It Takes All Kinds

a Few Stories and Profiles by Erik Hedegaard
mainly from inside the pages of Rolling Stone
(with additional commentary and folderol provided by the author aka Charlie, sometimes)



Dana White of the UFC

Posted on | October 19, 2008 | No Comments

What the f**k is Dana White fighting for?

How a street-brawling, trash-talking hustler from Las Vegas turned the Ultimate Fighting Championship into the fastest-growing sport in America

The way things are going, Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting
Championship, may soon be hailed as the greatest sports promoter ever,
of all time, bigger even than boxing’s Don King, bigger even than pro
wrestling’s Vince McMahon.

He’s taken mixed martial arts, a sport that was essentially moribund
seven years ago — the bare-knuckle, anything-goes,
kick-’em-in-the-kernels fights were outlawed in 36 states — and turned
it into a moneymaking, crowd-frazzling sensation, a new heavyweight
pay-per-view box-office champ. He accomplished this by using various
business-savvy stratagems and dodges, but in a sense the inside
mechanics are beside the point. How he did it really is by the force of
his own multifaceted personality. At 38, he is profane, charming,
ambitious, cunning, controlling, a whole lot of fun to hang around with,
open like a book, closed like a fist. In fighters and fans, he inspires
loyalty and fear, admiration and disgust. He has a shaved head. He wears
skintight T-shirts. He looks badass, he talks badass, he is badass. In
all respects, he has been the exact right guy to bring the UFC back from
the dead.

This evening, White is wheeling his silver Range Rover around Las Vegas,
where the UFC maintains its headquarters, and saying a few things about
his role in the sport’s phenomenal turnaround. “I’m not your typical
head of a sports league,” he says. “I say exactly how I feel. I don’t
hide it. I don’t lie. And I swear a lot. Some people think I’m a
classless moron. Other people think I’m this monster that screws my
fighters over. And other people like me. You can’t make everybody happy.
But you gotta understand too, in this business, I’m the promoter. My
role is I’m always gonna be the fucking bad guy. No matter what I do. Or
how many great things I do for people. Or how many fighters I make
millionaires. Because if you’re a fight promoter, and if you make a
fucking dollar, you’re a scumbag. You shouldn’t get that money, the
fighters should.” He sighs, deeply. “I’m the bad guy. Always going to be
the bad guy. I get it. I accept that role. I do the best I can.”

The role of fucking bad-guy scumbag fight promoter first came to White
in 2001. The UFC was eight years old and failing: Political pressures
were about to do it in. At that point, two of White’s high school
buddies, brothers Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, a couple of fight-happy
Vegas casino operators, stepped in and bought the company for $2
million. They handed over day-to-day control of the operation along with
a 10 percent ownership stake to White, a former unknown amateur boxer.

Now the sport is being called “the next’ Nascar” and “boxing’s
replacement.” And while other mixed-martial-arts outfits have sprung up,
none is as big or has as much top-notch talent as the UFC. The UFC has
former light-heavyweight champion Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell, whose
autobiography recently landed on The New York Times bestseller list. It
has furiously funny Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, an African-American who
likes to refer to his boss as Dana “It’s Good to Be” White. It has
grinning, jug-eared Forrest Griffin, winner of the fight that helped put
the UFC on the map. For the past three years, it’s also had its own
reality show, The Ultimate Fighter, which has been a huge hit on Spike
TV. In fact, in terms of popularity, the UFC has pretty much eclipsed
boxing, which is limping along with few standout stars. The UFC’s
pay-per-view numbers have been better. Its TV ratings are better. Its
audience demographics, guys in their early-to-mid-testosterone-driven
years, are better. Everything about it is better. And White is the guy
who made it all happen.

That said, two of the UFC’s biggest stars, Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz,
recently began raising hell over the size of their paychecks and fighter
pay in general. Actually, all the fighters want more money. As a result,
there has been considerable talk of late about banding together to
unionize. And of high hopes that billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner Mark
Cuban, whose upstart cable channel, HDNet, has begun featuring
mixed-martial-arts fights as a main staple, can provide White and the
UFC with some honest competition. And Cuban may have the deep pockets to
do it.

