White talks Strikeforce, UFC injury woes, more in wide-ranging Q&A
UFC president Dana White says best is yet to come for MMA's top promotion
The ever-frank White says he'd like to see Strikeforce stand on its own and run
While Jon Jones has the talent to be pound-for-pound No. 1, he's not there yet
UFC, as well as it's doing, has some problems. Fights are selling fewer pay-per-view orders and broadcasts are attracting fewer viewers than they did a year or two ago. That's largely because injuries have ruined several cards, but probably also because fighting is no longer a novelty. The presentation feels stale, and there is no evidence the new generation of fighters -- men like Jon Jones, Jose Aldo and Junior dos Santos -- is connecting with the public the same way the last one did.
Perhaps most seriously, the circle of power within UFC has never really broadened, even as the circle of responsibility has. The company runs three times as many events per year as it did in 2005, and yet in many ways is still run by just three men -- CEO Lorenzo Fertita, matchmaker Joe Silva and president Dana White -- who have only so many hours in a day between them and a lot of ambitious plans. (UFC really does envision expanding to the point where it can run several fight cards on the same day; I'm not alone in finding this insane, but UFC has pulled off lots of ideas people thought sounded insane.)
White took some time out to talk to me about these issues recently, and as happens every time I talk to him, I came away impressed. The man has some charlatan tendencies (he is a promoter, after all), but beyond the cartoonish bluster is someone who knows his business and has managed to avoid burning out and losing touch with the public, the two main hazards of his job. He's also a good enough hype man that he almost has me wondering if this actually will end up being the biggest year in UFC history. The following transcript of our conversation has been edited for clarity.
SI.com: You've got a bit of an injury epidemic going on.
Dana White: Yeah, I know, it's been crazy. It's the biggest streak we've ever had, but these guys train so hard in this sport. All these different disciplines, plus they have to do all their cardiovascular and weight training and everything, you know, guys are bound to get hurt. But, yeah, it's been a crazy one.
SI.com: Everyone I talk to says it's overtraining, guys are just pushing themselves too hard.
White: Yeah, yup. I wouldn't disagree with that.
SI.com: What's the solution?
White: I don't know, I don't know. There is no solution right now. The hard part is, this company's going through these growing pains right now as we continue to get bigger and continue to work on all the things we're working on. For the last nine months we've been going a million miles an hour, working on all these other deals in the business, you know. Now, we got some things done that ... I feel comfortable we're going to start reeling this thing in and making some changes over the next three, four months.
SI.com: What are you looking at?
White: First of all, there're things going on that I'm unhappy with, here at the company, that we're going to fix and change over the next few months, and you're going to see us get back on track here in the next few months. As you start to get bigger and you start to expand into all these different places, and you're working on all these crazy deals, things start to get out of control. I'm going to get some more control around here in the next three months. And that includes my business as a whole, my actual office and employees and departments, right down to s--- that's going on with the fighters.
SI.com: It sounds like you're getting into the broad line of inquiry I have for you, which is this: In the big picture things are going great, fighting is getting more mainstream, great fights are happening and all that, but there are some issues. You've got fighter injuries, TV deals, pay-per-view streaming. Right off the bat, Strikeforce, from the outside, is a weird thing. It seems like you have a company that you don't have the control over you're accustomed to.
White: No, you know what, that's another thing. I've kind of removed myself from the Strikeforce piece of this thing. You would think it would be the opposite, that some people would be happy about that, but actually some of these fight camps are unhappy that I have removed myself from it. And I've been getting some phone calls, and some of these guys that are involved in Strikeforce would like me to be more involved in Strikeforce.
SI.com: Talk to me about the day to day. Who's running that, how is that going, how are you removed from it? Because I think a lot of fans frankly don't believe that.
White: Oh, it's true. Trust me. Ask Lorenzo. Interview Lorenzo, and ask him how involved in Strikeforce I am. It's absolutely zero. I wanted nothing to do with it, didn't want to touch it with a 10-foot pole. So I've literally not done anything. I have nothing to do with the Strikeforce piece of this thing, and it's basically been, Lorenzo's been working on it with some of the people here that work for us at the UFC.
SI.com: If you're removed from it, this might be an unfair question to ask, but the question people are honestly asking is at what point you just absorb it.
White: Well, the fact that I'm not involved in it doesn't mean that other people aren't. Just because I'm not involved doesn't mean that we're going to absorb it. The thing you have to do -- let's put it this way. Here's the reality: When your business is thriving and kicking ass, you don't sell it. The former owners of Strikeforce didn't sell it to us because it was whupping ass and they were killing it. There's been offers for the UFC. We don't sell the UFC. We're passionate about thing thing, we love it, we believe that we're the guys who are really leading the charge, we're the guys with the road map. We're the ones who know what we're doing, we created this entire industry. We know what we're doing. The bottom line is, Strikeforce -- absorbing it? We have a deal with Showtime. If we can turn this thing into a business and make it run, then yes, we would keep Strikeforce.
