Cris “Cyborg” Justino, the UFC president went back and forth with the media for over two hours—mostly “forth” and mostly in the absence of his inside voice.
These unfiltered rants are a part of White’s appeal. It is both endearing and infuriating in equal measures, but the balance has arguably shifted towards the latter in recent weeks.
Without White’s influence, it’s difficult to predict where the UFC—and by extension, the sport—would be right now in the sporting landscape. It almost certainly wouldn’t be on the cusp of the mainstream, nor would it be a viable career path for so many aspiring athletes.
The UFC president’s largely scriptless approach to fight promotion has allowed him to connect with the fanbase in a way that the likes of Bob Arum and Don King could only dream of.
One could even argue that White is as big a star as any the sport has ever produced. He may not be an athlete, but in terms of visibility and status, you would be hard-pressed to think of a more recognisable name to mainstream audiences.
It’s unfortunate, then, that some of the UFC president’s recent outbursts have raised the question of whether he has jumped a mile-long row of sharks. As my B/R colleague Scott Harris pointed out yesterday, Dana White is a race car in the red.
Over the past several weeks, he has turned throwing fighters under the bus into its own sport. Granted, putting his fighters on blast and calling their character into question is hardly a recent development, but all of his worst tendencies seem to be at their apex.
Is it fair to ask whether we are at a point of diminishing returns with the UFC president? MMA forums and comment sections are now filled, more than ever, with voices that have grown weary of White’s shtick.
Such temperature-taking research is unlikely to be published in any peer-reviewed journals, but there seems to be a growing sense that White’s pugnacious ego verges on being counter-productive.
Of course, his erraticism may be a symptom of the UFC’s ambition for world domination and the sheer amount of work that entails. Such lofty aspirations are rarely realised without personal sacrifice.
Perhaps it’s time for the UFC president to take a brief sabbatical, if only to recharge batteries that, until now, appeared to be powered by pixie dust.
One must be careful what one wishes for, though. After all, it was only a few paragraphs ago that I waxed lyrical about the compelling nature of White’s personality.
Are we willing to sacrifice those captivating scrums and headline-making rants, not to mention the refreshing informality of his demeanour? In his stead, do we want someone who offers little more than canned responses contrived by committee?
For his own health, it may be best for White to scale back his workload, but the sport would be a less interesting place without him.