White talks Strikeforce, UFC injury woes, more in wide-ranging Q&A (cont.)
SI.com: So let's get into something positive. How big do you think Jon Jones can be?
White: That's another one. People always tell me now, "Jon Jones should be the pound-for-pound number one." Listen, Jon Jones has all the tools, he looks incredibly talented, he's got charisma, he's intelligent, he's good looking. He's got the whole thing. But what he's going to have to do now for me to start saying I think Jon Jones is the pound-for-pound best is, he's going to have to go on an Anderson Silva run. He's going to have to take out Rampage Jackson. He's going to have to take out maybe Rashad Evans after him, or Tito Ortiz. And then he's going to have to take out [Lyoto] Machida, and, you know, there's still a lot of guys in that line before we start calling Jon Jones the best in the world.
When he goes in and fights, he finishes people. He destroys people that you didn't think could be destroyed. When I really woke up to Jon Jones was when he beat Vladdy Matyushenko. Vladimir Matyushenko is one of these guys. He's not the biggest name in mixed martial arts, people don't swarm him for autographs when he walks into a crowd, but he's been around for a long time and he's very well respected, and you just don't walk in and stop Vladimir Matyushenko.
And Jon Jones did that. That was when I realized that this kid is nasty. And then he turned around and did it to to [Matt] Hamill. Rampage just fought Hamill three rounds and said, "I can't believe how tough this guy is, I hit him so hard and he wouldn't move." Look what Jon Jones did to him.
SI.com: I was just talking to Rashad Evans, and he was saying that unless Rampage becomes a student of the game again, he doesn't see him getting out of the first round.
White: That's what Jon Jones said at the press conference. Jon Jones said, "Hey, let's really face the facts here. I'm going in against a boxer."
SI.com: Do you agree with that?
White: I don't know, it depends. The one thing that I would agree with is that if you look, Rampage has been busted up with leg kicks in previous fights. But I'll tell you this, Rampage, to me, what made me happy at that press conference, is Rampage seems like the old Rampage, like he's back. He was in great shape at the press conference, told me he's been training, he's fired up for this fight, he's moving his camp to Denver for the altitude training, So who knows. I'll tell you what, I know this, a motivated Rampage is a dangerous Rampage. An unmotivated Rampage just gets by.
SI.com: So everyone's going to name Jones as the star of tomorrow. Who else among the younger guys do you think can be real big?
White: I think there're a lot of guys. I think Jose Aldo, if this guy stays on the tear that he's been on, can become big. Who knows what we can still expect to see from Phil Davis? He got injured, he's out, but there's a lot of up-and-coming, tough, talented guys in the UFC right now.
SI.com: When you're looking at a guy like Dominick Cruz, who's maybe on that level --
White: Dominick Cruz, yup.
SI.com: Maybe top two, three pound-for-pound. At least he's in that discussion. When you're putting him on Versus, why do that?
White: You put him on free TV because I believe in that model. I believe that you put great fights with great fighters on free TV. And you build these guys up, and you build the fan base, and you get more and more people to know who they are and want to see them fight in the big fights.
SI.com: So with the next TV deal can we expect to see more of that, more title fights, more pay-per-view-caliber bouts?
White: Absolutely. If there's one thing that I can say that we've done, it's that we take this thing to another level every year.
SI.com: If we're looking at the high-water mark being UFC 100 and that run of huge shows coming off that, it seems like the level's dropped a little bit over maybe the last year.
White: The last year? We just did 55,000 people in Toronto a couple of months ago!
SI.com: That's true, big fights have been big, but the month-to-month pay-per-view numbers seem to be down a little bit, TV numbers seem to be down a little bit.
White: If you look at the economy right now, all right, the economy is not getting better. The economy is getting worse. Nobody's out there going, "Wow, look at how things are picking up and things are really..." It's bad. First of all, if you talk to these venues, all these concerts, you know, these concert acts. Nobody's selling tickets. They're canceling shows left and right. They're canceling full tours, you know? Duran Duran was supposed to tour this summer, they cancelled the entire tour. It's crazy out there right now, man. And in this economy right now, we're still kicking ass.
