Pramit Mohapatra
Friday January 18th, 2008

As the Ultimate Fighting Championship looks to expand globally, President Dana White's first target is England. White is in England this week to preside over UFC 80, being held in Newcastle on Saturday.

He took time away from lunch Thursday in London, where he was at a gallery showing of the book Octagon, to speak to me by phone about various issues both UFC 80 and non-UFC 80 related.

Pramit Mohapatra: The lightweight title fight this weekend at UFC 80 between BJ Penn and Joe Stevenson is the end of a long saga that started with Sean Sherk's steroid suspension last year. A lot of things were said in the media about how things progressed -- back and forth -- does it bring closure to the whole thing and how [do] you think the whole thing unfolded after he tested positive?

Dana White: I think it does [bring closure.] What happens is he tested positive so he's stripped of his title. But, he's already served his suspension and paid his debt. So, BJ and Joe will now fight for the title and the winner will fight Sean Sherk.

PM: How do you think the whole appeals process was handled by the CSAC [California State Athletic Commission]?

DW: One of the things about us, with all this craziness that's going on about steroids in sports, is we're regulated by the government. The MMA and boxing are the only sports out there that are actually regulated by the government. So, I just sit back, let the government do their job and then we move on.

PM: Last week at the media conference call for this event, you said that you've taken a hit financially for the expansion into England and Northern Ireland. Something obviously motivated you to come back, even when other leagues, like the NFL and NBA tread lightly when they go overseas. Why was now the right time to go back and do you feel like you've consolidated the American base and are ready to move out?

DW: No, I don't think we've done that. As far as the U.S. goes, everyone talks about how successful we've become and everything that's happened but we're far from mainstream in the U.S. I don't think we've even scratched the surface of how big we're going to be in the U.S. But, I believe that this sport -- this sport and this sport alone -- can break out into the rest of the world. We have talent from all over the world.

You think about the NFL, right? There's nothing bigger in the United States than the NFL -- it's huge. I don't care if you didn't watch one football game all season, everybody watches the Super Bowl. But, they can't break through into Europe -- they can't break into Europe -- and it's because nobody plays football here. Nobody cares.

It's like saying that cricket is going to make it big over in the United States. It's never going to happen. But I think two guys, put them in the Octagon, and they can use any martial art they want -- that breaks through all cultural barriers, language barriers -- everything. Inside all of us as human beings, people like fighting. People get it, people like it. It doesn't have to be explained to them. They don't have to know first down, second down, punt, kick -- they don't have to know any of that stuff.

So, we believe that this sport can make it over here, and when you look at what we've done in the UK so far, this fight that we're doing Saturday, we broke the record at the arena in Newcastle -- the biggest gate they've ever had. We did record numbers in the O2 Arena [UFC 75], record numbers in Manchester [UFC 70], so we know they love it over there. It's just figuring out the television deals. The television landscape is a lot different in the UK than in the US. What I believe is, over the next few years, everything on television is going to the Internet and I think we can do the biggest global pay-per-view ever.

PM: In regards to the difficulty with European TV deals, what do you think is the hesitation over there with televising MMA or UFC in particular?

DW: Well, we haven't had problems with European television deals. We're on in a 150 different countries right now in some form, whether it's pay-per-view or free TV. The difference is that the model is different in Europe than it is in the United States. And, we're dealing with all these different countries. Pay-per-view is a monster still in the U.S. Pay-per-view in some countries is OK and in other countries it's not, and in other countries the television networks don't have as much money as the U.S. has. It's completely different wherever we go. But, I believe that the Internet is going to change all that over the next few years.

We want to get out there, get the brand known, get people into mixed martial arts. We're taking the show around and traveling it to introduce it to people because the bottom line is if you've never seen mixed martial arts and you think, "Oh god, I wouldn't like it -- it's barbaric," all I have to do is get you inside that arena and you're converted. It's the most exciting combat sport in the world and it's probably the greatest live sporting event you'll ever see. I really believe that when this thing goes to the Internet, we're going to be global.

