In a recent episode of his podcasts, ex-UFC star and current Bellator Light Heavyweight Chael Sonnen described Dana White by saying, “Fight promotion isn’t something you can major in in college. You can’t buy a textbook for that. You either got it or you don’t and Dana White- man, Dana White has got it.”
Now, Dana White is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a popular figure in Mixed Martial Arts. Plenty of fans and fighters alike will rightly criticise him for underpaying fighters, twisting the truth for the sake of the promotion, and occasionally being a little too brash on Twitter. However, Dana White is still a figure. Indeed, in his operational style, Dana White has always been more of a Vince McMahon than an Adam Silver.
Whether the fighting world likes it or not, Dana White has always been the face of the UFC, the physical representation of the organization as a whole. In fact, at times, it would seem that Dana was all-powerful, deciding which fighters stay and which fighters go based on a whim. Shows like “Looking for a Fight” and “Dana White VLOGs” brought the promotion president front and center in the minds of MMA fans (not that he had ever been anywhere else). White’s brash comments and candid media appearances earned him a reputation for being a loud mouthed, brash president. In fact, White had no qualms about airing his grievances about any employees and promotions. One thing about Dana White, if he put together a bad night of fights, he would be the first one to call it out. All of these characteristics can tell the perceptive fan one thing about Dana White, just about the only thing that really matters: White loves fights. It is precisely this love that has allowed him to take a business that was worth about $40 million in the hole and sell it for $4 billion. It is precisely because Dana White loves fights that he could promote them so effectively, and that he could continue to run a business at the highest level after nearly 20 years on the job. Dana White gained a few thousand pounds, lost all his hair, and is still going because he loves the sport that he helped build. Make no mistake; if you don’t have Dana White, you don’t have MMA. It’s as simple as that.
So, as an MMA fan, it doesn’t matter whether you think he should pay his fighters more, or aim to be less misleading to fans, or more politically correct on Twitter. If you’re a fight fan, you love Dana White because, yeah, he can be kind of a meathead sometimes but man, Dana White gets it. He understands why fight fans are FIGHT fans. Dana White is the UFC personified. He knows that it doesn’t matter if he’s a little vulgar or rough around the edges. He’s raw, he’s real, and he gives us what we love because he loves it too. Today, when the UFC is going through major structural changes due to its sale to WME-IMG, it is possible that we may be seeing the end of the Dana White era of the UFC. If rumours of how WME-IMG want to present the UFC are true, we may soon see Dana White be replaced by a stuffed suit who gives press-friendly conferences and maintains a politically correct, pseudo-robotic Twitter account. However, that will be a sad day indeed, because the one thing most needed for the job above all, is passion for the sport, and Dana White has it in spades.