UFC's White plays to win at all costs

UFC's White plays to win at all costs

Published Jul. 11, 2009 10:58 p.m. ET

Roughly 400 mug shots of UFC competitors hang on a wall at company headquarters. Many of the faces are smashed and lacerated. Defeat is conveyed in deadened, blackened eyes.

Their expressions stand in stark contrast to that of the cantankerous, moon-faced man whose swank second-story office sits across the hall. Dana White is unbloodied, unabashed and unbeaten in the mixed martial arts world.

This is an empire of his own creation. His booming cultural and financial enterprise is set to peak with Saturday night's UFC 100 pay-per-view card.

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"Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, this is what I do," White growled, dismissing the Donald Trumps and Mark Cubans who have tried to take his MMA crown with competing promotions.

"This is my business. How the f*** are you going to come in and beat me?"

So far, none have.

Spend 45 minutes with White like I did earlier this week and it becomes clear how he willed his way to prosperity. It's especially sweet considering the UFC is among the hottest shows in what is still Frank Sinatra's town. White did it his way.

With his trademark T-shirts and ripped designer jeans, White doesn't look much different than the brawlers he hypes. He is a micromanager with a relentless work ethic. White mercilessly attacks his competitors and enemies — some real, others imagined. He sells the UFC with obscenity-filled pitches that corporate America could never embrace. White cashed in along the way, too. He is now worth $200 million, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Yet on the eve of his company's centennial event, White is not in a reflective mood.

"We have so much work to do it's insane," said White, who's busy opening new markets in Mexico, China and Europe.

He takes a deep, weary breath. No one said global domination was going to be easy.

In 2001, White convinced two childhood friends — Las Vegas casino magnates Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta — to purchase UFC for $2 million. UFC is now worth $1 billion-plus, according to media reports. But those numbers don't reflect how far the company has come.

A pay-per-view smash in the mid-1990s, UFC quickly faded after Arizona Sen. John McCain decried its anything-goes brand of MMA as "human cockfighting." Most states wouldn't sanction cards (that has since changed with the adaptation of tighter fight rules). Television networks and major advertisers wouldn't touch it. By early this decade, UFC was on life support.