None of this appears to worry White, however. It’s around midnight, and
he has pulled into an underground garage, taken an elevator one flight
up and is milling around his office, surrounded by all the gimcracks and
gee-whizzes of his success: a monster-size photograph of Muhammad Ali
striking a classic, defiant pose (“Isn’t that badass?”), four television
sets, a hand-carved onyx skull (“Isn’t that badass too?”), a few Bruce
Lee action figures (“They’re first editions! One of a kind!”) and his
own personal, portable AccuBanker money-counting machine. He sits down
at a computer, checks on the Yahoo popularity rankings of an upcoming
UFC fight, then looks up.

“Like Mark Cuban really thinks he’s going to beat me?” he says. “I eat,
sleep, breathe and live mixed martial arts. I love this shit. It’s what
I do. But look, at the moment, this thing we have is still really pure.
It’s not all fucking dirty like boxing. I know that day is coming. And
when it does, I’m gone. But I love a good fight and, seriously, I really
do have secrets and reasons for the things I do. So he’s never going to
beat me. Never, ever.”

THE UFC’S FIGHTERS EAT, sleep, breathe and live MMA too, of course, and
in any story about the continued rise and dominance of the UFC, they
think they ought to be front and center, not White. It makes sense.
They’re the ones who climb into the Octagon cage where all UFC fights
take place and face round after round in which they will either get
knocked out cold or get caught in an armbar, a kneebar, a rear naked
choke, a guillotine choke or similar move such that they either pass out
or are forced to tap out or escape, only to get clobbered two seconds
later. Or they might win. No matter: They’re still the ones stumbling
around with the cauliflower ears, the mashed, pulpy noses, the black
eyes and the fractured jaws. And it’s the fighters, not White, who on
occasion shit their pants midround and have to live with that forever
after. Or who last only 17 seconds after nine months of exhaustive
preparation and windup, in some cases, taking home no more than $3,000.
Or who work out at gyms where the training can be just as ferocious as
the fights — and where signs in the bathroom read IF YOU BLEED OR
VOMIT, PLEASE CLEAN UP YOUR MESS. “We really want to put a lot of
emphasis on the fighters,” White declared back in 2001, four days after
the Fertittas bought the UFC. “We want to create superstars.” And he
has, a few, like Liddell, Couture and Ortiz. But the UFC is still mostly
about the UFC. And about White, who has become the company’s most
visible and valuable public asset.

Nonetheless, he’s not always an easy guy to deal with. “If he feels
you’re a person who is not straight with him,” says a former UFC
business associate, “he can flip on you, bro, and then he’ll put as much
energy as he can into tearing you a new asshole.” But the great thing
about White is he’s more than happy to say the same thing about himself.
“If I’m your friend, I’m the best fucking friend you could ever hope to
have,” he says. “But if you try to hurt me, that’s a whole other
ballgame, and you couldn’t have picked a worse fucking enemy ever. Ever.
I am going to fucking hurt you.”

Today, White’s big public battles are with Ortiz and Couture. Last year,
Ortiz began a long-running feud with White and the UFC after hearing
that the company made $42 million from one of his fights, while he took
home $1.5 million. “Why should the company keep all the money?” he
asked. “Why do they get the pie and we get the crumbs?” He called it
“ridiculous money” compared with the money boxers Oscar De La Hoya and
Floyd Mayweather get paid. He also called White “a big bully.” He’s said
these things numerous times since then, and every time he does, the
press heads on over to White for a response.

What White usually does first is take a deep breath and school the
writers on the difference between boxing’s business model and the UFC’s.
A boxing promoter like Don King, he explains, takes no risk for putting
on a fight: Madison Square Garden and HBO put up all the money. “The UFC
is different,” he says. “We assume all risk, we get no fucking
guaranteed fees, we pay for everything. We can’t pay fighters the same.”
What White usually does second is pretend Ortiz’s comments aren’t worth
a moment’s further consideration: “He’s a dumb guy, a fucking dummy, the
worst kind of idiot, the biggest fucking moron you’ve ever met, a
knucklehead.” End of story.

“Dana tells it like it is,” says Lorenzo Fertitta. “And sometimes he’s
going to come off as crass. And sometimes he’s not going to be
appropriate. But that’s Dana. And certainly things seem to be working
pretty good right now, so why change? If he feels it makes sense to call
Tito a moron, then go call him a moron.”

