Dana White's job is to convince a public that has a myriad of attractive, and often cheaper, sources of entertainment on a Saturday night to buy a ticket or a pay-per-view for one of his fights.
The UFC president is as good at it as anyone who has ever lived, Tex Rickard, Don King and Bob Arum included.
Yet, no matter how good of a salesman White is, he's not going to be nearly as successful without his best product.
Imagine the bottom line at Coca-Cola if it weren't able to sell Coke for the next 18 ½ months. Apple's stock has dropped more than $150 in the last two months or so, but think of how much further it would plummet if it couldn't sell the iPhone next year.
That's the kind of position White has been in for the better part of the last year-and-a-half. Welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, arguably his best fighter and unquestionably his biggest star, has been unable to compete. Two different knee injuries have kept St-Pierre on the sidelines since April 30, 2011, when he drew a North American record crowd of 55,724 that paid a UFC record gate of $12.1 million to UFC 129 in Toronto.
St-Pierre, who meets interim champ Carlos Condit on Saturday in the main event of UFC 154 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, is the one must-see, can't-miss fighter on the roster. When he fights, ticket sales are more robust. Merchandise flies off the shelves. Pay-per-view numbers spike upward. The passion in the audience is palpable when he fights.
There are major bouts that bring the fight world together. And then there are those involving guys like St-Pierre and boxers Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao that bring the sports world together.
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Getting its star back is so important for the UFC that it's devoted an entire week's of programming this week on Fuel TV to it.
Having St-Pierre back against anybody would be significant, but having him in against an elite fighter like Condit pushes it up a few notches. And with mega-bouts looming like one against middleweight champion Anderson Silva and another down the line against Nick Diaz, the UFC will grab the attention of the world a few more times over the next year.
"For him to be gone, I mean it sucks," White said. "The guy fights three times a year and he's the biggest pay-per-view draw in the company. Yes, when he's gone for over a year, it's definitely not a good thing."
St-Pierre is one of those rare fighters where it doesn't matter if he wins or loses. If Condit beats him on Saturday – and it is hardly out of the question – a rematch would do enormous business.
If St-Pierre were to beat Condit, he almost certainly would fight Silva next. That bout would likely be held at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and would unquestionably smash all existing UFC pay-per-view records.
The UFC hasn’t released pay-per-view numbers in nearly 12 years under White's leadership. There have been reports of figures, though they're either laughably incorrect or just someone's best guess.
But it doesn't take a long and extensive knowledge of the UFC's history to understand a St-Pierre-Silva fight would almost be a license to print money for White.
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White invited a small group of reporters to his office in September to promote UFC 152. Asked how big a St-Pierre-Silva fight would be, White chuckled, rolled his eyes and gave the one-word answer that says everything about St-Pierre:
Condit understands that. In the ring, Condit's record is comparable to St-Pierre's. Condit has lost once in the last six-plus years, going 14-1. He's beaten the likes of Diaz, Rory MacDonald, Dong-Hyun Kim and Jake Ellenberger and is clearly one of the sport's elite fighters. St-Pierre has lost once in the last eight-plus years, going 15-1 in that span.
They're very close to equals in terms of fighting resume, but Condit understands how much more significant St-Pierre is as an attraction.
"It's great for our sport to have him back, because, first of all, he's a great fighter, but also because he's so popular and people love to see him," Condit said. "That kind of guy is good for the sport and everyone in it."
St-Pierre has had the bull’s-eye on his back for years, because opponents know that fighting him means not only a dramatic increase in recognition, but also because it’s usually a guarantee of their biggest payday.
Everything rises from a financial standpoint when St-Pierre fights. That benefits those at all levels of the business.
That creates somewhat of a burden on St-Pierre to continue to sell, however, and it has taken a toll on the usually ebullient French-Canadian star. He was uncharacteristically negative at a Las Vegas news conference in 2011 that was designed to promote a fight with Diaz. That day, Diaz was yanked from the card because he had missed several news conferences.
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St-Pierre expressed dissatisfaction with what he had to do to promote fights, but noted that it is part of his job.
He ultimately never fought on that show, because he got injured himself. The two knee injuries that forced his 18-month exile have changed his outlook a bit.
"I changed a lot of stuff in my life, in my personal life, of course, a lot of things to make this easier and more efficient," he said. "One thing I can say is, I'm not burned out. People said to me I lost my smile. I used to smile all the time when I'm doing press conferences and things like that. I used to be more happy and in the last two fights, [they said they thought] I lost that fire. It's true, I did, but it [happened] slowly so I didn't see it really happen.
"But now that I haven't done this for a long time, I found it back. I can tell you I spend time in the gym and [in the past when I was] at the end of my training camp, most of the time I'm like, 'Oh my God, I can't wait to be on vacation. I can't wait to be done with this.' But now I don't want to go on vacation. I want to enjoy every second of it."
A lot of times, one fails to understand how special something is until it's lost. St-Pierre has recovered his passion for fighting and being around the fight game.
Bank on this, though: Given the kind of draw that St-Pierre is, no one, including St-Pierre himself, is happier he's back than Dana White.
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