There were a lot of times over the past several years when I had to shake my head at Dana White’s antics. Cussing out reporters, telling regular fans off on Twitter, getting into public feuds with fighters…it all seemed to be very bad for business.
Recently, I’ve come to fully realize that I was wrong. It was great for business, and even better for training an entire legion of fans to become Mini-Danas, running around spouting the same nonsense on Twitter, Facebook, and in sports bars that Dana does on TV and at press conference. They talk about “real fighters”, “sick fights”, and have developed the same begrudging respect for Tito Ortiz that White has publicly developed over the last couple of years, to name a few similarities.
See, in the past, I was short-sighted enough to compare the UFC to corporate sports mega-entities like the NFL, NBA, MLB, and so forth. Leagues and organizations where everyone had better be on their best behavior, all the time, and where commissioners like Roger Goodell and David Stern do their best to appear impartial and professional at all times. I said things like, “Can you imagine Roger Goodell putting out a video blog where he called a female NFL reporter every name in the book?”, or “Would David Stern publicly feud with his own players or throw his refs under the bus?”
Apples and oranges, my friends. You can’t even compare the UFC to boxing in a lot of ways, as boxing’s promoters have never adopted the kind of super-fan personas that Dana White has perfected. And that’s exactly what Dana has become: a super-fan who the people who plop down money for UFC pay-per-views can relate to.
When Dana tweets during a PPV about how “sick” a fight was, the fans are right there with him. When he says he thought a card was shitty or that he hated how one fighter or another didn’t put on an exciting show, the fans are nodding their heads in agreement. When he unleashes f-bombs and likely makes sponsors cringe, they put up with it because the fans only believe it proves that he is just like they are.
How can fans afford to be so naive? How can they back White whenever he feuds with one fighter or another, even though the fighter has just a few years to make money (while sacrificing his body and health) and White is an executive, not unlike the bosses that make money off of the hard work of many of the underpaid blue-collar fans that support the sport? Because of the very persona that Dana has crafted, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
While there have undoubtedly been some missed opportunities throughout the years with networks, sponsors, and fighters who found Dana’s style impossible to work with, there have been many advantages, as well. One is that while in other sports, fans identify with the athletes, in the UFC, the fans identify with Dana. As the fighters are making more money (and more demands), Dana is still there, wearing jeans and a t-shirt at weigh-ins, being the same guy he ever was. Fans look at the sport and think: “Dana is still one of us, but guys like Jon Jones have got out of control egos.”
Even when a card goes on as promised and proves to be underwhelming, Dana and company don’t get the blame for poor match-making or an event that features few stars of the sport. Dana gets on Twitter and identifies with the fans, admitting that the card sucked and saying he’s just as disappointed. He throws his own fighters under the bus, and the UFC name remains untarnished even with a subpar product.
It’s no wonder that aside from the media and a comparatively small number of savvy fans, nobody is asking, “Wait a minute…why does the entire UFC 151 event need to be canceled just because one fight is off?” Dana said that it had to be, and he said it was Jon Jones’ fault, and that’s the end of the story as far as any Mini-Dana is concerned.
How in the world did a guy who has made a fortune off of the literal blood, sweat, and tears of the real “regular guys” of the sport- the fighters- somehow continue to get the fans to side with him whenever he feuds with the men who are actually putting their lives on the line to entertain the fans?
Perhaps the most ridiculous part of all of this is that many of the criticisms of seen of Jones coming from fans concerns his comments that he fights to make money. Let me repeat that; it made headlines when Jones said that he is in his career to make money. To the fans who criticize Jones for doing what we all do- working to make money, first and foremost- what do you think Dana’s in this for? Why do you think he’s pissed about canceling UFC 151?
Jon Jones has a few years to really do this. He makes money whenever he fights- about three times a year. It serves him well to look out for his own interests and not the UFC’s, as a result. I don’t agree that he needed to turn down a fight with Chael Sonnen, but I do understand why Jones has what people believe to be a shrewd and “selfish” (in an individual sport?) outlook. Dana White, on the other hand, makes money off of every UFC event, and will continue to do so until he’s too old to waltz up to the podium and criticize fighters’ performances at press conferences anymore.
Fans have been tricked by Dana’s persona. He was a fan, once. He’s not anymore. He has a financial stake in this, and if you think he’s pissed at Jon Jones because he thought UFC 151 with Jones-Sonnen headlining would have been great, you’re wrong. If you think he’s pissed because some fans bought plane tickets and made hotel reservations, sorry. If you think he’s pissed because those poor undercard fighters will miss out on making $10,000 to fight, try again.
He’s pissed because he’s going to lose money, period. I don’t deny that Dana enjoys the sport, and I don’t deny that he remains a fan in some respects. At the end of the day, though, he’s not one of us. He’s a promoter, period.