The Couture situation, however, is different. Couture has long been
considered one of the UFC’s premier-good guys. His nickname is Captain
America. His fights — he’s won nine title bouts — have provided the
UFC with some of its most dramatic wins and unexpected defeats. When, at
the age of 43, Couture came out of retirement to beat heavyweight
champion Tim Sylvia and take back that belt for the third time, White
said, “Not only is he an incredible athlete and an incredible fighter,
he’s an incredible person and human being. I have nothing but respect
for Randy Couture.” Then, later last year, while still champion and with
two fights left on his contract, Couture abruptly left the UFC and
claimed that the company had gypped him out of a $500,000 signing bonus.
The UFC, which is a privately held company, never talks about its
finances, but in this case it made an exception. White held his own
press conference and passed out copies of Couture’s signing-bonus checks
with Couture’s signature on them.

Since then, the situation has devolved into a kind of he said/he
said-mess, with secret hurts and slights seeming to propel Couture
forward more than the facts. Like Ortiz, he has also begun to speak out
about the UFC’s pay, especially when it comes to the lesser-known
fighters, and to hint that unionization might be necessary. “Dana tells
fighters he’s going to take care of them,” says Couture. “He’s going to
make them rich, he’s never going to steer them wrong. That’s his MO. But
the UFC’s contracts control fighters from top to bottom. And if anyone
makes waves, they’ll be dropped and blackballed in a heartbeat. And most
of the guys are just struggling, getting the chance to fight maybe three
times a year and making only between $6,000 and $10,000 a fight. Now
that the sport is successful, the UFC’s athletes need to get the right
kind of treatment.”

White, a former boxer himself, is not without sympathy for fighters like
Couture. “The thing is, mixed-martial-arts guys are fucking smart guys,”
he says one afternoon on his way to a hideously expensive lunch at the
Four Seasons. “Most of them went to college. They’re sharp. But when the
maggots and clingons start whispering shit into their ears about how
they should be getting this or getting that, they are very easy to
mislead. Anyway, here’s the life of a fighter. One minute you’re the
champion; two losses later you’re nothing. Then you might leave the UFC
for a while, win five fights and come back. And when you can do that,
you’re a real fighter. Those are the guys I respect. Win, lose or draw,
they get back on that horse to prove in front of millions they’re the
best fighter in the world. It’s amazing. It’s their destiny. It’s what
they were born to do.”

WHITE’S OWN DESTINY came to him courtesy of Whitey Bulger’s Irish mob.
This was back in 1995, in the hard-knocks Southie part of Boston. White
was 25 and an avid amateur boxer. He’d dropped out of UMass Boston,
spent some time as a bouncer, a paving-company laborer and a bellhop at
the fancy downtown Boston Harbor Hotel. Then one day he quit the hotel
job and started a youth-boxing program in Southie, to get kids off the
street, and for a while thought about becoming a professional boxer.

“All I cared about was boxing,” White says. “Then I saw this
professional boxer in the gym, he was in his 30s, and he was all punchy,
and I thought to myself, ‘Holy shit, you don’t ever want to be like
that.’ And to be a fighter, that kind of thought can’t ever enter your
mind. It’s one of the things I respect about them, how they think. And
when I saw that guy in the gym, I realized I was never going to be like
that.”

Around the same time, though, White was teaching boxercise to the local
yuppies, and that’s when Whitey Bulger’s crew came into his life,
changing everything. They said, “You’re doing business in our town. We
want $3,500. You got two days.” White slept on it overnight. He was a
tough guy. Not long before, he’d beat the crap out of a guy for touching
his girl’s ass at a bar, got sued, lost, was fined $17,000, refused to
pay it, was arrested, had his paycheck attached. OK. He decided to never
street-fight again. But this was in a whole other league. The next day,
just like that, leaving everything behind, he got on an airplane and
relocated to Las Vegas.

