EXCLUSIVE: Dana White Tells The Origin Story Of His ‘Fight Island’
LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 18: UFC President Dana White speaks to the media during the UFC 246 event at T-Mobile Arena on January 18, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Ahead of his appearance on Candace, UFC President Dana White sat down with The Daily Wire for an exclusive interview to discuss the origins of the now famous “Fight Island,” his desire to keep politics out of the UFC, and the Jake Paul situation. 

DAILY WIRE: We wanted to talk about “Fight Island” a little bit. You were one of the first sports to come back. What’s the backstory to that? How did that all come together? 

DANA WHITE: 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 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 Newsome) 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. We started talking to Abu Dhabi, Yas Island. So, I said ‘I’ve secured an island’ and the whole thing just blew up.

DAILY WIRE: They rolled out the red carpet for you. It seemed like the whole country was rolling out the red carpet for the UFC there. 

WHITE: It was bad**s because the reality is, those guys over there in the Middle East, spend tons of money in marketing the country for tourism and things like that. We couldn’t have done anything that was more talked about than “Fight Island.” It was massive, globally. The whole world was talking about.

DAILY WIRE: Did you get any pushback from the media?

WHITE: 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. You know what I mean? All this crazy stuff. I actually ended up putting out a video about the whole thing. 

DAILY WIRE: For Jacksonville coming up, obviously you’ve decided masks are optional. It’s going to be great. Have you been getting hammered for that as well by the media?

WHITE: You know what we have not. Because of how they handled the first time and how —you’ll see when you see this video — when you see this, this was me firing back.

DAILY WIRE: Did you guys do anything differently than other leagues? I mean, I know you had “Fight Island,” but was there anything specific as far as testing?

WHITE: We built the bubble. We were testing athletes before they showed up. Testing them in their camps before they showed up. Then when they got there, they tested, then everybody was quarantined, we kept everybody away from each other. And you know, obviously for us too, especially because we were first and especially because of how aggressive we were in going, we had to make sure that we were the best.

DAILY WIRE: So can you talk us through the process, you touched on this in the show a little bit, about how your announcers, your production, didn’t really mention COVID. You guys never really mentioned politics when all the unrest was going on this year. How much of a concerted effort was that? Or was it just something that just kind of happened?

WHITE: Listen, it’s what we do. It’s how we run our show. You know, whether all this craziness is going on or not, that’s how we run our show. The other thing is we don’t put a muzzle on anyone. We don’t tell people what they can or can’t talk about. You know what I mean? Imagine working for a company and they’re telling you to believe this?

And we have a very diverse company. There’s lots of different genders, ethnicities, you name it. Actually, WME-IMG who we’re a part of, just did a study on all the companies that are under their umbrella. We were the most diverse. And it wasn’t because we try to be, it’s because we hire the best and most talented people. And the other thing we don’t do, we don’t tell you who to vote for. We don’t tell you what to believe in. We don’t tell you what religion… We don’t tell you any of that s**t. You’re all grown men and women, and you’re going to have your own ideas, your own beliefs, and good for you. It’s America. It’s the way it’s supposed to be. You shouldn’t have to go to work and listen to that s**t. 

DAILY WIRE: That’s refreshing. 

WHITE: You shouldn’t have to go to work and listen to that s**t. What I believe should not be rained on you because I run this company. It’s not like that at all. We don’t tell anybody what to do, who to vote for. We don’t even throw out suggestions, hints, or anything else. Any of that stuff, we try to keep all of that stuff away from our people.

DAILY WIRE: So, if the UFC was starting from scratch, all things considered, would you be able to start the UFC today? And do you think it would have the same success? Or do you think that the world right now, maybe wouldn’t be ready for it?

WHITE: That’s a great question actually. Obviously, over the last 20 years, people have seen and heard the things that I say and whatever. I don’t know. Maybe it would be a lot more sensitive today than it was 20 years ago. But now they’re just like, “yeah, he was a**hole.” You know what I mean? So I don’t know. It’s a great question though.

DAILY WIRE: 2021, 2020, a lot of cancel culture and everyone talks about that. Has there been any effort to cancel you, if you will?

WHITE: Not cancel me. Actually, everybody has been pretty cool. Sponsors and everybody that are aligned with the UFC have been cool.

DAILY WIRE: Because you make them a lot of money.

WHITE: Ya, exactly. But no one wants to admit that. God forbid, you want to make money in this day and age. You’re the f******g devil, you know what I mean. If you want to make some money. But everyone, all of our sponsors and everybody was pretty cool. And me being so aggressive about going (to “Fight Island”). 

DAILY WIRE: It’s a lot harder to cancel somebody who’s making you a lot of money so that makes sense. Two more quick questions. You touched on this in the show a bit and I have to ask, I’m sure you get annoyed by it… the Jake Paul stuff. We saw Woodley coming out and kind of throwing his name in there. I think even Cody Garbrandt got in there. I think we saw Cejudo get in there and said, “I’ll fight him.” Even the retired guys are saying, “let’s get in there.” Where do you see that going and do you think this is kind of the new trend where these guys call out actual UFC fighters?

WHITE: No, it doesn’t aggravate me. Listen, this kid is trying to make some money. I mean, this sport is all about showmanship and getting noticed to become a big star and to become a pay-per-view draw. You have to have something that other people don’t have. And the thing that this kid has is holy s**t, can this guy win? He’s a YouTuber. Can he win? They’ve caught on to a cool little niche, in the right place at the right time. This isn’t going to last forever. You’re not going to see Jake Paul, 28-0. That isn’t going to happen but it’s interesting, and we’ll see how long the ride goes.

DAILY WIRE: Does any part of you hope that he does try and step in the octagon?

WHITE: The whole country wants to see him get knocked out. I mean, part of the whole appeal of this thing is “oh, I can’t wait to see this kid get knocked out,” which is brilliant. Yeah.

DAILY WIRE: Final question, Joe Rogan, obviously he’s kind of tied with the UFC over the years, great commentating. Do you have any stories of him that you’ve heard or any stories you’ve seen on the road with him over the years? Because he’s such an eccentric guy.

WHITE: Yeah, no, he’s actually super mellow and chill. There’s nothing crazy about Rogan at all. He’s actually a very intelligent guy. Craziest thing I could say about Joe Rogan is he believes in f*****g Bigfoot. Other than that, I don’t even know. He’s brilliant. He’s very mellow. He’s a great  f*****g guy. And he’s the greatest fight broadcaster of all time.

Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers, and the NBA for Sporting News.

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