(This story first appeared in today’s USA Today.)
UFC President and co-owner Dana White wasn’t a part of the Ultimate Fighting Championship for its 1993 debut, but he is unquestionably one of the primary reasons – along with fellow owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta – that the organization has grown from near extinction in 2001 to a billion-dollar company a little more than a decade later.
In hindsight, it’s interesting to note that White nearly became the leader of another mixed martial arts promotion instead.
“I actually got offered an opportunity probably a month and a half, two months before we bought the UFC,” White tells USA TODAY Sports, though he wouldn’t name the company. “So I went to Lorenzo, and I was like, ‘Listen, I got this opportunity. What do you think?’ He looked at me like I was out of my mind. He was like, ‘I thought we were going to do something together.’ I said, ‘Alright. Done.’ So I didn’t take that other opportunity. Two months later, the UFC falls in my lap. I call him up and I’m like, ‘Dude, this is it. I think we should buy this thing.’”
And so the Fertittas did, purchasing for $2 million a promotion that was struggling after years of political battles and dwindling financial returns. White, who was given 10 percent of the company and appointed president, immediately set out to change public perception that the spectacle was indeed sport. The process, though, didn’t come quickly.
“I always believed we could be the biggest sport in the world,” White says. “I always thought that this did translate into other countries. How different can we really be than everyone else? It’s (bleeping) exciting. It’s (bleeping) awesome. I always believed we could do this.The question always was, ‘Is the timing right?’ Great idea, but could it be the wrong time? It actually ended being perfect, thank God.”
It would be another four years before White knew the timing was right. With more than $40 million in losses suggesting otherwise, the UFC struck gold with “The Ultimate Fighter,” a reality competition series that was a surprise hit on Spike TV in 2005. It culminated with one of the UFC’s most memorable bouts with Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar.
But in a rare instance of recollection (White insists he doesn’t have “nostalgic moments”), the UFC boss admits TUF is a perfect example of how many things along the way have fallen exactly into place.
“I don’t look around and say, ‘Oh, look what we’ve done,’ but this 20th anniversary thing kind of made me look around,” White says. “I was thinking how that first season of The Ultimate Fighter wouldn’t have been what it was if we didn’t have the exact cast we had. It was the perfect mix of the right guys. Bobby Southworth was a huge part of that with his clash with Chris Leben and Josh Koscheck, and the big beef we got into when he told me to get out of his (bleeping) face – everything was the right place, right time with the right people.”
On Saturday, the UFC celebrates 20 years of producing the world’s premier MMA event, and “UFC 167: St-Pierre vs. Hendricks” will be available in more than 1 billion homes worldwide and in 30 different languages. White and the UFC have accomplished more than most thought possible, but the fiery exec insists it’s just the beginning, and he doesn’t intend to walk away anytime soon.
“I couldn’t cash out,” White said. “I’m partners with the Fertitta brothers. They made me the president. They gave me 10 percent, and I’m in this thing until the end with them. There’s no cashing out, no quitting. There’s no nothing. We still have a lot of big plans.”
For more on UFC 167, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.