In fact, he was returning home. He’d been raised in Vegas. His room had
been a nurse there, his dad was a fireman back in Massachusetts. They
got divorced when he was three. After that, he didn’t have a dad around
to teach him dad-type stuff. His mom wasn’t around that much either.
Mostly she worked, trying to earn enough to pay the bills. White the
teenager was a troublemaker. He liked to fight, and he went out looking
for fights, mostly taking on kids from rival schools. He and his friends
also liked to go beat up stoners — “dudes with long hair, wore rock
T-shirts.” He got shot at by Mexican gangbangers. He got thrown out of
his high school twice. And whenever he did something wrong, his mom
would say, “Let me tell you the difference between you and all these
fucking rich kids you hang around with. They’re always going to be rich
and you’re not. And if you fucking blow it, you’ll be pumping gas into
their cars one of these days. You’re their pal now. But just you wait.”
Finally, when he was 16, he got into a drunk-driving accident, after
which his mom shipped him off to Maine to live with his grandparents.

Now, more or less run out of Boston, he was back in town. He got it
together to open a boxing gym and started to meet a number of fighters,
including early UFC standouts Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. White
befriended them, became their manager and fought to get them bigger
paychecks just as hard as he fights against handing out bigger paychecks
today. “When I was willing to fight for almost nothing, he had me sit
out,” recalls Liddell. “He said, ‘No way am I letting you fight for
that.’ In three months, I went from $1,000 a fight, with another $1,000
if I won, up to $10,000 and $10,000. You know what? He’s never done me
wrong.”

White was instantly taken with the sport. Mixed martial arts is
explosive and kinetic, alive with opportunity and chance, and adds to
fist strikes the kickboxing of Muay Thai, along with the ground game of
jujitsu, as well as the ins and outs of numerous other fighting
disciplines. It’s multidimensional, like 3-D chess. And the best of its
practitioners are some kind of intense breed apart.

“To be the best, you’ve got to have what I call the five D’s:
dedication, desire, discipline, drive and determination,” says Juanito
Ibarra, who is Rampage Jackson’s manager and trainer. “You’ve got to
have heart. And you’ve got to have some kind of ugliness in you. We all
have ugliness in us, like we all have pain and sorrow. But the best
fighters have a switch in them that lights that ugliness up. And you
either got it that way or you don’t.”

Pretty soon White himself started sparring, nothing serious, just for
the hell of it, mostly with a couple of guys at the gym who were old
high school friends of his and big UFC fans, too, Frank and Lorenzo
Fertitta. At the time, the UFC had been around for seven years. The
brainchild of Brazilian jujitsu master Rorion Gracie, film director and
Gracie student John Milius, and fight aficionado and ad executive Art
Davie, it had originated out of an idea first postulated by Davie: Let’s
see which of all the world’s fighting styles is best. There were no
judges, no weight classes, no mouthpieces, no gloves and practically no
rules. “Two men enter the Octagon, one man leaves” was the official slogan.

The Octagon was Milius’ idea, taken from his movie Conan the Barbarian.
“In Conan, the pits for the pit fights were octagonal in shape, because
in an octagon there’s no corner for a guy to hide in,” he says. “And
then, for these fights, we said, ‘Let’s add a chain-link fence,’ because
there’s something about chain-link that is so wonderfully American.”

During the UFC’s first event, in 1993, one switched-on, ugly-filled
fighter kicked another fighter so hard that his teeth scattered into the
seats, which about said it all. Audiences loved it. They went nuts in
the stands and brawled among themselves. “It was just fabulous,” recalls
Milius. “You’d hear this roar and look over to your left, and some guy
would be pounding away at some other guy, and girls would be running
around with their blouses ripped. It was Roman. It was total blood lust.
Why do people watch the news every night? To see people get shot. We
have that. That’s one of the things man does. He makes war. He loves
war. It’s like gravity. It’s a force.”

But then one crazy, fabulous, bloody fight led to another, and pretty
soon TV commentators and politicians like John McCain got wind of it.
Naturally, they jumped on their high horses and began expressing moral
outrage; it didn’t take long for 36 states to ban the events and
pay-per-view providers to cancel all of the company’s fight contracts.

In late 2000, UFC owner Bob Meyrowitz let it be known that he might be
willing to sell the thing. When White heard about it, he called Lorenzo
Fertitta, and in short order, the deal was done, for $2 million, just
like that. “It was literally that simple and that quick,” recalls
Lorenzo. “We had absolutely no plan. We bought it as a hobby.”

