UFC President Dana White Talks UFC on FOX 7 and Homosexuality in Sports [INTERVIEW]
Dana White has helped build the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) from a niche mixed martial arts organization to the fastest growing sports business in the world. The UFC president’s outspoken opinions -- whether expressed on his Twitter feed (where he has over 2.5 million followers), on "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show or during press conferences -- are as much a part of the UFC’s success as the fighters themselves.
The UFC on FOX returns on Saturday night (April 20, 8 p.m. ET) with four bouts from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., including the lightweight title fight between defending UFC champion Benson Henderson and top contender Gilbert Melendez. The Henderson vs. Melendez bout will be preceded by heavyweights Frank Mir vs. Daniel Cormier, lightweights Nate Diaz vs. Josh Thomson and welterweights Jordan Mein vs. Matt Brown.
We caught up with White to talk about the upcoming fights, the use of social media to build the UFC brand, which star athlete would be a great UFC fighter, and his outspoken views on homosexuality in sports.
How do you think Melendez will approach Henderson differently than Diaz did in December?
The thing is that, stylistically, they’re very much alike. It’s going to come down to who’s the better athlete, who’s the better fighter at the end of the day. But stylistically it’s a close fight.
What do you think are the keys to winning the bout for each fighter?
First of all, many people believe that Melendez is the best fighter in the world at 155 pounds and has been for a long time. We won’t know that until Saturday, because I think stylistically they match up very well. The question becomes who really is better? Who is more talented? Who’s faster? Who hits harder? And who wants it more? Who’s in better shape, and who wants it more? That’s really what the fight is going to come down to.
While you see every fight for free as part of your job, which UFC fighter would you pay to go see?
Anderson Silva. 100 percent Anderson Silva. I can’t wait for his fights. I get pumped every time he fights.
What's the most exciting match on the undercard?
I love this card. There’s a ton of matches. The Mir-Cormier fight is an awesome heavyweight fight. When’s the last time you saw [lightweight] Nate Diaz in a boring fight? He’s going against Josh Thompson -- those guys are non-stop. Matt Brown knocks everybody out and so does [Jordan] Mein, so that’s going to be a great fight. And then when you think about the undercard -- [Chad] Mendes is on the friggin’ undercard, [Joseph] Benavidez is on the undercard -- it’s a great card.
Would you ever consider fighting Vince McMahon in any discipline?
It’s already been offered. He asked to do it. He offered that fight, and I told him he was out of his mind.
Which actor would play you in your biopic and why?
[Laughs] I don’t know. What actor would I want or who would best fit the role? Probably the guy from "The Shield" -- Michael Chiklis. It would probably make the most sense.
Which major team sport athlete do you think would make a great UFC fighter?
Who I think would make a great UFC fighter and other guys have said is [wide receiver] Larry Fitzgerald from the [Arizona] Cardinals. He’s an incredible athlete; he’s big; he’s explosive and he trains with some of our fighters. He’s very impressive.
You've said in the past that you'd support any UFC fighter that came out as gay. Do you believe there is a gay fighter already in UFC?
I guarantee you there is. There’s no doubt about it. I definitely guarantee it. Liz Carmouche fought Ronda Rousey, and she’s a lesbian and she admits it. We embrace it. It is what it is. It actually blows my mind that it’s 2013 and people still care about who other people love and want to be with. It just makes no sense to me.
Why do you think it has been so difficult for athletes in other sports to not only come out but embrace the idea of marriage equality?
First of all, there are still morons out there who are opposed to it and say stupid stuff. The other thing is that there are some people who feel I’m not that type of person and my sexuality isn’t important, and I don’t really care to put it out there. And I think there are other people that are literally nervous and worried about their future and their career and would rather not be ridiculed or whatever the situation might be. I think it’s sad, I think it’s pathetic and I think it’s ridiculous that in 2013 this is what people are still focused on.
Social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, has been important to the growth of UFC. Why did you see these platforms as an opportunity to help grow your sport?
The one-on-one relationship you can have with the fan. The input, how fast information travels. For instance, this happened last Saturday. I’m sitting in the back room during one of the earlier fights watching on the TV and lots of people come in and out of my room all night throughout the fights. I’m always on Twitter. Me and one of the girls who works for us, we rip through social media everywhere -- Twitter, Facebook, chat rooms, websites, we cruise through everything gathering information.
We see this guy tweeted that a man sitting next to him was dying of cancer. It was one of his bucket list items to come to the fight and his kids brought him. His kids and his wife ponied up the money to bring him to Vegas and bring him to the fight. I saw this and asked the guy what seat he was in. We went up, got the guy, brought him down. I met him and talked to him, a lot of fighters took pictures with him. From stuff like that to people who are in bad seats and are having a bad experience at UFC for some reason, whatever it might be, you have this one-on-one relationship with the fans. Sometimes good, sometimes bad too. I don’t know if you’ve ever followed my Twitter feed, but if you act like an idiot, so can I.
Other sports leagues are developing their own networks. UFC looked into G4 a few years ago. Have you considered that more recently for UFC?
We thought about that for a minute, and I’m glad we didn’t do it. I’m happy with where we are now with FOX. Owning and controlling networks is what they do; putting on fights is what we do.