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I Am American Business

Dana White

Producer Notes

Like any prize fighter worth his salt, Dana White is focused on one thing: winning. This relentless competitor and savvy entrepreneur has defied the odds: taking the ugly duckling of sports and turning it into one of the most coveted business properties in the world. And he's done it by doing what trailblazers do best: taking ownership of the product and personal responsibility for everything that happens in the octagon and out. He's also a reluctant celebrity - though you'd be hard pressed to know that as you watch him navigate through a sea of adoring fans. His friendly smile and outgoing demeanor mask his intense appetite to get the UFC where he wants it to be: "Our biggest enemy right now is time. There's so much potential for this sport and this business. There's just not enough time in the day to do everything that we want to do. Twenty eight hours in the day would be perfect.

Video Interview

Going Global
UFC in a Nutshell
Two Things...
The Weigh-In
Fight Night

The "I Am" Q&A

Transcript

CNBC:
So tell me why did you first get involved in this business? Was it because you liked the sport or did you see the business opportunity?

DANA WHITE:
I fell in love with the sport. We got into the sport originally because we were passionate about it and we fell in love with it. A lot of the sharpest business minds out there, so you know, were against it and said this would never make money and it would never become, basically what it is today.

CNBC:
So, tell me about that. You've gone from a sport with the reputation of being a blood sport to being a best in class organization. What is the most important thing that you had to do to make that happen?

DANA WHITE:
Basically it's been an education process. There were a lot of misconceptions about this sport, in the early days. We got in, got involved in this thing, recognized what incredible athletes these guys were and we also recognized the potential. We thought that this thing could become big, done the right way, and treated as a real sport.

CNBC:
And how is it different today than it was when you first started the competition?

DANA WHITE:
It's different now. Originally, the original owners of the UFC put this thing together. It was supposed to be a one-time television event to answer the age-old question, question of which fighting style is the best? Would a boxer beat a wrestler. Would a karate guy beat a kung fu guy? And, it was so popular they did it again and again and again. The answer to that age-old question is no one fighting style is the best, you need a little piece of everything to be a complete fighter and in a million years, those guys never thought they were creating a sport. But that's what they did and we saw it and, and we ran with it.

CNBC:
So, when you watch these matches, do you watch them as a fan or as a CEO?

DANA WHITE:
I watch them as both. I'm a big fan, obviously, yes, you know, I'm the president of the company but I'm a fan first. I've been a fighting fan since I was a little kid and, and I haven't changed one bit.

CNBC:
What do you not like currently about your business and what do you not like about it as a fan?

DANA WHITE:
There isn't one thing that I don't like about my business. Our biggest enemy right now is time. There's so much potential for this sport and this business. Meaning the UFC brand. There's just not enough time in the day, to do everything that we want to do. So right now, the only enemy we have and the only thing that I don't like is time.

CNBC:
Meaning you'd like to have twenty-eight hours in the day?

DANA WHITE:
Exactly. Twenty-eight hours in the day would be perfect.

CNBC:
Where do you see this sport in five years?

DANA WHITE:
People think I'm a lunatic and I've been saying this for a long time. And I had a ten-year plan, which started about a year and a half ago, two years ago. And I think we'll get there sooner. The plan for the next five years is to take this thing global, meaning we're in every country and recognized as a sport, playing by the same rules, everywhere all around the world. We're already right now in a hundred and seventy different countries on some form of television, in twenty different languages.

CNBC:
So how does that manifest itself in a road show that goes from city to city or do you literally set up leagues in, like you have a British league or European league and…

DANA WHITE:
No, there's no different leagues. It's the UFC and, basically what we do is, first thing is we get it on television in these different markets. And get people into the sport, and then we bring the live event. Once we bring the live event, and this isn't any promote or hype, it's the truth, this is the most exciting live sporting event you will ever see. And once we bring it in and we put this event on, anywhere in the world, it starts what I call the virus. Starts to spread. Ten people that go and watch the fight leave and infect another ten people with what they saw there that night.

CNBC:
Are there any innovations for the sport that you see on the horizon?