But soon enough the brothers, a couple of coolheaded, soft-voiced,
dark-suit-wearing guys, wound up sinking so much money into their new
purchase that it made even them begin to sweat. Sure, they owned a
casino empire, which their dad started in the mid-1970s, that helped put
them on the Forbes 400 richest list, with a combined estimated net worth
of $2.6 billion. Even so, by 2004, they were about ready to scrap the
whole UFC thing.

White was doing everything he could. He had been lobbying state athletic
commissions to get sanctioned, pointing out that the UFC had cleaned up
its fight rules, instituted weight classes and put a scoring system in
place. He made UFC fights more crowd-friendly, along the lines of Vince
McMahon’s WWE events, with bright lights, giant video screens, loud
music, big-boobed ring girls and “all kinds of funky shit.” Then he and
the Fertittas came up with the idea for a reality show: Call it The
Ultimate Fighter, put 16 fighters in a house, let them go at it in the
Octagon week after week, and the last man standing wins a six-figure UFC
contract.

It was a deal Spike TV could not resist. And right out of the box, The
Ultimate Fighter pulled big numbers. Negotiations for a second season
were ongoing even as the first punches were thrown in the season-finale
bout between light-heavyweights Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar,
which ended up becoming, as White likes to say, “the most significant
fight in UFC history.”

Going into it, Bonnar was known as a submission specialist trained in
jujitsu. What set Griffin apart was his go-for-broke attitude. “I love
having black eyes and stuff,” he said. “It’s sporty. It’s a good
conversation starter.” His plan for the fight: “To go out there and get
hit in the mouth. And figure it out from there.”

The way it worked out, though, whatever game plan the guys had, they
threw it out within the first few punches, and basically the bout
evolved into a street fight of a very high order. It was about straight
rights, counters, jabs, Muay Thai clinches and knees to the noggin. They
went to the ground only four times. Each time, they stood again and
traded punches. Bonnar socked Griffin. Griffin smiled and socked Bonnar
right back. The announcers started hyperventilating with the excitement
of it all. “It’s really kind of unfortunate that someone is going to
lose this battle, it’s so entertaining,” one of them said. Early in the
second round, Bonnar opened up a gash on Griffin’s nose. Blood streamed
onto the canvas and all over Griffin’s face. The ref called time.
Griffin smiled as he walked over to his cut man — he couldn’t have been
happier. And you could tell right then, in the honesty of that smile,
that whatever ugliness he had in him was switched on and itching to get
back to work.

They went at it again. Bonnar, getting pretty ugly himself, trapped
Griffin in a clinch and pounded him with his knee. The crowd was on its
feet. “Welcome to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, world!” the
announcer shouted. Sweat dripped off both fighters, slicking their skin,
and the clinches wouldn’t hold. White, ringside, was clapping his hands.
By the third round, the fighters were staggering. But then they engaged
one more time. Bonnar tried a wheel kick that went wide, but it stunned
the announcers that he even tried. And then the horn sounded. The fight
was over. Both men raised their arms.

“How do you call anybody a winner in that fight?” one announcer wanted
to know.

A few moments later, Griffin won the decision, and Bonnar fell to the
canvas, defeated. It was time for White to say a few words. He took the
microphone and said, “Oh, my God, that is what it’s all about right
there.” He fussed over Griffin and gave him his prize, but then he said,
“Frank, Lorenzo and I have gotten together and we’ve decided there is no
loser in this fight. And we’re going to offer Stephan Bonnar a
six-figure contract with the UFC.” Griffin and Bonnar hugged a couple of
times. “Yeah!” the crowd went. “Yeah!” And White said, “What a war.” And
3 million viewers had watched it live.

A half-hour later, Spike TV and the Fertittas agreed on a second season
of The Ultimate Fighter. For the year 2006, based on interest generated
by the success of the show, the UFC set a pay-per-view sales record,
with more than $222,766,000 in revenue. It was now bigger than
professional wrestling. Boxing, too.

WHITE LIVES IN A gated community for rich folks in the Vegas burbs.
Lorenzo lives here too, and Lorenzo’s brother, Frank, is nearby.
Outside, White has his Range Rover, his Ferrari and his two Mercedes.
Out back, he’s got a humongous rock-garden swimming pool, with
waterfalls and hidden cave grottoes. (His neighbors sued to get it
removed, won, and now White is paying a $2,000 monthly fine until he
tears it down — and just out of spite, he plans on paying that fine in
perpetuity.) In his garage, he’s got a pet turtle, which he loves, and
when the weather gets warmer, the turtle will hang out by his swimming
pool alongside Anne, his wife of 13 years, and their three young kids.
Inside his house he’s got Rembrandts, DalÃs and Warhols — not copies,
originals.