People were talking about the TV numbers being down last year, let's be honest. The season of The Ultimate Fighter with Brock [Lesnar] and Junior [dos Santos] wasn't as exciting as everybody thought it was going to be. And not only that, the fights sucked, right? We still never went below 1.1 million viewers. You ask anybody in television, they'll tell you those are outstanding numbers for cable.
You know how many cable shows out there wish they were pulling 1.1 million viewers? A lot of them. Right? Then as far as, as many shows as we're doing, and as much as we get around, believe me. We're doing just fine. Everything's great, considering. You've got to look at more factors. Trust me, we're far from losing steam, and I've already admitted and said to you on the call, there's some things that we need to tweak around here, and there's some work that needs to be done in this office over the next three months. And mark my words, it will be done, and you will see what I'm talking about over the next six months.
SI.com: Do you think the presentation needs to change? Are there too many shows being booked?
White: Yeah, no. There aren't enough shows. The question isn't are we doing too many shows, there's going to be more. We're going to be doing more shows. We're going to be doing The Ultimate Fighter in other countries. There's going to be a fight -- let's say we've got this fight August 6 in Philly, right? There's going to be a day very soon where we're doing a fight August 6th in Philly, and Australia, and Germany. You know, there could be three shows going on at the same time.
SI.com: Do you think there's a danger in that? I know one of your points in the past has been that no one gets sick of football, and that you can't have too much football, or baseball. And there's some truth to that. On the other hand, they have an offseason where the fans are recharging their batteries and anticipating what's going to happen. "Are the Phillies going to better this year? The Patriots, is their defensive line going to improve?" Whatever. It gets people talking, hyped up for the season. And you don't have that. So how does that play into your model?
White: Because I believe that as long as you're putting on good fights, people don't give a s--- what season it is, people want to see them. If you really look at it, if you look at boxing, if you look at the amount of stuff we're doing here, people are still waiting for a good fight from boxing. Look at how many people tuned in to the Klitschko fight when you KNOW what the Klitschko fight's going to be like. How many years do you have to see these guys fight until you figure, "They're going to put me to sleep"? You still watch it. Guess what? I did too!
It was the same day as our event that we just did, where Tito beat Bader. I had them set up a TV in my dressing room and I sat in there and watched the fight. Halfway through it I said, "What did I do this for? Why am I seriously watching this Klitschko fight again?" Because we like fights! And guess what? I can't -- you know how many emails and people on Twitter from all these other countries, like, "When are you coming to England again? When are you coming to Ireland? Come on, get back here to Australia! When are you coming back?" The demand is there!
It's not like there's no demand, like I'm going to have to get out and put my promoter hat on and figure out how we're going to sell tickets in Australia when we go back, or how we're going to do this, or how we're going to do that. It's there, and they want it. So my job is to figure out how to make all that happen. And that's what we're working on.
SI.com: What do you think the future of pay-per-view is? Do you think it will be viable in five years?
White: Yeah. Yeah, not only do I think it's going to be viable, I think it's going to be bigger. I think it's going to be much bigger. My philosophy has always been, and the way that this company has always been built, is that everybody will be watching TV on the Internet. That's what I truly believe. Not only do I think you're going to be watching TV on the Internet, but your computer and television are going to be one. And you'll be able to watch what you want to watch on television, and you'll be able to talk to people almost like social media through the television while you're watching whatever you're watching, OK?
Right now for me, as far as I'm concerned, the ceiling, when you ask about a ceiling for pay-per-view, for the fight business, it's about 2.4 million. And I think that number's even bigger.
SI.com: Where do you get that number from?
White: It was the last fight that, I think when Floyd [Mayweather] fought Oscar [De La Hoya]. Right? That's the number of pay-per-view buys they did. Now I think if Floyd fights Manny [Pacquiao], I think that they're talking that they could do three and a half million buys. I think if Floyd fights Manny, they do anywhere between 2.6 and 2.7 million buys on that fight. So that's where I think the ceiling is.
But what they don't realize is the rest of the world will be watching, too. The Philippines, people in England, people in, you know -- that fight will actually cross over. Because boxing usually doesn't. You've got the two countries that the guys are from, they care. What you have to understand with the UFC, people all over the world care when we put on a fight. The whole world is watching. So it only gets better for me when more people can watch at the same time.
