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Playboy Interview: Dana White
  • September 07, 2008 : 11:09
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PLAYBOY: How about Gary Shaw of EliteXC?

WHITE: Scumbag Gary Shaw is a piece-of-shit dirtbag who could care less about our sport. He's one of the maggots I have to fight off who didn't believe in mixed martial arts five years ago.

PLAYBOY: Then there's Jay Larkin, head of the upstart International Fight League.

WHITE: Let me tell you a story about Jay Larkin. He used to run boxing for Showtime until he got fired. Seven years ago Lorenzo Fertitta and I went to Larkin's office in New York. We asked him to put the UFC on Showtime. He said forget it. "We don't want it on our network." Fast-forward seven years and he's running a mixed-martial-arts company. Yeah, I'm worried about him—a guy who hates the sport.

PLAYBOY: Maybe you could buy him out. Last year IFL stock was selling at $17 a share, but as we talk it's down to four cents.

WHITE: I'll stick with my stake in the UFC.

PLAYBOY: Meanwhile, Shaw's EliteXC got its star, Kimbo Slice, on CBS last spring. He was the first mixed-martial-arts fighter on prime-time network TV.

WHITE: That was a freak show.

PLAYBOY: How many of your 180 or so UFC fighters could take him?

WHITE: All of them. He may be the toughest 250-pound guy at your backyard barbecue, but I've got a kid, Urijah Faber, 145 pounds, who would beat him. We're a world-class sport, not a freak show.

PLAYBOY: Were you ever tempted to sign Kimbo Slice?

WHITE: We could have taken the freak route years ago with a bigger name than him.

PLAYBOY: Who?

WHITE: Mike Tyson. We talked about it when we were bleeding money, but we backed out because it would have been a stunt. I love Tyson, but I love our sport more.

PLAYBOY: You were close to a multiyear deal with HBO.

WHITE: I pulled the plug at the 23rd hour. HBO was pissed off.

PLAYBOY: Why did you pull the plug?

WHITE: I would have had to sell out, literally. They would have owned the UFC.

PLAYBOY: Were you tempted?

WHITE: I took meetings with HBO's boxing guys. I'll tell you, if I had to hear one more time how many fucking Emmys they had won, I was going to dive out the window. I said, "You won a bunch of Emmys, but I'm kicking your ass on pay-per-view."

PLAYBOY: HBO wanted to change the UFC?

WHITE: We give you a show. Boxing is all about the main event. Nobody wants to see the undercard—you could shoot off a cannon and not hit anybody. Fans get a bunch of crappy undercard fights, everyone's yawning, and you wonder why boxing's dead? The UFC is all about energy. We've got music blasting, lights blazing, fans going crazy. I pick all the lights, music and video, and it still gives me goose bumps. But HBO said, "You've got to shut all that down." They wanted to shoot it like a studio show. Now, I know I sound like an egotistical dickhead, but I built this business, and nobody's going to tell me how to run it.

PLAYBOY: Boxing promoter Bob Arum thinks you're a genius. "The UFC is cleaning our clocks," he says.

WHITE: Five years ago he said we were ridiculous.

PLAYBOY: Now you've got a slew of UFC merchandise in the works. Trading cards and action figures of your star fighters—Chuck Liddell, Brock Lesnar, Antonio "Minotauro" Nogueira and Anderson Silva.

WHITE: Plus hats, T-shirts, sleeping bags and UFC toys in 60 different countries. We're finding ways for our guys to make money when they're not fighting. Did you ever see a Larry Holmes toy? No. I could drive you to the toy store and show you a Rowdy Roddy Piper doll, and he hasn't wrestled since the 1990s. What does that mean? It means Rowdy Toddy's sitting on a couch somewhere, getting a commission off his WWE dolls. That's what we want for our fighters.

PLAYBOY: You have a THQ video game coming out next spring.

WHITE: It'll be the best fighting game ever made.

PLAYBOY: What tie-ins have you turned down?

WHITE: Porn. Not that I have anything against the porn industry. I find it quite entertaining! But when some porn makers wanted to sponsor us, I said no. Strip clubs, too. Because I want kids watching us. Did you know there are more kids taking mixed-martial-arts lessons than any other martial art? You're going to see high school MMA teams and MMA in the Olympics. This is a great sport for kids. It gets them off the couch, teaches self-defense and gives them confidence.

PLAYBOY: Sometimes you say no to fighters. You're a tough negotiator at contract time.

WHITE: Every six or seven fights, a guy's contract comes up, and it's my job to give him more money or not. I'll never be everyone's best friend, but our guys do fine. Ninety-one percent of our UFC fighters make more than $50,000 a year. Fifty-four percent make more than $100,000.

