UFC, as well as it's doing, has some problems. Fights are selling fewer pay-per-view orders and broadcasts are attracting fewer viewers than they did a year or two ago. That's largely because injuries have ruined several cards, but probably also because fighting is no longer a novelty. The presentation feels stale, and there is no evidence the new generation of fighters -- men like Jon Jones, Jose Aldo and Junior dos Santos -- is connecting with the public the same way the last one did.
Perhaps most seriously, the circle of power within UFC has never really broadened, even as the circle of responsibility has. The company runs three times as many events per year as it did in 2005, and yet in many ways is still run by just three men -- CEO Lorenzo Fertita, matchmaker Joe Silva and president Dana White -- who have only so many hours in a day between them and a lot of ambitious plans. (UFC really does envision expanding to the point where it can run several fight cards on the same day; I'm not alone in finding this insane, but UFC has pulled off lots of ideas people thought sounded insane.)
White took some time out to talk to me about these issues recently, and as happens every time I talk to him, I came away impressed. The man has some charlatan tendencies (he is a promoter, after all), but beyond the cartoonish bluster is someone who knows his business and has managed to avoid burning out and losing touch with the public, the two main hazards of his job. He's also a good enough hype man that he almost has me wondering if this actually will end up being the biggest year in UFC history. The following transcript of our conversation has been edited for clarity.
Well, I like Kimbo Slice, ends up the guy is the nicest guy in the world when I meet him, and so is his management. The guys who handled him were great people to work with and everything else. It doesn't mean that I feel vindicated and I say, "See, I told you, I told you that Kimbo Slice couldn't do this."
Listen, I'm in the fight business, and I think that I know a little bit about the fight business. I've been in it since I was 19. And I'm going to have my opinions on fighters, just like you sports reporters or the fans, you know? Sometimes I'm right, and sometimes I'm wrong. I didn't think that Kimbo Slice could win
A guy like Anderson Silva, who's really fought the best competition in the world since 2006, and beat them all. Even in a fight where he was injured and was getting the s--- kicked out him, he pulls off the submission with a minute twenty left in the fight. Those are the guys that deserve to be talked about and deserve to be called the greatest, and you had these reporters who were calling Fedor the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world. Are you s------- me? You know, it's stuff like that. But I don't feel vindicated, I don't have any dislike toward Fedor. I was just trying to set the record straight and tell these people that they're out of their minds.
If I've got to still give Fedor his digs, my dig would be, "Dude, you're fighting a 185-pounder." Henderson's got a great chin, he's durable, he's got good wrestling, he can stay out of submissions, and all the great things I can say about Henderson, but Henderson weighs 185 pounds. So I actually think this fight, as far as Fedor is concerned, it's a lose lose for him. If he knocks out Dan Henderson, he knocks out a 185-pounder. If he gets knocked out, he just got knocked out by a 185-pounder.
When he goes in and fights, he finishes people. He destroys people that you didn't think could be destroyed. When I really woke up to Jon Jones was when he beat Vladdy Matyushenko. Vladimir Matyushenko is one of these guys. He's not the biggest name in mixed martial arts, people don't swarm him for autographs when he walks into a crowd, but he's been around for a long time and he's very well respected, and you just don't walk in and stop Vladimir Matyushenko.
And Jon Jones did that. That was when I realized that this kid is nasty. And then he turned around and did it to to [Matt] Hamill. Rampage just fought Hamill three rounds and said, "I can't believe how tough this guy is, I hit him so hard and he wouldn't move." Look what Jon Jones did to him.
People were talking about the TV numbers being down last year, let's be honest. The season of
You know how many cable shows out there wish they were pulling 1.1 million viewers? A lot of them. Right? Then as far as, as many shows as we're doing, and as much as we get around, believe me. We're doing just fine. Everything's great, considering. You've got to look at more factors. Trust me, we're far from losing steam, and I've already admitted and said to you on the call, there's some things that we need to tweak around here, and there's some work that needs to be done in this office over the next three months. And mark my words, it will be done, and you will see what I'm talking about over the next six months.
It was the same day as our event that we just did, where Tito beat Bader. I had them set up a TV in my dressing room and I sat in there and watched the fight. Halfway through it I said, "What did I do this for? Why am I seriously watching this Klitschko fight again?" Because we like fights! And guess what? I can't -- you know how many emails and people on Twitter from all these other countries, like, "When are you coming to England again? When are you coming to Ireland? Come on, get back here to Australia! When are you coming back?" The demand is there!
It's not like there's no demand, like I'm going to have to get out and put my promoter hat on and figure out how we're going to sell tickets in Australia when we go back, or how we're going to do this, or how we're going to do that. It's there, and they want it. So my job is to figure out how to make all that happen. And that's what we're working on.
Right now for me, as far as I'm concerned, the ceiling, when you ask about a ceiling for pay-per-view, for the fight business, it's about 2.4 million. And I think that number's even bigger.
But what they don't realize is the rest of the world will be watching, too. The Philippines, people in England, people in, you know -- that fight will actually cross over. Because boxing usually doesn't. You've got the two countries that the guys are from, they care. What you have to understand with the UFC, people all over the world care when we put on a fight. The whole world is watching. So it only gets better for me when more people can watch at the same time.
When I tweet, the night of the fight, "The prelims are going to be live on Spike," my Twitter goes nuts, and people are like, "What about Canada? What about England? Hey, I'm over here in the Middle East! What about here in Germany? What about here in Australia?" And it just never ends. And we're in 155 countries right now, and a half a billion homes in television. Right? We're about to do a deal in China and India that will put us at over a billion homes worldwide. So you tell me what you think's going to happen when pay-per-view goes global.