When I tweet, the night of the fight, "The prelims are going to be live on Spike," my Twitter goes nuts, and people are like, "What about Canada? What about England? Hey, I'm over here in the Middle East! What about here in Germany? What about here in Australia?" And it just never ends. And we're in 155 countries right now, and a half a billion homes in television. Right? We're about to do a deal in China and India that will put us at over a billion homes worldwide. So you tell me what you think's going to happen when pay-per-view goes global.
SI.com: Isn't that a big gamble, though?
White: I don't think so. I'm actually pretty confident about it. Everything's a gamble, I mean everything is a gamble. Everything you do every day in business, you're gambling. But I also said that I thought that we were going to be the biggest pay-per-view provider in the country 10 years ago, and people thought I was a lunatic.
SI.com: It seems as if you're really positive about things. There's definitely been some negativity going on with hardcore fans, if you want to put it that way.
White: Dude, there's been negativity from hardcore fans since the day we bought this company. If you listen to those idiots, we wouldn't even be where we are today. What I call the hardcore fans, it's such a small segment. This negative population. You can't listen to hardcore fans. You can't do it. We wouldn't even be where we are today if it was up to the hardcore fans.
SI.com: How do you filter that out?
White: If I sat around and listened to what these guys have to say, you know, most of the s--- they say makes no sense. This is why I like Twitter better. Now we're getting a lot of those guys that come off the Internet onto Twitter, and basically what you'll get is, it's not -- you can tell the difference between guys who have actual, real criticisms and maybe some problems they see with the business model from guys who just hate the UFC no matter what. There's a big difference.
SI.com: With that said, as far as the sport getting as big as it can be, when you've got a commissioner who's the way you are and is pretty aggressive, or however you want to put it, how do you think that plays into the sport expanding?
White: I think it's good to have someone aggressive in there. I think it's good to have someone who completely believes in this sport and what it's capable of becoming. Let me tell you what. There's been a lot of people, lot of smart people, lot of people who are a lot smarter than me, who've tried to get into this business and had all the money and all the other s--- to do it, and couldn't do it. Couldn't do it! Couldn't make it work. Right? Well, that ain't me. Ain't me.
SI.com: So you'd say results speak for themselves.
White: Yeah, I do, and get ready, because there's going to be a lot more coming very soon. Yup. Listen, you don't have to love me, man. I'm not asking for anybody to love me. I'm not asking. I'm not looking for any more friends, not looking for anybody else to be screaming my name from the rooftops. I really don't give a s--- what anybody thinks, you know what I mean? I know what we're doing, I know where we're going, and over the next several years I'm going to be the guy to do it, whether you like it not.
SI.com: The final line of questions I have for you revolves around how guys fight. And to me this is a real key issue. You have fight bonuses, you have you coming out sometimes and saying, "This guy's not fighting in a way that the fans want to see." Do you think that undermines legitimacy, when you're talking about how guys should fight? Isn't the effectiveness of the style the thing?
White: In what way?
SI.com: The classic example is when Anderson Silva was dancing around and you came out and said that if this guy keeps doing this he's going to get cut.
White: Well, there's a big difference. There's a big difference between that and -- listen, Anderson Silva was acting like a nutjob that night. The stuff that he was doing, slapping the canvas and running around and basically telling -- uh, what's his name? Who did he fight? Which jiu jitsu kid?
SI.com: Which one, Maia?
White: Yeah, Demian Maia. That was the only fight I had a problem with. The only fight I had a problem with with Anderson Silva where I went apes--- was that fight, because he goes out and starts acting like a lunatic. He's telling Maia to engage when he's not engaging either! You know what I mean? That's a totally different story. If you want to take a guy who comes out and does something like that and I go after him, you're damn right I'm going to go after him. But then, I guess another example would be to take a guy like [Jon] Fitch. You know, Fitch doesn't have the most pleasing style of fighting as far as fans are concerned, but you've never seen me cut Fitch, or say, "Yeah, Fitch is going to have to start fighting differently or I'm going to cut him." It's not true.
SI.com: On the other hand, it seems like there was a time when he was off some of the main events, he was having a harder time getting top opponents than a guy with a more pleasing style might have had.