PLAYBOY: Still, you've had contract disputes with Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz. What if the fighters form a union?

WHITE: I don't see it happening. The IFL likes to say, "We're here for the fighters. We want to give them medical benefits." I'm thinking, Really? Go open a fucking yogurt shop and see what an employee medical program costs. I would love to see Jay Larkin call Blue Cross and say, "Hi, I've got 250 ultimate fighters. Please give me a health plan." That's real smart. That's why their stock is at four cents.

PLAYBOY: What if a guy breaks his neck in the Octagon?

WHITE: He's covered. We cover all medical bills for any injury fighters sustain at our events.

PLAYBOY: Do you think UFC fighters who call you cheap are greedy?

WHITE: No. It's human nature to want more money. If you want greedy, look at Floyd Mayweather.

PLAYBOY: After Mayweather retired this spring, there were rumors that he was going to join the UFC. He told PLAYBOY he is interested in mixed martial arts.

WHITE: I consider Floyd one of the best boxers ever, but he's too old for the UFC, and he's not really retired—just greedy. Oscar De La Hoya offered him $25 million, but Floyd wants more, so he'll probably wait for Oscar to fight Miguel Cotto. Then Floyd will get the winner. If it's Cotto, he can fight Cotto and then say, "Oscar, let's do it again." This is the kind of shit that made people sick of boxing.

PLAYBOY: Tell us about a UFC immortal, Tito Ortiz.

WHITE: That big-mouthed bitch, that clown. Back when he had the title, he refused to fight Chuck Liddell. He sat on the sidelines for a year and a half, crying, "Aww, I don't have any money!" So I brought him back and made him a coach on The Ultimate Fighter. That year he made more than $6 million, yet he bitches about me. Well, I put up with Tito's shit when he was a decent fighter, but now he's not and I don't have to.

PLAYBOY: He lasted nine weeks on The Celebrity Apprentice, with Gene Simmons, Stephen Baldwin, Lennox Lewis and Playmate Tiffany Fallon.

WHITE: Did you see what a wallflower he was on that show? The guy has no presence. He was the idiot hiding in the back. If he actually did something, people would know how stupid he is.

PLAYBOY: What's his IQ?

WHITE: About four. It's the same as IFL stock.

PLAYBOY: Did you enjoy his last UFC fight?

WHITE: When Lyoto Machida kicked his ass? I lost my voice yelling for Machida.

PLAYBOY: What do you think of Ortiz's girlfriend, Jenna Jameson?

WHITE: Once in a radio interview I called her and Tito a "double idiot power—two of the dumbest humans you'll ever meet." She called me and said, "Why would you say that? All the shit's between you and Tito." I said, "Jenna, you're his manager." She said, "Dana, it's unfair to take a shot at me," and I agreed. "You're right," I said, and I haven't said a bad word about Jenna Jameson since.

PLAYBOY: Do you think she has helped his conditioning?

WHITE: It didn't look like it in his last fight. Honestly, I think Jenna's been a distraction to him. In a few years Tito's going to realize he left millions of dollars on the table.

PLAYBOY: At least he has his health. You once said the UFC is safer than badminton.

WHITE: Right. "In almost 20 years of UFC," I said, "there's never been a death or a serious injury. I don't think even badminton can say that."

PLAYBOY: What badminton player was ever killed?

WHITE: I have no idea. I just thought it sounded good.

PLAYBOY: Somebody might have gotten a shuttlecock in the eye.

WHITE: It had to happen!

PLAYBOY: What's the worst UFC injury you've seen?

WHITE: Tim Sylvia's broken arm.

PLAYBOY: Frank Mir got Sylvia in an arm bar, and Sylvia's right forearm snapped. The referee stepped in, and Sylvia was furious. He wanted to keep fighting, but you officially ended the fight.

WHITE: That arm was tough to look at.

PLAYBOY: What matches do you want to see next? B. J. Penn vs. Georges St. Pierre?

WHITE: GSP's got Jon Fitch first. But B. J. and GSP would be a huge, exciting fight. B. J. dominated the first round when they fought in 2006, then he gassed out. GSP composed himself and pulled out a narrow win. If they meet again, it will depend on B. J.'s conditioning and how much better GSP has gotten in two years.

Chuck Liddell and Rampage Jackson—that would be a big fight. Chuck and Forrest Griffin. Chuck and anybody! I also want to see Nogueira and Mir, two of the best heavyweight ground fighters ever. Silva just moved up in weight to fight James Irvin; he's talking about going up to 205 pounds to fight Liddell. That one would be a monster: the best pound-for-pound fighter against the most famous mixed martial artist of all time.

PLAYBOY: In June one of your billionaire backers, Lorenzo Fertitta, resigned as president of Station Casinos to join you as co-boss of the UFC. Some fans saw the move as a sign the Fertittas were losing faith in you.

