In a world filled with sheep, the ones that refuse to be herded usually come out on top.
Dana White, president of the UFC, is no sheep.
Ever since he quit his job as a bellman at the Boston Harbor hotel at the age of 18, he’s carved his own path. Now, he’s grown the UFC from a fringe martial arts league to a global enterprise with one of the largest cult followings in the world of sports.
That massive success hasn’t come from playing it safe. From embracing the violence of the sport, to allowing his athletes to be themselves, the UFC has bucked the trend set by other professional sports leagues intent on playing the PR game.
White has no reason to change his strategy now.
UFC 261 will take place in Jacksonville, FL on Saturday, April 24. It will be the first full capacity UFC event since March 2020 and masks will be optional.
“This Saturday, I’m leaving here and flying to Jacksonville, we’re gonna be the first back with a full arena,” White said on Candace. “We sold out in Jacksonville, we sold out in Houston, and we sold out in Vegas. Three back-to back fights. 50,000 tickets, all three combined in less than 5 minutes, and I think what that means is, people are done.”
“I’m going to pack this place with people. And we’re going to put on fights on Saturday. There’s gonna be that buzz, that energy, that camaraderie that people feel again about being around 15,000 people and enjoying something together.”
It’s not the first time White has gone against the grain during the time of Covid.
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In July of 2020, White set about getting his sport back to live events after the Covid lockdowns. The only problem was, where could he hold the fights?
Obviously, we were trying to figure out how in the United States we could put on a fight. So, we eventually got to a point where — I was telling my lawyer at the time — let’s not worry about federal (government). Let’s worry about state to state. How do we get around the state and do the event?
So, we ended up in California at an Indian reservation because the state can’t mess with them, the federal [government] can. And we got the guys to hold their ground and that we were going to do the event. And then obviously the Governor of California (Gavin Newsom) ended up calling ESPN and Disney and asking them to make us stand down. Then we ended up in Jacksonville. Jacksonville took us in, and that’s why we’re going back to Jacksonville. I told them when things come back, I’ll bring it back here and we’ll blow the doors off this place and do it the right way.
So we’re getting the state figured out in the United States, we have a ton of fighters from all over the world and couldn’t get a lot of these guys in the country and all this stuff. So, we started talking about islands and Mike Tyson actually called me and gave me, I can’t remember the name of the island, he gave me the people that ran the country and they wanted us to come to this Island. We talked to them and that didn’t work out.
We had a long time relationship with Abu Dhabi and we’d done fights over there. So, we started talking to Abu Dhabi, Yas Island. So, I said ‘I’ve secured an island’ and the whole thing blew up.
Of course, many in the media couldn’t leave well enough alone. White’s decision to hold fights in the midst of a pandemic caused a meltdown.
“I got f*****g annihilated by the media. The New York Times, who never covers us, was writing a story every two weeks. And not good ones. They had this whole doom and gloom narrative that everyone was going to die.”
UFC 261 in Jacksonville is a go, and this time around, the media doesn’t have a leg to stand on.
“We have not (faced media backlash), because of the way they handled it the first time. They haven’t at all this time, plus we just went through Covid safely.”
White got the sports world back on its feet with “Fight Island,” and he’s bringing back normalcy with UFC 261. It’s a good reminder that those who refuse to go with the herd, usually finish first.
Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers and the NBA for Sporting News.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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