By Zach Arnold | October 19, 2011
From time to time, we hear from opinion leaders who want to speak out about the current state of affairs in the sport but are afraid to reveal their name due to fear of repercussions. For this article, that is the case. We will not reveal the author’s identity but will publish this piece which addresses a ‘big picture’ subject.
Dana White has been the catalyst for the UFC’s growth from 2005 to present day. He is the most influential man in the sport and transformed UFC into an MMA empire. He avoided the kinds of pitfalls that doomed promotions like the WFA, the IFL, Affliction, PRIDE, DREAM, and Strikeforce. Thanks to Zuffa’s connections with Ari Emanuel, the promotion was able to bank a seven year, $700 million USD contract with Fox Sports to air UFC content on various Fox-related platforms.
Dana White was the right man at the right time to get the UFC to this business point. However, he is not the right man moving forward.
Out of touch with his fan base
Dana White no longer understands the fan base he is supposed to be catering to. This is a two part issue. The first is the number of PPV’s being run by the UFC. The second is the promoting of the smaller weight classes.
Before we can get into the meat of this issue, let’s look at the data from 2010/2011. Outlined below are PPV buy rates for months where two PPV’s are promoted:
- February 2010 – UFC 109 (275,000) & UFC 110 (240,000)
- April 2010 – UFC 112 (500,000) & WEC PPV (150,000)
- May 2010 – UFC 113 (520,000) & UFC 114 (1,050,000)
- August 2010 – UFC 117 (600,000) & UFC 118 (570,000)
- February 2011 – UFC 126 (725,000) & UFC 127 (260,000)
- August 2011 – UFC 133 (310,000) & UFC 134 (335,000)
- October 2011 – UFC 136 (250,000 estimated) & UFC 137 (to be determined)
Running two PPV’s in a month in 2010 worked out well. In 2011, however, the concept has been an unmitigated failure. Only one PPV event in 2011 during multi-PPV months has drawn more than 400,000 buys. The reason is simple — the American economy is still in the toilet and unemployment rates are at miserable levels. Asking fans to pay $50-55 a month on MMA is reasonable. Asking those same fans to spend $100 or more a month is absurd and outrageous.
Promoting smaller weight classes
No matter how tough Frankie Edgar is, he is not Cain Velasquez. No matter how explosive Jose Aldo is, he is not Jon Jones. And no matter how technical Dominick Cruz is, he is not Anderson Silva. The fans know this. Dana White has yet to realize it. UFC fans care the most about Heavyweight, Light Heavyweight, Middleweight, and Welterweight. And yet, they are being sold Lightweight, Featherweight, & Bantamweight title fights like they are on the same perch as fights featuring Velasquez, Jones, Silva, or GSP.
Dana White seems unaware of what UFC fans not only want to see, but are willing to pay to see. Dana White could put on a FOUR CHAMPIONSHIP FIGHT PPV featuring: Frankie Edgar vs. Gilbert Melendez, Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes, Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber, & Joseph Benavidez vs. Demetrius Johnson… and that four Championship PPV wouldn’t sell as much as a PPV featuring only Lesnar, Velasquez, or GSP.
These lower weight classes should be adding depth to PPV’s, not headlining them. They should be featured on free TV like Cruz vs. Johnson was on Versus, not placed in a double-billing like UFC 136.
A lack of understanding about his company’s roster issues
Dana White no longer understands his stable of fighters. Take a look at what a Fight Opinion site commenter recently stated about the amount of canceled/postponed fights due to injuries or drug testing failures.
That list does not include champions or main event fighters who were out for an extended period of time due to injury such as Cain Velasquez. The data is clear. Injuries to top level fighters happen at a high rate. The trend has lasted for a long enough period of time that we can now assume this to be the norm. This is an unavoidable issue within the UFC landscape. The problem is that Dana White has not adapted his matchmaking philosophy to alleviate the problems.