WHITE: I'll still do all the shit I've always done. Lorenzo will focus on our international expansion, which is a relief to me. I mean, I was home for four days last month. I'll be in town for only 24 hours all next week. Lorenzo and I were already talking on the phone 20 times a day. I look at it this way: What bigger hire could the UFC make than Lorenzo Fertitta?

PLAYBOY: Some saw the move as a prelude to taking the UFC public.

WHITE: I can't picture that. Companies go public because they need money. We don't.

PLAYBOY: You like to gamble in the Palace Station, one of the Fertittas' casinos.

WHITE: I play a little blackjack. Well, a lot of blackjack, for $5,000 or $10,000 a hand—enough to get the blood flowing.

PLAYBOY: Does the UFC need a network TV deal?

WHITE: No. Where's television going? To the Internet. We may see Yahoo or Google buy one of the big-three networks. Pretty soon you'll be watching the UFC on your computer or on your TV through your computer.

PLAYBOY: Suppose someone died in the Octagon. Would that hurt the business or help it?

WHITE: It would hurt me. A guy dying in the Octagon—at least he would be doing something he loved. I figure everybody dies, but not everybody really lives, which sounds very Braveheart, but it's true. If you're asking me if a death would be good for business, I don't know. I would rather brag about our perfect safety record. I would like our fighters to stay healthy, compete into their 40s and not have to worry about money after they retire. We are really trying to create the perfect business.

PLAYBOY: You have some unsightly ears in the UFC. What causes cauliflower ear?

WHITE: You get blood in there, and the cartilage dies. You're supposed to drain the blood with a syringe, but some guys don't want to. It's a badge of honor. Randy Couture and Forrest Griffin have nasty ears. Those two might be the worst.

PLAYBOY: Which hurts more, a body blow or a punch in the nose?

WHITE: When you get punched in the nose you see bright lights, stars. You think, That hurt, and I can kind of taste it in my throat. But a big body shot under the ribs is the worst. Your ribs separate, and you can't breathe. Ask any fighter if he'd rather take a good body shot or get hit in the face, and he'll take the face all day long.

PLAYBOY: Are there UFC groupies?

WHITE: Most of our hard-core fans are guys. With the girl fans it's "I love the sport. Let's take a picture together!" They're not trying to have sex with you.

PLAYBOY: How about gay fans?

WHITE: Glad to have 'em! When we started out, I did a cool layout in a gay magazine with Liddell, Matt Hughes and some of our other fighters. There's no homophobia here.

PLAYBOY: Let's do a few more Octagon matchups. Mark Cuban vs. Donald Trump.

WHITE: Cuban. I love Trump, but Cuban is younger.

PLAYBOY: What about Leno and Letterman?

WHITE: Leno. He's younger.

PLAYBOY: Floyd Mayweather against Dana White.

WHITE: Uh-oh. I would want it to go straight to the ground!

PLAYBOY: George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg.

WHITE: Mark's tough. I trained him to box. He would take Clooney fast in the first round.

PLAYBOY: Alien vs. Predator.

WHITE: I'll say Predator. He's got arms and legs and shit. I don't know what the Alien's got.

PLAYBOY: James Bond vs. Jason Bourne.

WHITE: Bourne every day of the week!

PLAYBOY: You may want to skip this one: the Fertitta brothers.

WHITE: Whoa. Well, Frank Fertitta is the most aggressive human being I know. Lorenzo's more technical. If it went a few rounds, Lorenzo might wear him down, but Frank hits like a truck. We were doing jujitsu one time and he about pulled my foot off. My ankle still clicks when I walk.

PLAYBOY: How much fun is it to be worth $200 million?

WHITE: You know, when the Fertittas and I bought the UFC, it was dead. We weren't thinking, We're going to cash in. We bought this thing because we fell in love with it. That's what we've got on everybody else in this business—they're just in it for the money. I honestly don't give a fuck about money. It's a tool to have fun. I'll probably be the MC Hammer of the fight-promoting world.

PLAYBOY: You'll look funny in those big pants.

WHITE: [Laughs] I'll be on VH1 in five years, saying, "I had it all—money, cars!"

PLAYBOY: Do you think about your legacy?

WHITE: Not in UFC terms. I mean, the UFC matters—it will be the number one sport in the world—but I've got kids: two little boys, Dana and Aidan, and a girl, Savanna. When I'm lying in that casket, man, I want my kids to say, "He was a good dad." That's the only legacy I give a shit about.

PLAYBOY: You'll be thinking, I'm glad I didn't die in that Vegas car wreck.

WHITE: It's funny how one thing can change history—not religion, but fucking fate. If I had died that night, there would probably be no UFC.
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