It hurts me to say it, but Dana White is the best and most important promoter in the history of MMA. No one else is even close. White took a sport that was floundering, a promotion that was giving away tickets to a five thousand seater in New Jersey (available only on satellite television) and turned it into a billion dollar company.
Today, I walked the Las Vegas strip and saw the fruits of White’s labor everywhere. There were giant video screens promoting the fight at the MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, and the Monte Carlo. Fans were out in force, sporting Tapout, Affliction, and UFC gear along with their ubiquitous and copious tats.
The after-parties aren’t at a Hooters anymore, or a disgusting local strip joint. B.J Penn will celebrate, win or lose, at the classy Studio 54. The UFC, and with it the whole sport of MMA, has arrived — and Dana White deserves the bulk of the credit. It’s an obvious point, but one worth making as White continues to face constant criticism from hardcore fans and the online media (often one and the same). And it’s why when bloggers and Dana clash, I’m putting my money on White.
Some fans vehemently oppose Saturday’s superfight between B.J. Penn and Georges St. Pierre, claiming the matchup isn’t fair to possible title contenders like Thiago Alves and Kenny Florian. Because Penn and St. Pierre are both champions, it will be months before these worthy contenders get an opportunity to fight for the title. If Penn wins Saturday, it could mean that each title is only defended once a year. White’s response at yesterday’s press conference was clear and to the point: “Who gives a shit.”
Dana has yet to take a single lesson in tact, but he makes a strong point. Critics are everywhere. If he listened to them, he would have never brought back legends like Gracie and Shamrock to headline his most successful shows. He would have never revitalized the business with a reality television show that many thought was demeaning to the athletes. He would have never brought in a pro wrestler like Brock Lesnar and given him the opportunity to be the promotion’s top star. And he wouldn’t be a multi-millionaire. In short, the UFC would have followed the other promotions that catered to hardcore fans right into bankruptcy.
It takes a certain gift to understand what people want to buy. It’s equally hard to sell people something you have, but that they don’t know they want. White has both of these gifts. He and Joe Silva understand that fans want more from their fights than technically proficient challengers like Alves or Machida in lackluster main events. The fans want big, they want spectacle, and for $50 you better deliver.
Saturday, the UFC delivers and what’s bigger than the two best fighters in the world stepping into the cage? Despite being a rematch, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to see two champions collide. The UFC hasn’t had a fight like this since UFC Champion Mark Coleman took on Extreme Fighting Champion Maurice Smith all the way back at UFC 14. It’s two huge stars, in their fighting and physical primes, two of the very best at the height of their powers. It is an epic fight. But White’s too good a promoter to leave the fight to sell itself.
He’s taken the best from boxing and created his own 24/7, the amazing UFC Primetime. Now the super fight is also one of the most highly anticipated of all time. After watching the last installment of the brilliant three part special, how could you not want to see who prevails? How can you not love B.J. for his brash words and running the rock? How could you not love GSP and the circle of great people he’s surrounded himself with?
How could you not want to see the biggest fight of all-time?
Dana White wins again.