SI.com: Do you think that's possible?
White: I think anything is possible, you know. I think we're going to have to have more people focusing on it, including myself. The reason that I did this is because I felt like in buying this thing, that obviously I had been at odds with Showtime, I had been at odds with some of the fighters that were in Strikeforce, and I felt it would be more comfortable for everybody involved if I removed myself from it, and, you know, that's the reason.
SI.com: So from your perspective, in the long term, in the best possible outcome, what do you see Strikeforce being if it's successful?
White: What do you mean?
SI.com: Do you see it as an equal to UFC, or do you see it as more of a feeder group?
White: No, I think that you could -- I mean, look at it. To call it a feeder show, look at Nick Diaz. Nick Diaz is coming off that show and he's going to fight Georges St-Pierre. And a lot of people are excited about it. Here's the other thing, if you look at, um, what's his name -- uh, who Nick Diaz just fought. I kicked him out of the UFC.
SI.com: Paul Daley.
White: Paul Daley. Look at Paul Daley. Look how well he did in the UFC, right? And even his fight with Koscheck, yeah, he was frustrated because Koscheck was able to get the takedown, but it wasn't that bad of a fight, you know what I mean? He was in the fight. And Koscheck's ranked number two or three in the world. Now, he goes over to Strikeforce and Nick Diaz knocks him out, you know? In the first round. Nick Diaz absolutely, positively deserves this shot with Georges St-Pierre.
SI.com: You said at the time Daley took the cheap shot that he was never going to fight in UFC again. Do you still hold to that?
White: Yeah, it's just a bad taste in my mouth, man. It doesn't happen in the UFC. You don't go up and... Listen, you just had 15 minutes to punch this kid in the face. You're going to punch him in the face when the fight's over? Two different worlds, man. You had 15 minutes inside this sport to do it. After that bell, it's assault.
SI.com: So as far as you're concerned, he's just done with you.
White: Yeah, it doesn't even cross my mind. That's one thing I just can't take.
SI.com: Fedor Emelianenko has a big fight coming up. Do you feel a bit vindicated? Because for years you were saying, "This guy's been fighting some dodgy opposition on short notice, and let's see what happens when he fights in a cage under unified rules." And we've seen what's happened.
White: No, I don't feel vindicated. Listen, I'm not out to hurt Fedor, or hurt any fighter. People ask me my opinions, I give you my opinion on what I think about a fighter. It's like the Kimbo Slice thing. You know, I said, "Kimbo Slice, this guy is always going to be the toughest guy at the barbecue, but he's never going to da-da-da-da-da." And then, Kimbo Slice, I give him the offer. "You want to come over? I don't think you can win The Ultimate Fighter, but I'll give you the opportunity if you want to try it." Bring him in, and he doesn't.
Well, I like Kimbo Slice, ends up the guy is the nicest guy in the world when I meet him, and so is his management. The guys who handled him were great people to work with and everything else. It doesn't mean that I feel vindicated and I say, "See, I told you, I told you that Kimbo Slice couldn't do this."
Listen, I'm in the fight business, and I think that I know a little bit about the fight business. I've been in it since I was 19. And I'm going to have my opinions on fighters, just like you sports reporters or the fans, you know? Sometimes I'm right, and sometimes I'm wrong. I didn't think that Kimbo Slice could win The Ultimate Fighter. I thought the Fedor hype was ridiculous. And the people who were really as great people as he thought he was weren't getting their dues, you know?
A guy like Anderson Silva, who's really fought the best competition in the world since 2006, and beat them all. Even in a fight where he was injured and was getting the s--- kicked out him, he pulls off the submission with a minute twenty left in the fight. Those are the guys that deserve to be talked about and deserve to be called the greatest, and you had these reporters who were calling Fedor the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world. Are you s------- me? You know, it's stuff like that. But I don't feel vindicated, I don't have any dislike toward Fedor. I was just trying to set the record straight and tell these people that they're out of their minds.
SI.com: Who do you like between him and Dan Henderson?
White: Well, that's a tough one, you know, because let me tell you what. Although I don't think Fedor is anywhere near the pound-for-pound list, and as far as heavyweights go, I'd have him toward the bottom of the top 10 and maybe just out of the top 10, here's what I will not deny Fedor. He can punch, OK? That guy can punch and if he catches you, he can knock you out. The other problem is, though, that he rips easy. His face gets cut very easily, you know. Dan Henderson is tough, he's got a great chin, he's got great cardio, and he can knock you out with either hand, too. So that's going to be a very interesting fight.
If I've got to still give Fedor his digs, my dig would be, "Dude, you're fighting a 185-pounder." Henderson's got a great chin, he's durable, he's got good wrestling, he can stay out of submissions, and all the great things I can say about Henderson, but Henderson weighs 185 pounds. So I actually think this fight, as far as Fedor is concerned, it's a lose lose for him. If he knocks out Dan Henderson, he knocks out a 185-pounder. If he gets knocked out, he just got knocked out by a 185-pounder.