Look at UFC 135 as an example. The event featured Jon Jones vs. Quinton Jackson and Diego Sanchez vs. Matt Hughes. Now, out of those 4 fighters, there is a good chance that one of them will be injured. The UFC dodged a bullet and Diego Sanchez was the one who was injured. What would have happened if Jon Jones or Quinton Jackson were injured? The card instantly would have fallen apart. There is no leeway for error in Joe Silva’s matchmaking.
Much of this problem can be alleviated by running less PPV’s, therefore freeing up more fighters. However, Zuffa is going the same route as WWE by planning a calendar slate of 34 events in 2012.
Let’s now look at UFC 137. GSP is injured and now we are left with a contractually-scheduled three round Penn vs. Diaz fight. Once again, Dana White did not plan ahead. He gave no leeway for the main event being cancelled. Penn vs. Diaz should have been booked as a five round fight when the bout was signed. It’s a high-enough quality fight to warrant it and when the card was put together, it should have been viewed as a potential replacement for the main event just in case somebody got injured.
UFC must plan ahead and assume the worst-case scenario for fighter injuries in future matchmaking. This is the fairest methodology of matchmaking & preparation to serve UFC ticket holders who are expected to shell out big cash to go to shows expecting a certain level of competition.
Falling out of touch with the boys
“Do you want to be a
fucking fighter?” – Dana White (The Ultimate Fighter: Season 1 – 2005)
Remember the context of those words? He was speaking to fighters who were trying to get into the UFC. They were relative rookies in the sport. Those words worked like magic back in 2005 as the UFC faced an uncertain future. It’s that same raw, uncensored attitude that helped Dana White build the UFC into what it is today.
Fast forward to today, six years later. The UFC is filled with a veteran roster. Over 50 UFC fighters have over 10 fights or more. These are proven commodities of the sport. Many of them are champions, former champions, or former title challengers. And yet, Dana White still speaks in this same 2005ish derogatory manner towards these fighters. He has not adapted to the changes of his own company. It’s like a father who speaks to his 25 year old son like he is still in elementary school, either unwilling or incapable of accepting that the person has evolved.
A great example of this is the recent comments by Rich Franklin. By all accounts, Rich Franklin is the model UFC Fighter.
- Former UFC Middleweight Champion
- Headlined first Ultimate Fighter Finale.
- Willing to fight anybody in two weight classes and catch-weight fights.
- Good communicator and always seems to say the right thing.
After Antonio Rogerio Nogueira was injured for his UFC 133 bout, Franklin was then offered to fight Alexander Gustafsson. Franklin did not agree with the matchmaking, but agreed to fight him. In a future interview, Dana White threw Franklin under the bus and said Franklin turned down the fight.
“(I) was a bit disappointed… I’ll be honest with you, I was a bit disappointed listening to that, because the tone of the interview between you and Dana almost sounded like that. I thought, first of all, I’ve never ducked any other opponent in my life. For that kind of stuff to come out and to question, I guess, my motives or my character or whatever, it was very upsetting to me.
“That feeling of family, it’s dissipated a little bit. It’s not the same as it used to be when I first starting fighting for the UFC, and I basically told Lorenzo that. I said, ‘Hey, I feel like sometimes you guys don’t really have my back,’ and he told me that they’d been really busy with the FOX deal and all that kind of stuff.”
Dana White has thrown so many fighters under the bus in interviews that it has become a chronic problem. It has gone from a promoter being “honest” to a man who can’t help but trash anything he discusses. If the Rich Franklins of the world aren’t even safe from this behavior, then it is safe to assume that no UFC fighter is.
You know who else views their ‘employees’ (independent contractors) like children? Vince McMahon.
Dana White was without question the man for the job for the Spike TV era. However, when you piss off an entire roster of fighters and treat them like kids, you start to build up a lot of mistrust between the promotion and talent. Fear is always a good motivator in the fight game but having your words, as a promoter, being viewed as ‘white noise’ is not good. Dana is showing cracks in his armor and is starting to build momentum for the case that he is not the right man for UFC’s future during the Fox era.