DANA WHITE transformed the UFC into one of the biggest sporting leagues in the world – but he once feared the mixed martial arts leader would fail to take off.
White was appointed president of MMA‘s top promotion by its former owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta back in 2001.
The UFC – which was still seen as barbaric by many – was a million miles away from being the mainstream and globally recognised brand it is today when White took the reigns.
In fact, they were on the brink ofin 2004 – despite £32.5million worth of investment from the Fertitta brothers.
And before what proved to be a crucial £8.1m cash injection from the Fertittas in 2004 to launch the iconic Ultimate Fighter reality TV show, White had serious doubts about the promotion and MMA itself becoming mainstream.
The veteran promoter and newly-minted UFC CEO told SunSport: “I don’t know if I ever felt vulnerable.
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“But I always felt like we had momentum and traction.
“Was the timing right? That was the question for this thing.”
The turning point for promotion proved to be the TUF season 1 finale between former light-heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin and the late Stephan Bonnar.
Their epic three-round war on Spike TV – which was inducted into the Hall of Fame – captivated a staggering 3.3million viewers, many of whom ended up becoming followers of the promotion and MMA itself.
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White, 54, credits that iconic slugfest between Griffin and Bonnar for saving the company and admits the years before the fight were some of the most difficult of his tenure.
He said: “If I had to think of an era or period [where we were in trouble] it was before the Ultimate Fighter.
“We were $40million in the hole.”
The UFC went from strength to strength after the historic TUF season 1 finale, expanding into new territories and globalising what was once a frowned-upon sport.
The Fertittas sold the company to WME-IMG for a whopping £3.2billion in theof 2016 and a lucrative broadcast deal with ESPN followed two and a half years later.
The healthy state the UFC finds itself in can, in large part, be credited to White’s stewardship.
White’s impact on the promotion and MMA itself will live long after he eventually calls it a day, although he could care little about how he’s remembered.
He said: “I don’t ever think about that [retiring and my legacy].
“The only legacy that matters to me is whenever is that when I’m dead and I’m gone or whatever the deal is is that my kids say that I was a good dad.
“That’s the only legacy I care about, to be honest with you.”
Retirement couldn’t be any further from the mind of the Bostonian, who has several goals left to tick off before he calls it a day.
He said: “This is fun and I love it and we’re gonna keep pushing.
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“We’re going to do a fight in Africa and all these other places.
“But that’s the only legacy I really care about.”