Whatever the sport, this lot changed the game and here, talkSPORT.com looks at those pioneering men and women every week. Up next is someone the UFC owes its very existence to…
Like him or loathe him, Dana White actually doesn’t care.
Brash, unpolished and a liability are a few things his critics have labelled him, but as the face of an empire he has been credited with transforming the mixed martial arts landscape.
White worked hard to ensure UFC didn’t disappear altogether, which explains why, even in times of global uncertainty, he was not willing to let something as serious as the coronavirus derail his plans for MMA to be the biggest sport in America.
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I've never been more proud to be a part of this sport than I am today. In tough times, you need tough people; from the fighters, corners, their families, my staff, production, the athletic commission, and most importantly, the physicians and nurses that made tonight a reality. Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me this week with encouragement. Let's kick some ass tonight! The UFC is back!!!!!!
He even received congratulations from President Donald Trump for being able to stage UFC 249, which took place behind closed doors in Florida at the weekend.
White has had eyes on the fight game since his youth stretching back to his days as a 19-year-old hotel valet.
“I’m standing in the lobby one day, and just thinking, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’…I make cash every day, plus get a check at the end of the week, got great benefits…but I’m not happy here,” he told Forbes.
“So I literally walked out the front door, told my buddy I was quitting. Of course he told me I was nuts and [asked me], ‘What are you going to do?’ And I said, ‘I’m gonna get into the fight business.’
“And that’s it…That’s what I did.”
His vision during a global pandemic saw him secure a tropical island so fighters can still do what they do best, while he even found a hotel and casino on tribal Californian lands as a way to get around certain restrictions.
It might not look good from the outside, but it’s the way his mind works.
He was single minded in his quest to make UFC 249 happen, just as he was when making his first steps into the world of MMA.
If it wasn’t for a masterstroke in 2005 to help him put the company on the map, the 50-year-old has joked he would probably be sweeping up cigarette ends and sleeping rough.
Under his watchful eye, the UFC has enjoyed a meteoric rise and the promotion has staged events around the world from Australia to Brazil, Abu Dhabi in addition to Britain and Ireland.
Having been in his company shortly before Forrest Griffin dethroned light heavyweight champion Rampage Jackson in 2008, White was adamant the sky was the limit for UFC. He wanted his sport to be bigger than the Super Bowl.
And in just 15 years, the promotion has been turned into a billion-dollar juggernaut just like he always knew it would.
He is said to have made $300m-$400m from its sale in 2016 and, having retained a stake in UFC and continued as its president, is now believed to be worth $500m.
It’s unlikely he ever envisioned his office would feature a money gun, a samurai sword and expensive works of art when he was part of the trio who bought the UFC name in 2001.
Backed by brothers Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, the struggling company was bought for a reported $2m and installed White as president.
A school friend of Lorenzo’s, the two had re-connected in later life and White began running his pal’s private gym in the basement of his office in Las Vegas.
This, as Nick Gullo reveals in his book, Into the Cage: The Rise of UFC Nation, was White’s lucky break. It allowed him to see the process by which companies are launched and he watched Lorenzo work, quietly picking things up along the way.
Then, as a result of his management of MMA fighters Tito Ortiz and Liddell, White alerted the brothers the UFC was up for grabs and it was soon theirs.
“I’d been to a [UFC] event, and I was looking around and thinking, ‘Imagine if they did this, and imagine if they did that. This thing could actually be really big,” he recalled.
“[So] I called [the Fertittas] and I said, ‘I think the UFC’s in trouble. And I think we can buy it. I think we should do this.’”
President Trump sees him as important to the US economy, while the rich and famous flock to his fights.
It could have been a lot different, though. Before he joined the UFC he received an offer to run rival promotion the World Fighting Alliance.
So without White’s knowledge of the fight game and the Fertitta’s smart and aggressive business brains, the UFC may not even exist.
“This awesome relationship that we’ve had is one of the reasons MMA is where it is today and the UFC is where it is today,” he told Mike Straka in his book, Fighting Words.
White’s input was even recognised at the inaugural PromaxBDA ‘game changer’ award in 2010.
Voted for by execs from ESPN, HBO and Mark Cuban, it recognises an innovator who’s transformed the business of sports media and sports-media marketing through the development of new technologies, applications, business models and industries.
Scaling the mountain hasn’t been easy but still he wants to to go further.
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