DANA WHITE:
Innovations for the sport. First of all, technology is growing rapidly. All, all this new television technology and ways to watch things, all this different ways to, you know, get content to the people that are looking for it, it changes every day. And, and, and our business is perfect for that. All the new technology that's coming out to receive cool content, we have. And, its perfect for our business. What's starting to happen too is the world is getting smaller. And, all these different, there's going to be a day, when you're watching your television and on the Internet. It's all the same. And it's coming very soon. And that's the really, the way we built this business. We built this business for when that day comes.

CNBC:
Is there any innovation in the combat itself that you're seeing?

DANA WHITE:
Oh, as far as combat innovation, right now, you know, if you look at guys like our, our stars who started this whole thing from a Chuck Lidell to a Randy Couture, Randy Couture came from wrestling, Chuck Lidell came from kick boxing. These kids that are growing up today are learning mixed martial arts. So what's starting to happen is, you're starting to see more explosive, more entertaining, more talented fighters coming up today. And it's only going to get better and better. And the other thing that's happening is, this sport's becoming so big and so popular and obviously there's a lot of money in it now, you're going to see guys that would've played football or basketball or soccer, getting involved in mixed martial arts instead.

CNBC:
Speaking of that, you just mentioned lots of money. How much more complicated does that equation become for you as a businessman when the fighters know it and they read about it and they start to see receipts and understanding what Pay Per View is to the bottom line. How complicated is that for you in terms of guys just now suddenly demanding more

DANA WHITE:
It's not complicated at all. Because we've actually built the perfect infrastructure and the perfect system for fighters to get paid. And the guys who have been involved in this sport are making millions of dollars now. So, it's not too tough to explain. Everybody knows the sport is growing rapidly and guess what? It's only going to get better. It's only getting bigger, it's only getting better, which means guys are going to make more and more money. It's part of the evolution.

CNBC:
Can MMA every be as big as boxing was in the seventies?

DANA WHITE:
It's funny because people always compare us to boxing. We're already bigger than boxing. We're already bigger than boxing. I believe, I don't even use boxing as my gauge. I think we're going to be the biggest sport in the world. Bigger than the NFL. Bigger than soccer. Bigger than anybody. This thing crosses borders so well that, like, for instance, soccer's huge all over the world. It's never really become big here in the United States. NFL is huge here in the US. Isn't big anywhere else. I put two guys in an octagon. They can use any martial art they want. It transcends all cultural barriers, all language barriers, because I don't care what color you are, what country you come from or what language you speak, we're all human beings. And fighting's in our DNA. We get it and we like it.

CNBC:
For someone who doesn't know the first thing about mixed martial arts or UFC, how would you describe the sport?

DANA WHITE:
First of all, it's the most exciting combat sport in the world. It's the first; it's the most exciting live sporting event you will ever see. And there's a lot of misconceptions out there about the athletes. They think these guys are just rolled in from bar schools, and they like to fight or whatever. These guys are world-class competitors and probably the best-conditioned athletes in the world. These guys think about how hard it is to be a professional boxer. These guys have to be well versed in boxing, kickboxing, muay thai, wrestling and jujitsu. And on top of that, they still have to do their cardiovascular and weight training. And another thing that a lot of people don't know about our athletes is you know, eighty five to ninety percent of these guys are college educated. So this sport is, you know, first of all, it's a first class organization with top-notch athletes and the most exciting live sporting event you will ever see.

CNBC:
It sounds to me like it isn't just two guys going at it. There's skill.

DANA WHITE:
This is, this is so much more than just fighting. People would be blown away. This is what I was blown away by when I first got introduced to the sport, is, how smart you have to be. What, what a great athlete you have to be. How much, you know, it's almost like a chess game is what it's like. For every move, there's a counter move. These guys are very intelligent and very, high skilled, highly trained athletes.

CNBC:
How would you describe the ideal ultimate fighter?

DANA WHITE:
The ideal ultimate fighter is a smart guy who's been trained in, every discipline and is good in all of them. And, you know, is determined, hard working, and for me, what I think makes the ultimate fighter, is the guy who wants to be a world champion.

CNBC:
How do you go about finding new talent?

DANA WHITE:
People ask me that all the time. This sport's getting so big so fast, listen, when I was growing up, your parents would either put you in karate or tae kwon doe or something like that. The new martial art is mixed martial arts. That's what all these kids are training in these days. And these schools are popping up all over the world. And, there isn't a fighter from anywhere on the planet. You name the country, I can find a fighter.

