UFC CEO Dana White Shows Off His Unfiltered Approach on ‘Fight Inc.’: ‘Nobody Tells Me What to Do’

The Roku docuseries “Fight Inc.” follows boisterous UFC CEO Dana White and his team, along with several of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s fighters, as the mixed martial arts promotion celebrates its 30th anniversary. White spoke with TheWrap about the show, which digs into how fights get built — and what happens when injuries, personal problems and controversial comments get in the way.

Finding an audience in the streaming era

White was first installed as CEO in 2001 when his friends Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta acquired the UFC, making his move from managing fighters to running the promotion. He led the sport’s comeback, with reality series “The Ultimate Fighter” playing a vital role in popularizing MMA and the company.

“The Ultimate Fighter” aired Monday nights after WWE’s hit “Raw” wrestling show, going after a similar demographic — but now, White has to rely on different methods to find an audience for UFC programming, including “Fight Inc.”

“We live in a different time and era,” White said. “‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ we had to have good lead-ins to get people to view the show, or have a robust ad campaign on buses and billboards and cross-channel promotion, and all that stuff. And the world that we live in now, things just go viral.”

White pointed to his own viewing habits to show how things have changed. He just discovered the critically acclaimed, but not widely watched, Apple TV+ show “Black Bird,” for example.

“My son told me about it. The other day, we started watching two episodes — I banged out the whole season in one night. So I think it’s very much word of mouth these days,” he said. “‘Black Bird’s’ been out for, I guess, two years. But it’s the incredible thing about streaming now — this thing will sit there and people will start to hear about it, and they can check it out whenever they want to.”

Of course, in UFC’s case, they’re aided by having sports behemoth ESPN as a broadcast partner. The Disney-owned outlet gets news about UFC in front of sports fans and brings them to watch the promotion’s premium events, both on pay-per-view and ESPN+.

When it comes to UFC’s actual fights, White argued they’re a whole different game compared to most streaming content when it comes to how quickly the public wants to watch, which is part of what’s made sports rights a hot commodity. UFC signed a $1.5 billion rights deal with ESPN in 2018 — and they’re looking at new deals now before that contract expires next year, with sports rights seemingly even more valuable.

“The thing that’s fascinating about these streaming services, that they’re starting to realize, is that you can watch these shows whenever you want to,” White reiterated. “Live sports is destination television. So when we sweep Dallas on Friday, I have to tune in and watch the Celtics sweep Dallas on Friday.”

Dealing with PR problems

One of the areas explored in “Fight Inc.” is how the promotion deals with public relations issues. The show gives a glimpse into a communications team meeting addressing a deeply problematic interview from fighter Sean Strickland, who’s delivered homophobic and sexist comments, including arguing things went wrong when women were given the right to vote.

White praised Lenee Breckenridge, his VP who heads the company’s PR, saying, “Lenee has her hands full with Sean Strickland, every time he fights.”

Letting those fighters talk helps build up matches and grabs attention, but they’re not always the most on-message. “There was an incident with Sean Strickland, where a couple of us were upset. And Lenee came right in, smoothed the situation out.”

White is similarly known for his strong opinions and making those heard — but he doesn’t think he’d be able to get away with that if the fight game wasn’t the arena where he’s a corporate leader.

“Probably not,” he admitted. “And Lenee, to speak about her, I don’t take advice from pretty much anybody. Nobody tells me what to do, nobody tells me what to say, nobody, nothing. She is the perfect fit for me, in that she comes at me in ways — I respect her, so much.”

He further credited Breckenridge as one of his most trusted advisors.

“She’s one of the only people on the f–king planet that I will listen to and take advice from,” White said. He noted that the core team around him on a daily basis includes members of the communications, social and matchmaking teams.

“So you have these types of people around you that you respect, because I don’t have all the answers all the time, and I’m not right,” White said, “and you have to have these people that are smart, good at what they do, and that when you’re in the moment, you trust and respect, and you can make the calls.”

How Donald Trump’s friendship with Dana White helps UFC

Donald Trump and UFC President Dana White attend the UFC 290 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 8, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Donald Trump and UFC President Dana White attend the UFC 290 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 8, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Among the more memorable moments in “Fight Inc.” is seeing former President Donald Trump arrive for a recent UFC show.