PM: In the United States, was UFC 80 ever a candidate to be on a television network like CBS or NBC?

DW: Absolutely. I guarantee we're going to be on a network, and soon.

PM: Was there consideration to the rumor that UFC 80 would be the prime event while the writers' strike continues?

DW: It'll be the prime time. It will be ready when we cut a deal that works for us. I'm not going to go out there and cut any stupid deals. I use boxing as the blueprint of what not to do with this sport. And, no matter what, we're out there, we're working hard, we're trying to grow the UFC and expose it to more people, and get it into other countries. But, we're not going to cut any deals that don't make sense for this business long-term.

PM: You've been connected to three major networks -- two broadcast and one cable -- HBO, CBS, and NBC. Which of those would you say the deals are still alive and which are dead?

DW: That's a good, sneaky question. I'd say they're all still alive. We're talking to a lot of different networks, and no door has closed with any network.

PM: Zuffa filed a lawsuit against Randy Couture this week. Is this a signal that your relationship with Couture is pretty much over on a friendship or personal level?

DW: Apparently it is for him. The thing [with Couture] hit me out of nowhere. I never expected this, I never saw it coming. Now, we're in a situation where I expect Randy Couture to live up to his obligations. He signed a contract less than a year ago with us and I expect him to honor it.

PM: Now, if I [go] online and I check out an NBA player -- usually part of the stats they give me is his salary for the year. Why don't you guys do that?

DW: Because I don't care about it. I don't like to talk about money. For me, what I love about this sport is the sport is still pure. It's one of the things I hate about boxing. A lot of things destroyed the sport of boxing -- a lot of different things. Corruption between the sanctioning organizations to the promoters themselves looking short-term at the sport not long-term -- it's about how much money can I put in my pocket right here right now. Right down to the fighters themselves not wanting to fight, just getting a paycheck and getting the hell out of there. To me, it's about the fighting. It's about these guys cementing their legacy and becoming champions. At the end of the night, when you've bought a ticket to the fight or you bought the pay-per-view, it's all about seeing great fights, and not just one headline fight -- a whole card full of great fights with great fighters. I don't go to a fight to see Floyd Mayweather win. I want to go to a fight to see Floyd Mayweather fight. I want to see these guys fight.

That's what you get in the UFC still. It's not about money to me. Trust me when I tell you the guys are making damn good money. They're getting paid. The company's making money, everybody's making money. But it's about the fights. I don't care about the money. I don't even like talking about money. The fans show up, they get autographs with the fighters, they get stuff signed that they bring. The sport is very fan-friendly, approachable, and it's not about the money.

PM: Why was UFC 83 cancelled?

DW: We never really announced, "UFC 83 in Manchester." We were talking about going to Manchester for UFC 83 but we decided not to. It wasn't cancelled.

PM: At the UFC 79 press conference, you specifically mentioned Mark Cuban. What about Mark Cuban -- and HDNet Fights -- earns that respect from you?

DW: I don't think HDNet Fights earns my respect. Mark Cuban does as a businessman. I'm thrilled -- thrilled -- that Mark Cuban's involved in this sport because he's going to spend a lot of money and, when you get these guys -- even if it's the lower-level guys, like the people I have no respect whatsoever for the people at Pro Elite or IFL or any of these other organizations, I have no respect for those guys at all. But, I'm glad they're here. They're going to come in, they're going to spend a lot of money, the fighters will get some experience and get some wins under their belt and they'll make some money. They're the minor leagues. And, eventually these guys will end up in the UFC. A guy like Mark Cuban and now he's talking with Floyd Mayweather -- Floyd Mayweather is running around with $70 million in his pocket right now and we know Floyd loves to spend money. Cuban is smart. I'm sure he's pulling Floyd in to invest in this thing and it's good for everybody. I love it.

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