White: I don't know about that. I think that Fitch has got a shot at the title. Look at Kenny Florian. I mean, Kenny Florian has had to work his way back up to get a shot at the title, too. Plus, a lot of other things play factors. Guys get injured, now Fitch is injured. It's a lot more than that. I don't think there's anything that threatens our legitimacy, because I've never gone out and said, "You're going to have to change your style of fighting or you won't be in the UFC." I mean, if that was the case, believe me, there's a lot of guys that I'd go after. But what guys do need to do is they need to be exciting, and they need to go out and put on exciting fights.
SI.com: Why does that matter, though?
White: I don't know, do you want to sit around and watch Klitschko-type fights? That's the problem with boxing! The way that I look at this is, this is a job. It's a job! And it's no different than the NFL or any other sport. If you don't go out and perform your job, you get fired.
SI.com: The criticism is, why is fighting in an exciting fashion part of the job? Isn't the job to win the fight?
White: Sure. But you've got to be exciting! If all we cared about was guys winning fights, you know how many wrestlers could just go lay on a guy? There are tons of wrestlers that could do that. I don't know. Do you think we'd be talking about all these big plans and all the exciting things that we're going to be doing if that was the case? I mean, that's a pretty stupid question.
SI.com: It's a question that gets asked, though, which is why I'm asking.
White: Yeah, but it's stupid. If somebody really asks that question, you'd have to look at them and go, "Are you stupid?" Seriously, it's a really dumb question.
SI.com: How so? Spell it out for me.
White: Why do guys have to put on exciting fights? Well, let's see. We're in the television and pay-per-view business. I don't know. I don't know too many people that tune in to watch unexciting fights.
SI.com: Playing the devil's advocate here, it seems that some of your big stars, some of your big draws, haven't been the most exciting guys. Objectively, Randy Couture is not the most exciting fighter that I've ever seen.
White: I agree. Have you ever heard me say, "Hey Randy, you better change up your style?" You know, people have been complaining about Georges St-Pierre. Have you heard me say anything publicly about Georges St-Pierre? No! I think there's a big difference between -- the only time you've ever seen me say I didn't like a guy's fight was Anderson Silva, when he went out and did what he did in Abu Dhabi. That's the only time you've ever really seen me flip out and say that.
SI.com: There have also been some times you've criticized the Jackson camp for fighting too safe.
White: Yup. Listen, I'm a fight fan. When I see a fight that I don't like, I'm gonna tell you I didn't like it. Because, you know, I'm a fight fan just like everybody else. I'm not so disconnected and not the promoter that I've got to go out and lie to people and say, "You just saw a great fight! I don't care what you say, it was exciting, it was fantastic, and you should have loved it!" No, I'm going to say, "Guess what? I didn't like it either. I thought it sucked. And I thought it was boring." Because I'm a fight fan, too.
SI.com: So you're talking about big developments in the next six months, and without pulling the rabbit of the hat and all that, at the end of the year, what are we going to say was the big development? What improved?
White: Everything's going to improve. Everything's going to change, and everything's going to improve over the next six months. This really isn't the conversation for right now, I'm still working on some s---. In six months, when you and I talk again, you're going to go, "You were right, man. You were right."
SI.com: I'll await future developments with interest.
White: There's one thing that you can't deny. It's that every year we take this thing to another level. Every year, we have literally taken this thing to another level. There's never been a year where we've been like, "Yeesh, we didn't really accomplish anything this year, and we've been stagnant, we've stayed the same, nothing has changed." Every year, not only does this thing go to another level, but we've revolutionized -- revolutionized! -- the fight industry. Wouldn't you say that?
SI.com: I think this is the one year where you could argue that you've stayed stagnant. And I don't mean to come off as the negative questioner --
White: No, I love it, man! The year isn't over yet, and you are wrong. And not only am I going to say that you are wrong, and that not only have we gone to another level this year, but that this will be the biggest year ever! If you look at all the things we've accomplished over the last 10 years, this will be the biggest year ever.
SI.com: I don't know, it seems like you're off to a slow start. It seems like you're putting a lot of weight on things that have yet to happen. You're that confident in positive developments?
White: Let's talk when we're wrapping up the end of the year. You're going to say, "Remember when we talked back in July, and I was saying all that negative s--- to you and stuff? I want to apologize!
SI.com: Hey, don't take the question as a statement!
White: No, no, no!
SI.com: My long term view is positive and sunshiney.
White: No, no, no, I'm just joking. But I'm serious.
Tim Marchman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org