“It’s always fun when he comes to a fight. It just takes everything to another level — good and bad,” White said. “You’ve got Secret Service running around the place and all the things that come along with it.”

Trump’s been a longtime supporter of fighting, from UFC to boxing. He’s even made appearances as part of WWE pro wrestling storylines.

“He’s a huge fan,” White shared. “I mean, for years, this guy would just call me and want to talk about fights and fighters.”

The Republican candidate used UFC 302 to launch his TikTok channel, with White enthusiastically introducing him as “the president” before Trump entered the arena to a huge response from the fans in attendance.

“I love the guy. The guy has been an incredible friend to me. He’s somebody — you know, his son told me that I’m like the only guy he can bro out with,” White said, laughing. “We get together and we talk about fights and, you know, we don’t talk politics or any of the craziness that he has to deal with on a daily basis.”

Despite White and UFC’s close association with Trump, White has described himself as being “right down the middle” and in favor of “common sense.”

What Dana does in his personal moments — and what it means for a “Fight Inc.” Season 2

While White’s a self-admitted workaholic and he’s always fielding calls on UFC’s issues of the day, “Fight Inc.” follows the promoter as he celebrates his 54th birthday on a yacht off the Italian coast.

“Probably one of the worst transitions in editing history,” White quipped. “I’m sitting there talking about how it’s not all about the money — cut to me on a yacht. Yeah, probably the worst transition in television history.”

He may have preferred leaving that moment out.

“When you commit to doing something like this, those are the things you don’t necessarily love to do — behind the scenes,” White explained. “But if you’re going to go, you’ve got to open up everything and let people in.”

He’s not sure if he’d want to do another season of “Fight Inc.” or another docuseries instead.

“I don’t know. It was cool to do for the fans,” White said. “It’s very disruptive.”

The CEO is often a centerpiece of promoting fights and UFC, but he doesn’t want to spend too much time focused on the folks who work behind the scenes.

“At the end of the day, the business that we’re in, we build stars, right?” White said, pointing to where he wants the focus to be. “We take kids that are unknown and talented and we think they can make it to the level, to become either Top 10, Top 5, Top 3 or world champion, right? And our job is to turn them into stars.”

“What we don’t want to do is to turn all the people that grind in here and work hard every day into stars. That could become very disruptive,” White added.

He conceded that, sure, he’s a personality too. But he doesn’t feel it’s about promoting himself.

“It’s all about the fighters. The only thing that makes me, you know — I’m a part of every fight because I’m the one out there promoting every fight,” White said.

“I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it again, but I’m not saying I’d do it again either,” he added, remaining tight-lipped about a second season.

White spoke with TheWrap from inside the conference room where he works with his advisers to fix problems and make fights.

“This is probably the ugliest room in the entire headquarters here, but this is where it all happens,” White said. In the series, “You didn’t really get to see how it really goes down when we’re in a meeting and how we go back and forth, but you got to see a piece of it.”

He finished his interview noting that he had more fires to go put out.

“It’s going on right now. As soon as we’re done with this interview, I have to deal with a bunch of problems that are happening here right now. It’s just, it’s what I love about this sport,” White said. “Every day that you come in, I have a list of things that need to be done. But it’s all the things that you don’t have on the schedule that happen, and all the interaction with my people and all the things that get done, problem-solving. I love figuring out solutions to problems as they happen daily. And if that is not what you love to do, not only can you not work here, you could never even consider running this company.”

“Fight Inc.” is available now on Roku. UFC has UFC Fight Night events almost every Saturday, including this weekend’s Alex Perez vs. Tatsuro Taira-headlined show on ESPN, with Robert Whittaker vs. Ikram Aliskerov on ABC the following week from Saudi Arabia. Those shows have all had their own cards shuffled around, so that’s a bit of what White was likely dealing with — such as how Whittaker was initially set to face Khamzat Chimaev, who had to withdraw due to illness.

The promotion’s next pay-per-view is UFC 303 from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on June 29.

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