CNBC:
And how involved are you, at what point do you connect with a fighter and how involved are you in their development?

DANA WHITE:
I'm not really involved in fighter development. We got our finger on the pulse of what's going on out there and who's the next up and coming guy and who we think might be a future talent. But his training and all the things that he does is done on his own with his own team.

CNBC:
Is there a brand guide, like or a template that your fighters have to follow to be a part of the UFC?

DANA WHITE:
I wouldn't say that there's a brand guide, but you know, every year we hold a fighter summits. And we let these fighters know, we educate them on a lot of things like paying their taxes, and stuff like that. But, obviously, you know, we also have a list of things that we expect from them. You know, how we expect them to conduct themselves but, at the same time, I'm probably one of the most lenient guys out there. I believe in, we're all human beings, no matter who we are, and we're going to make mistakes. And, for me it's how you handle yourself after you've made that mistake.

CNBC:
Is there a sense of unity, a sense of family being a part of UFC?

DANA WHITE:
Absolutely yeah. And it really starts in the camps too. You know, these camps, these guys live together, they train together, and, once guys get into the UFC, there is a real, you know, after a guy gets three or four fights here, he starts to feel like this is his home. By the way he's treated by the organization, by my staff, how they treat him while they're here, getting ready for events. And you definitely get that feeling of family. There's, there's many fighters throughout the last nine years that we've become very close to and, and we consider literally partners who've helped us build this organization.

CNBC:
Tell me about the ways in that you are reaching audiences.

DANA WHITE:
There's many ways that we try to touch our fans. You know, and expose new people to mixed martial arts in the UFC. Our television deal with our reality show and all the fights that we put on TV, our Pay Per View deals. Our UFC magazine. We've got UFC gyms. Our video game. We show fights in the movie theatres. And basically, all the new technology that's coming out to, where you could be in content to people who want it, we're there and we're doing it. Including social media. We're big into social media too.

CNBC:
And with all of the licensing of your product, do you run your magazine or do you license the name out?

DANA WHITE:
We run it. We run the magazine. Everything. One of the things that's been so lucky, when we were building this business, nobody wanted to touch this thing with a ten foot pole. You know, so we had to go out and spend a lot of our own money to make a lot of things happen and at the time, it sucked. It wasn't good. But now, it turned out to be the best thing ever because we own a hundred percent of all our content and from the magazine to all of our footage, to all of our television shows, the reality show. We own a hundred percent of everything.

CNBC:
Do you have a motto or a philosophy that you live by that could be considered the core of what the UFC is?

DANA WHITE:
Yeah, I would, I would say my motto. You know, in this business is basically…there's a couple of things. There's two things that you have to do. Number one is treat the fans fairly and always take care of the fans and always think of the fans first. That's my first and foremost. And number two is always make sure that you're providing them with what they pay for. You know, for many years I was a huge boxing fan. You know, and I'd get all fired up for the fight on Saturday night and, you know, I'd get all of my buddies together. We'd stay home and buy the Pay Per View, and as soon as that Pay Per View was over, I'd go; they did it to me again. I got excited for this fight and these guys didn't fight, they didn't perform. And it seemed like nobody really cared. We do the complete opposite of that. You know, I instill in the fighters and I, and I let them know how important it is to get out there and go after it a hundred percent, during their performance and I make sure that we stay, you know, as big as we get, we stay connected and close to the fans. For instance, you show up at a Lakers game, you're never meeting Kobe Bryant. It's never going to happen. You come a UFC event, not only are you going to meet your favorite fighter, you're probably going to get your picture taken with him, your stuff autographed, and hang out with him for a few minutes. That's, that and that will never change. I don't care how big the UFC gets.

CNBC:
At UFC one twelve, you were extremely disappointed in Anderson Silva's performance. You called it embarrassing. As the guardian of the UFC brand, how were you handling that situation? I know you said you were going to repay your fans. How did you do that?

