Last year, I did a long interview with Dana White. We spent quite a bit of time talking about the UFC inking a huge advertising deal with Bud Light. It was a big moment for the UFC, and for MMA. Not so long ago, the UFC's main ad dollars came from Mickey's Malt Liquor and Toyo Tires. Now, the organization's prime sponsors were going to be Bud Light and Harley Davidson, full-on, mainstream American brands.
At that moment, it was obvious that the UFC and Dana White had Muay Thai-kicked its way through perhaps the biggest barrier left for the sport—it showed that big business was taking the UFC—and the disposable income of its fans—seriously.
As we talked, White explained about how we were upon a pivotal moment in MMA history. While doing so, he emphasized every poignant point with an F-bomb.
I stopped him once and said, "Dana, you may be right about the business side of this. But let me ask you this: Let's say Bud Light is the first of many big sponsorship deals for you and the UFC. Let's say companies, big, mainstream corporations all over the world, start calling you. And let's say you have to start putting together board-room pitches and wearing suits and speaking to executives—aren't you going to have to clean up the language, the wardrobe…clean up you, basically?"
His reply: "God, I hope not. God, I f—ing hope not."
With that one response, we see the beauty and the beast in Dana White, at least as it relates to the UFC.
It's in the language, the in-your-face T-shirts, the willingness to answer any question honestly—maybe too honestly—that's what made him so refreshing for fans. That's what makes everybody from Main Street contractors to Wall Street contract-writers flock to their local bar to eat wings and drink beer and watch guys punch other guys in the face on UFC pay-per-view. He's not Roger Goodell, and fans like that.
Then there's the beast.
White is also the guy who'll berate a woman reporter for writes a story that, frankly, needed to be written and did its best to include the UFC's thoughts on the matter. He's the guy who made homophobic remarks and dropped 42 F-bombs—all in a three-minute video blog that Dana White himself had posted.
What will be the end result of this?
My guess is, not much. Look at messageboard reactions to the incident—the real meat-and-potato fans aren't going anywhere (as evidenced by the reaction White says he's gotten so far). They're going to buy the pay-per-views. They loved when on the first night of this season's The Ultimate Fighter—which debuted on April 1, the same day of his quickly-becoming-infamous rant—White welcomed the cast of UFC wannabe fighters by saying, "You ready? Welcome to The Ultimate Fighter, motherf—ers!"
So maybe ratings don't drop. But the ultimate blowback will be measured in dollars and cents that go beyond PPV money. How will companies react to White's rant? The obvious answer is, badly. There's no way to predict how much money White and the UFC just lost from potential sponsors. And while it could be significant, that might not be the worst damage from White'self-inflicted wound.
Some time in the next few months, White, the UFC and MMA will take center stage in front of New York state legislators. The goal: convince them to sanction the sport in New York. The key piece of persuasion in the UFC's favor was pure dollars.
"In a time of economic struggle, why wouldn't the state of New York want to fill up a few arenas and put people to work?" White could have asked.
A week ago, those sanctioning hearings were all but a formality. The majority would have recognized that the UFC is worth too much, financially, to turn away for another year. White would have been there, and he'd have put on a show. He probably would have put on a suit, cleaned up the language and not punctuated his arguments with expletives.
Even then, there were going to be a few politicians who wouldn't have bought White's pitch, dancing around the fact that, basically, they believe the sport is a barbaric, ill-mannered anachronism that has no place as sanctioned family entertainment in their state.
Now, if they play White's video blog, they might not have to say it out loud.