What would the world be like without Dana White? Would fighters be better compensated? Would MMA as a sport be better received by the media and politicians? Would MMA as a sport even exist as we know it today? The world of Mixed Martial Arts would definitely be a different place if Dana White never dipped his toe into the sport, but the question is… would it be better?
In other major American sports, the role that most closely mirrors that which Dana occupies for the UFC is that of commissioner. From MLB’s Fay Vincent and Bud Selig to the NFL’s Paul Tagliabue and Roger Goodell, each commissioner has put his own spin on the position. The common thread that ties them all together is that they’re charged with making their respective league as profitable as possible. Nearly every decision that is made can be viewed through the prism of dollar signs, whether that be through negotiating new TV deals or monitoring the image of the league and it’s players.
Dana White faces an additional challenge of trying to make up viewership ground on sports that have already been established for 144 years (MLB) and 93 years (NFL) respectively. He not only needs to oversee the day-to-day operations of his business, but also is charged with establishing a footprint for the UFC as well as MMA as a sport. It is through his capacity and responsibility as a promoter that really sets Dana apart from commissioners in other sports.
In a previous article I stressed the importance of mixed martial artists being able to market themselves to the fans and media. Being marketable is a talent that few athletes have been able to master. It seems as though fighters fall into one of two categories: “offensive” or “boring”. Part of Dana’s job as a promoter is to bring both types of fighter closer to the middle ground. He wants them to help promote fights without alienating fans or the media. The “offensive” fighters are punished or fined and the “boring” fighters are prodded and pushed. Let’s not forget, the goal is to sell fights and make money.
Dana has never been shy about calling out fighters publically to encourage their cooperation or obedience. We’ve heard him frequently anoint Anderson Silva as the best fighter in the world and we’ve heard him threaten to release Silva for not pressing the action during his fights. Dana has also criticized fighters for their physique (Roy Nelson), their fighting style (Jon Fitch) or their resistance to a certain matchup (Fitch & Josh Koscheck). His goal is to have his fighters look like athletes, perform to their capabilities and put on the fights that fans want to see.
White’s words may sting but the most powerful weapon he has at his disposal is money. Many have criticized the UFC for being too stingy with fighter pay but there’s definitely a method to the madness. If the UFC’s payment model could be broken down into one phrase it would be, “We pay the fighters for putting on exciting fights.” Fighters who “move the needle” will be rewarded with fighter compensation being broken down into three categories:
- Fighter contracts
- Announced bonuses
- Unannounced bonuses
Fighter contracts vary wildly with the lowest level of fighter making $6,000 to show with the superstars making upwards of $500,000 per event. Climbing up the ladder on contracts is heavily tied to success. However success takes on a more subjective meaning when it comes to bonuses. Dana White has made no bones about the fact that he’ll happily reward fighters who put on exciting fights with bonus money regardless if they win or lose. The fighters will argue that relying so heavily on unplanned, unpromised bonus money makes it difficult to make a living. Dana would reply that this financial desperation helps incubate the exact behavior he wants.
Dana has drawn fire from critics for his treatment of fighters but it’s hard to ignore the overall success that MMA has seen as a result of the UFC’s business practices. Would Strikeforce or Bellator exist today if it weren’t for the UFC and White creating a demand for MMA fights? Strikeforce was viewed as an organization that was “friendlier” towards fighters but was criticized for not being able to put on enough fights to keep their stable of fighters busy. Bellator has recently come under fire for contract contention with Eddie Alvarez.
Mixed martial arts is still an evolving sport and eventually it’s pioneers will make way for a new breed of promoter. Would the UFC be better served if the next President was more like Scott Coker of Strikeforce and less controversial than Dana White? Does the stigma surrounding MMA lend better towards a controversial figure at the helm? Sound off in the comments below and let us know!
Brian Doerfler is the Social Media Manger for TITLE Boxing and TITLE MMA.