He’s also got a collection of Chinese throwing stars and a collection of
billy clubs. By his bed, he’s got nunchucks. Elsewhere, he’s got his
in-laws taking care of his kids, because his wife is away. He’s got a
shower that holds eight. He’s got a hundred T-shirts hung up and sorted
by color. And inside his mind, he’s got himself and just who that might be.

On the one hand, he says, “Dude, I have no idea who I am. You fucking
tell me. I don’t know who the fuck I am.” On the other hand, not 10
minutes later, he says, “At the end of the day, I know who I am. People
who criticize me don’t know me. I’m 38 years old, man. Halfway to dead.
You gotta do that shit now. Get out there and achieve. Do every fucking
thing you want to do right now.”

One night, White wants to go gambling. Actually, White wants to go
gambling every night, and he usually does, always at the same place, the
Fertitta-owned Palace Station casino. On the way, he says, “I won
$50,000 last night, I won $22,000 the night before, I’ve won $460,000 in
the last 38 days. I love this fucking town.”

Inside the Palace Station, he sits at a cordoned-off, high-rollers
blackjack table. A cocktail girl comes around and White gets a water.
Though he occasionally has a glass of wine with dinner, he hasn’t really
been a big drinker in 16 years.

“Gentlemen,” the dealer says, “what can I get for you?”

“Twenty,” says White.

“$20,000?”

“Yup,” says White.

The cards are dealt. Dealer takes the first hand, players take the second.

The third-hand cards are dealt. White leans over and coaches another
player. “What d’ya got?” he says. “Hit it. This is the maker or breaker.
Flip ’em both up so I can see ’em. Five? Nice. Now hit it again and hope
for a 10. There you go, baby. Stick ’em. It’s a winner!” And White wins
too, a big win after doubling down.

He riffles the chips with his fingers. “Right now, I’m up $30,000,” he
says. “We’re leaving, party’s over,” he says to the dealer, tossing him
a $1,500 tip.

Four and a half minutes have passed since the first hand was dealt.

“Here’s the thing,” White says on the way out. “I don’t play to get
rich, I play to have fun. These guys haven’t beat me since before
Christmas. In the last week, $110,000. I’ve taken some mansize beatings,
too. I was down $200,000 and came back. But here’s the thing: You just
gotta hang in there. Hey, what a life, huh? It doesn’t suck, my friend.”

Back in his Range Rover, pulling out of the Station lot, he turns up Ram
Jam’s version of “Black Betty” on the stereo and sings along. “Oh, whoa,
Black Betty … had a child/Bam-ba-lam/The damn thing gone wild/Bam-ba-lam
… I said, Oh, Black Betty/Whoa, Black Betty.”

Off into the Vegas night he goes, and the way he operates, he really is
like some kind of damn thing gone wild himself. Here’s the deal: White
hung in there and raised the UFC from a grave $44 million deep. By any
measure, it’s a remarkable achievement. So what if he doesn’t have a
major network deal yet? It’ll happen. And when it does, just wait. “If
you’re in business with Dana, you are not going to lose, OK?” says
Lorenzo. “So if I’m putting my money behind somebody, I’m putting it
behind Dana. Give me the guy who does battle. Yeah, he may call somebody
a funny name, but who cares? Dana will not lose.”

IT’S FIGHT NIGHT AT MANDALAY Bay. Outside the arena, one of the UFC’s
biggest, gnarliest fighters is signing autographs for fans, mostly guys
with tattoos and girls with large breasts — the tits-n-tats crowd, as
they are known. The big guy seems happy enough. But then, in a private
moment, he frowns and says, “So how come you’re doing a story on Dana? I
don’t understand that. The fighters are what make the sport.” And he
goes on from there to make some pointed comments about White and the
UFC, none of them laudatory. It’s kind of great to hear. Most fighters
won’t say anything critical of White. But then he stops to think, and
what he says next is “Don’t use any of what I just said. Please. I will
hunt you down. You don’t understand how this guy operates. He will
destroy me.”