DANA WHITE:
Anderson Silva's last performance really upset me. The bottom line is, and I said this, here in this interview, I've said it many times. I always want to make sure that the fans, listen, there's people who flew to Abu Dhabi from all, from all over the world to go see this fight. Spent their money on tickets, flights, hotel rooms, et cetera. The people, who bought it all over the world on Pay Per View and to tune in and pay forty-five dollars or whatever you spent to see that main event, sickened me. And I basically sat down and I let Anderson know and I let the whole world know how upset I was about it. And that this better never happen again. And the way I plan to repay the fans for this fight is I'm going to take one of our huge fights that should be a Pay Per View and I'm going to put it on free TV for 'em.

CNBC:
We're sitting here in the octagon at the MGM Grand. The ultimate venue for a spectacle like this. Do you still get a thrill from it all?

DANA WHITE:
Yeah, absolutely. You know, I'm still like a huge fan. I'm like a little kid with this thing. The big day for me is today. Today is Friday. The day before the fight and the weigh ins. I'm excited for the weigh ins. The weigh ins are the day, when you're a huge fight band, you get to be there live; you get to see your guy. He's going to get his, he's going to take his shirt off, you're going to see what kind of shape he's in. He's going to get on the scale, does he make weight? And then the best part is when they get eye to eye and they stare each other down. The stare down is the best part of anything. And it, you're already excited and pumped up for the fight. And after you see that, you're literally jumping out of your skin. You can't wait for this fight to happen. And then obviously fight night, there's nothing like it. The energy, the excitement, when, when this arena is full tomorrow night, the people in here are, it's going to be, the electricity in here is incredible and it spills out into the casino. Everybody's just pumped up to see a great night of fights.

CNBC:
So even though running the business is complex, your value proposition is pretty easy to get, right? Come to my arena, come to my event and you're going to see a good fight.

DANA WHITE:
Exactly. If you, if you buy tickets and you fly to Las Vegas, I guarantee you're going to see the best live sporting event ever. And if you buy it on Pay Per View, I promise you, you're going to get a night of great fights. And the other thing that we do is, in boxing, they'll only give you one main event. Nobody even shows up for the early fights. We stack a card with tons of great fights because I can't, for me to sit here, I'd be a liar if I said, I'm guaranteeing you every fight's going to be the best fight you've ever seen! I can't guarantee you that. But I can guarantee you, there's going to be two, three or four that are going to blow you out of, you know, you're going to be blown away. We stack the card big enough so that you're definitely going to get your money's worth.

CNBC:
We talked earlier about other sports. Who do you compete with?

DANA WHITE:
I don't know. You know, people are always asking if we compete with boxing, do we compete with WWE? Do we compete…and I don't think so. I think we're completely different than everybody else. We're so different and, to be honest with you, in building this business, I took a lot of things from a lot of different people. I did learn from, from boxing and all the guys before me, the Don Kings, the Bob Arams, I took all the things that I thought they did wrong and I changed them with this business. And I used some of the things that I thought they did right. But I have seen stuff that I liked from the WWE. I've seen stuff that I've liked from NFL and NBA and, you know, from everybody. I've taken…things that I've learned from every other sport. I've used a little bit of it in building the UFC.

CNBC:
How do you market your product?

DANA WHITE:
The way that we market our product, especially in the early days when we were getting people in, my whole thing was, if I can get you to this live event, you're done. You are mine. If I get you in this building for a live event, I swear to God, I don't think, and this is a bold statement, but I'm going to say it right now. I don't think I've ever had somebody come to a live event in nine years and walk out of here and go, this sucks. I'll never watch this again. Ever.

CNBC:
You once said, "we're not for everyone and we don't try to be. If you don't like fighting sports, great, this is America, that's your right. All we ask is that people understand what we are."

DANA WHITE:
Right.

CNBC:
So what are you?

DANA WHITE:
Yeah, basically, what this is and what we are is, if you're, if you were a college wrestler, and you never made it to the Olympics or maybe you did and you already had your Olympic run, if you've been a martial artist your whole life and been training, this is where you come to compete. These guys are professional athletes who train as hard as they can to become the best in the world and they come in here and they compete against one another. You know, you have all these people out there that, that try to talk about fighting and, oh, it's fighting and it's barbaric. Listen, if, if you don't like fighting, I'm never going to make you a fight fan. I don't like golf. Does that mean other people shouldn't play golf? No. Does that make other people shouldn't watch golf? You know, you know, what I do? I don't watch it. If you don't like the UFC and you don't like fighting, don't watch it. There's a thousand other channels. Watch golf.

