The man, the sport, and the money
Finally, White worked to revamp the at the-fight experience for fans, keeping a tight grip on all aspects of the live bouts. He insisted, for instance, that fighters interact with fans during mandatory autograph signings and postfight meetand-greets. He must approve every element of an event's production, right down to the fighters' entrance music. "If a song has too much profanity in it, he knows it's not going to be a good image for the sport," says DellaGrotte. "So he has the fighter change it." White's language, ironically, is anything but PG-rated. Often peppering his phrases with numerous F-bombs, his blunt, tough-guy image hasplayed a big role in the UFC's explosion and has made him as much a face for the company as that of any fighter on his roster. He's as important a part of a UFC live show as WWE chairman Vince McMahon is during a wrestling event. And today, UFC fights can draw as many as 22,000 fans who are as rabid about the sport as White.
He nearly stepped into the ring himself, in April 2007 against Tito Ortiz, his former protégé (and client) who had once held the UFC light-heavyweight championship. Long at odds with White over money (top UFC fighters can make low-six figures per fight) , Ortiz stipulated that before he'd re-sign, he wanted to box White in a three-round exhibition. White, who admittedly had been spending more time in the office than the gym, agreed and planned to show the bout live on pay-per-view. "He saw that I was fat and out of shape," says White, "and I think he doubted my commitment." As White began training and the fight drew closer, Ortiz's girlfriend, ex-porn star Jenna Jameson, took it upon herself to negotiate the terms of the match and often called White with new stipulations. She mandated that the two fighters would wear no headgear and lighter gloves.
"They were trying to intimidate me," says White, "but I used to punch that monkey around when we used to spar. I knew there was no fucking way Tito was going to put a beating on me." Shortly before the bout was to take place, Ortiz backed out for unclear reasons. "I like Tito," says Cavallaro, White's old friend, "but this wasn't MMA, it's boxing. And I think Dana would have busted Tito up."
White is still scrapping outside the ring, fighting to keep the UFC as mixed martial arts' top brand. Though competitors have gained ground—the International Fight League (IFL) televises fights on Fox Sports Net, and Elite XC appears on Showtime— hite isn't worried. He's comfortable now just knowing that his is the most recognized brand in the sport. "Everybody knows that UFC fighters are the best," he says. "The other organizations' champions are guys we've either let go or who weren't good enough to make it in the UFC. We're the Super Bowl of mixed martial arts."
White could easily settle into the life of a busy business exec, but he still makes time to relieve stress and hit the mitts with his old friend Jim "Giffy" Gifford, a boxing trainer from Boston. Working out an hour or more six days a week with boxing training and weights (White benches over 300 pounds), the UFC president is still ready to take on all comers. "I don't know why he works so hard, because he doesn't have to," says Gifford. "I think it humbles him."