He’s probably right about that. Unless you spend some time on White’s
bad side, you can’t get a complete picture of the guy and what he might
be capable of. One guy who has been there is a middleweight named Matt
Lindland. He was once a UFC star. In 2005, however, two days after
Lindland won a bout, the UFC fired him for attending a weigh-in wearing
a T-shirt that bore the logo of an unapproved sponsor. And that was it.
He was out, with White reportedly saying things like “He fucked me, and
he knows he fucked me.”

Lindland thinks the T-shirt just provided White with a handy excuse to
get rid of him, because he’d never kissed White’s ass the way some
fighters do — and because White was grooming fighter Rich Franklin to
be the next middleweight champ and Lindland was more than likely to win
any contest between the two. Even so, Lindland would like nothing more
than to get back in the UFC, because when you’re a fighter, the UFC is
where you want to fight, but White will no longer have anything to do
with him. “They’ve let guys back in who’ve done steroids and who’ve
tested positive for cocaine,” Lindland says. “But I wear a T-shirt and
that fucked Dana White? Come on. He’s really grown our sport, so God
bless him. But you really don’t want to get on Dana White’s bad side.
Trust me. That’s why none of the other fighters will say anything.
They’re terrified. He’s got powerful guys behind him, and he goes around
acting like a gangster.”

Another person who has felt White’s wrath is his mother. White got mad
at her three years ago, some big family thing he won’t go into, and
hasn’t spoken to her since. Last he heard, his mom was telling people
that her son is a world-class jerk, “a tyrant who thinks he is God.”

But there’s no time to dwell on that now. The main event, pitting Tim
Sylvia against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira for the heavyweight
championship, is about to start. A few celebrities have shown up,
including Jay-Z and Barry Bonds. Chuck Liddell is ringside, wearing a
DANA WHITE FOR PRESIDENT T-shirt. Even Randy Couture is here, lost
somewhere in a crowd of nearly 11,000 fans.

Once the fighter introductions are made, the lights are turned up and
the grandiose Cecil B. DeMille music is turned down, the referee says
the only three words that need to be said: “Let’s do it.” And the fight
is joined, with fists, feet and elbows flying.

Meanwhile White, sitting near his pal Liddell, is really pissed off.
Before the fight, he and Lorenzo had gone down to Tim Sylvia’s dressing
room. Sylvia has been in the UFC for six years, has a contract that
expires after this fight and isn’t exactly a fan favorite.

“Get ready, boys,” Sylvia said to his UFC bosses. “When I win tonight,
we’re going to break open the bank.”

White was dumbstruck. All he could think was “Wait a minute, dude,
you’re going out to fight for the fucking world championship, and you’re
talking about breaking open the bank right before the fight? It’s bad.
It’s just bad, bad, bad.”

As it happens, Sylvia doesn’t last long. In Round Three, Nogueira gets
Sylvia in a guillotine choke and Sylvia taps out. Karmic justice, thinks
White, still riled up.

“See, this is the one part of the business I fucking hate,” he says when
it’s all over. “Everybody wants more money, and they want it now. And
then all these fighters are like, ‘We’re the superstars, not the UFC! It
should all be about us.'” Pauses, takes a deep breath. “You dumb
motherfuckers. You don’t know what you’re fucking with. I’m a promoter.
And a lot of this shit is built with smoke and mirrors.” Pauses again.
“When Lorenzo and I first got into this, we were like two fucking
idiots. ‘This is going to be so much fun! We’re going to put on big
fights! We care about the fighters! We’re going to make them
millionaires! We’ll all be friends! It’ll be so great!’ But this is the
way it goes. And right now this is my fucking life. I don’t know how
much longer I can take it. I just don’t know.” Pauses again, then starts
laughing and shaking his head. “Oh, I still have fun. I’m excited for
these guys to come out and fight. I still get goose bumps. And no, I
don’t regret anything that I’ve said or done, because everything has
gotten me right where I am. I could be parking your car or picking up
your bag at the hotel. The thing about me, seriously, I’m high on life,
man. I love life.”

And then he says again what he says so often — and what his fighters
also say, no matter how bloody, beaten and underpaid they might be. He
says, “And I love what I do.”

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