CNBC:
What philanthropies is the UFC involved in?

DANA WHITE:
We're a big supporter of military. From day one. You know, there's lots of organizations that we donate money to or we take of things here in Las Vegas. But our real big charity is the military. The troops that are coming home injured, with traumatic brain injury, you know, lost limbs and things like that.

CNBC:
Today, at Fan Fest, there was a lot of electricity in the air. Not just from the fans but you've got vendors there who are probably just having a great time also and it's a great moment for the fighters. Tell me about what it's like when you walk in there, and you're the man. Everybody follows you as much as they follow the fighters. How does that make you feel to see the popularity turn into that kind of success?

DANA WHITE:
No, it, it's cool. Listen, I say it all the time. We have the most passionate fans in the world. That's what we have. And we've got people, you know, you saw today when you went, you've got people that love you and there's a lot of people that hate me too. You know, and I like them all. When I get on social media Twitter, I don't block anybody. You can get on there and say whatever you want to me. But be ready, because I'm going to say some stuff back to you too. But, I love that our fans are so passionate. They care so much. Every little decision I make, no matter what it is, they either love it or they hate it. And I love the passion. I'm the one always in the trenches with the fans, whether its over at the Fan Expo, whether it's here, at the weigh ins or it's Saturday night at the fight, I love talking to the fans. I love their input. And, I'm always listening.

CNBC:
What is your favorite part about a night like tomorrow night? What's at the top of the list?

DANA WHITE:
Tomorrow night is the energy. I love the energy and I love the buzz inside in an event. You know, a big fight. When you have a big fight, and everybody's excited for it and everybody feels the same way, you know, tomorrow will have sixteen thousand people in here all feeling the same way, excited and energized to see a great fight. And one of the cool things about our, our sporting events too, big misconceptions too is that you know, there's probably a bunch of beer-drinking and fighting going on. You won't see any fights in here tomorrow night. In nine years, I can't count on one hand how many fights there have been in the stands, you know? Everybody's here to kick back, relax and, and, be excited about the competition that's going to happen in this octagon on Saturday.

CNBC:
I don't know if it is or not, in terms of the folks that come here, is it a family, do families come and watch the events?

DANA WHITE:
Yeah, you'll see, when we do fights in Las Vegas, you're going to see the who's who from LA, the who's who from Las Vegas, and a bunch of hardcore fans. And yes, there's, forty four percent of our fan base now, is female, which I never saw coming. And, there'll be tons of women here. There's girls that'll be here tomorrow that took girl's trips to Vegas for this fight. And you will see kids too. There's a lot of kids who train in mixed martial arts. Who are, you know, big fans of the fighters. And you know, so, yeah, you can bring your kids.

CNBC:
So as much as, Chuck Lidell is the face of the sport, you seem to represent the heart, the mind and the soul. And you're a celebrity. How do you feel about that?

DANA WHITE:
I don't know. I don't look at myself that way. I don't look at myself as a celebrity. You know, I'm the guy who you know, I run this company. And we have a lot of fans. And, you know, I don't know, I don't look at myself that way. That's probably the hardest question for me to answer. I don't see myself as a celebrity. I come in here and I do what I love to do and people love what I do as much as I do. That's how I'd explain it.

CNBC:
You know, it's funny, we should show you the tape that we shot today. You'll see that you are a celebrity.

DANA WHITE:
I see it as, people who love what I do as much as I do.

CNBC:
That's great. Tell me, considering where you were in day one, and where you are today, how sweet is the taste of success?

DANA WHITE:
Yeah, the taste of success is awesome. I mean, it's, incredible. To build what we've built and to do what we do, but I don't look at that way, I'm not excited yet. I don't pop my head up and look around and go look what we've done! This is great! Because we haven't done what we've set out to do yet. What we set out to do was to build a sport. And to be a sport, everybody all around the world is playing by the same rules, like soccer. You know? Same game we play here in the United States is the same game that is played all over the world. When that's done, when that's happened, then I'll kick back and go, look what we did. We did it.

Related Links

http://www.ufc.com