ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Dana White is an American success story.
Never having gone to college, the 44-year-old White is the millionaire president of a billion-dollar business: Ultimate Fighting Championship, known nationally and internationally as UFC – the dominant organization in the violent world of mixed martial arts.
Always colorful and often profane, White has become the face of the UFC and arguably more recognizable than any of the fighters who compete for his organization.
Tuesday, four days before the UFC’s first-ever card in Albuquerque, White engaged in a question-and-answer session with the Journal.
One surprise: During the 10-minute interview, conducted by phone, White, speaking from the UFC’s offices in Las Vegas, Nev., uttered only one mild vulgarity.
Journal: In Albuquerque, we tend to think we’re pretty close to the heartbeat of the sport because of all the success Albuquerque and Albuquerque-trained fighters have had, particularly at Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA. Going back to the early days with Diego Sanchez and Keith Jardine up to the present, with Jon Jones, Carlos Condit, et al, what’s your assessment of the role Albuquerque has played?
White: Without a doubt (a major role). Pretty much, Diego’s stint on The Ultimate Fighter (in 2005) is what really kicked this thing off with season one, and then Keith Jardine followed that up in season two. Diego put Jackson’s on the map and put Albuquerque on the map as far as mixed martial arts goes.
Albuquerque’s no stranger to combat sports. If you look back to the days with the Pit, (Johnny) Tapia, it’s always been a huge combat sports town.
J: You and Greg Jackson have had your problems, in particular the 2012 incident that led to the only cancellation of a scheduled UFC event. (Jackson advised UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones not to accept a fight with replacement fighter Chael Sonnen on nine days’ notice; White called Jackson “a sport killer,” with a few expletives thrown in). What are your feelings about Jackson now?
W: I have no problem with Greg Jackson whatsoever. The only thing I was saying with (his remarks at the time) was, listen, he’s a businessman at the end of the day. It’s more than just being a trainer. The guy owns a business, runs a business and is a businessman.
J: A story broke online Monday to the effect that Jones is telling you he wants to fight Daniel Cormier next and not Alexander Gustafsson (who last September gave Jones the toughest fight of his career in losing by unanimous decision). You’re meeting with Jones on Thursday. Do you intend to press for Gustafsson?
W: Yeah, definitely. Gustafsson’s next in line. Even Cormier said, ‘Listen, I hope this whole things works out for me and I get the shot, but even I believe that Gustafsson deserves the next shot.’ (Gustafsson is) the No. 1 contender, he’s waited for this rematch and (Cormier) even agrees.
J: If Jones continues to insist on fighting Cormier next, what happens?
W: It’s just one of those things that sucks, to be honest with you. As soon as that kid (Jones) starts to build some steam and starts to become the star that you think he can be, he comes out and doesn’t want to fight somebody. You’re the champion, you’re the pound-for-pound best guy in the world, and he says he wants to be known as the best ever. Well, you don’t turn down opponents, you know what I mean? You’ve got to fight all the best in the world, anyway. You’re the man; everybody’s gunning for you.
J: Regarding the pound-for-pound debate, with (Brazilian bantamweight) Renan Barao having lost to T.J. Dillashaw on UFC 173, is it Jon Jones by himself, or are there other contenders?
W: It’s Jon Jones. When Renan Barao was undefeated for 32 fights and nine years and everything else, there was some debate there. There’s no debate now. Jon Jones is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
J: How proud are you of the growth your sport and in particular your organization has made over the past decade?
W: It’s been amazing. It’s obviously been an amazing ride. The way we look at it, the crazy thing is, coming up we have a fight every week throughout this entire summer. And I’m filming two seasons of The Ultimate Fighter back to back. The list goes on and on of all the other things we’re working on. I’ve got a P.R. tour in China, Korea and Japan coming up here at the end of this month, and the list goes on and on. It’s been an amazing ride, but we still have a lot of work to do.J: You said a few days ago that you’re no longer involved in the UFC’s contract negotiations with the camp of Albuquerque MMA fighter Holly Holm. (Earlier, White had some harsh words for Lenny Fresquez, Holm’s Albuquerque promoter, and even said he was no longer interested in signing Holm.) Is stepping away from negotiations something you’ve done in the past?
W: Yeah, because what happens is I don’t have the temperament for it. (Laughs). I’ll end up crushing everything, so what happens is, there’s deals that I deal with sometimes and there’s deals that (CEO Lorenzo Fertitta) does. Obviously, even though I’m out, I’ll weigh in on things that I think we should and shouldn’t do. But I leave some of these to Lorenzo. He has a much better temperament than I do.
J: Holm has been impressive in compiling a 7-0 record, though the level of her competition hasn’t been terribly high. Have you seen her fight, and, if so, what are your impressions?
W: I’ve seen her, not live, but I’ve watched some of her fights. There’s no doubt she’s talented, but you never know. You never know what anybody’s got, I don’t care where they’ve fought or who they’ve fought until they come to the UFC. It’s a whole nother ballgame once you get here.
J: In December you announced that the UFC was adding a women’s strawweight (115-pound) division in addition to the already existing bantamweight division (135). How big a role do you expect women’s MMA to play in the UFC moving forward?
W: That (women’s strawweight) is one of the seasons of the Ultimate Fighter I’ve got to film this summer. And (women) are playing a huge role, bigger than I ever imagined it could be. The sport has come so far that the women are extremely talented. You put on a card, and they’re some of the most exciting fights of the night. And Ronda Rousey is arguably, if not the biggest, one of the biggest stars in the UFC.
J: Saturday’s main event between Benson Henderson and Rustam Khabilov shapes up as a great fight. Are there other fights on the card that fans shouldn’t miss?
W: Oh, hell, yes. This card is awesome. How about Diego Sanchez vs. Ross Pearson? How about John Moraga vs. John Dodson, another sick fight. The (Rafael) dos Anjos fight (against Jason High). Erik Perez-Bryan Caraway. … It’s a stacked card, top to bottom.
J: MMA fans in Albuquerque have been waiting for a UFC card for a long time. How excited are you to bring a show here?
W: Very excited. Albuquerque’s one of those towns that I have a lot of respect for when it comes to combat sports. … When you think of the big fight towns, you always think of Boston, Philadelphia, Vegas, Atlantic City, and believe it or not, Albuquerque, New Mexico, is one of those places for me.