After all the UFC 249 turmoil, Dana White gets to help lead the return of sports
This time, barring some major last-minute snafu, Dana White is going to get it done.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship president, perhaps the most relentless promoter in all of sports, wanted to keep the mixed martial arts show on the road even throughout the initial height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, he is primed to be an early outlier in getting things going again.
According to a series of recent interviews, White has no problem stating he really couldn’t give a (expletive) about any naysayers who feel like the dangers of the coronavirus are still too real and present to consider putting on live sports, and he’ll (expletive) well tell that to anyone’s (expletive) face.
Forgive the spicy language here, redactions notwithstanding, but White is a sporting creature who is both complex and straightforward — and listening to the scale, vehemence and frequency of his profanities actually offers something of an insight into his psyche.
— UFC (@ufc) May 5, 2020
In short, when each sentence is punctuated with a proliferation of obscenities, it often means that things are going particularly well for White. In context, right now, they are.
Think what you like of White, but he has never stopped grinding throughout this — and he is about to get his reward. On Saturday, UFC 249 is scheduled to finally take place, headlined by an interim lightweight title bout between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje, at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla.
A few weeks back, when White made his first stab at staging the card, he was full of bombast and optimism, claiming that he would find a way, any way, to put on a card amid a litany of paralyzing obstacles.
As American life came to a halt, White bulldozed through one barrier after another, to eventually find a Native American casino in California willing to stage the contest, with its protected status thought enough to skirt around state lockdown orders. However, he was asked to stand down, prompting a fresh set of efforts and phone calls.
With both Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, and its state athletic commission on board, White has every reason to have a little swagger right now.
UFC will be the first sport back and it’s happening May 9, 13 and 16 in Jacksonville, Florida. I’m excited for the rest of the sports world to join us! Let’s get back to work America! pic.twitter.com/83qKfEuQhG
— danawhite (@danawhite) May 2, 2020
“Before the first attempt, Dana was saying things like, ‘Trust me, you know me.’ In others words, he was backing himself to get it done, while acknowledging that it was going to be really hard,” Yahoo Sports national columnist Dan Wetzel told me in a telephone conversation this week.
“For a long time, he wasn’t even saying where the fight was going to be. Now, it is different. He is extremely confident that this will come off. Say what you like about him, but Dana White makes things happen. He doesn’t like being told, ‘No.’ And public perception is not a real big concern of his.”
Wetzel has known White for 15 years and was not surprised that the UFC chief found a way to power through all the tribulations. While some question the safety of bringing back live sports with the coronavirus still raging, Wetzel noted that MMA has some unique elements that make a return more workable.
Back to Florida we go!
— UFC FIGHT PASS (@UFCFightPass) May 6, 2020
“If you list the sports that are easiest to do, golf is the easiest – you have maybe 80 guys spread over acres and acres, outside,” Wetzel added. “But UFC is in the mix. There are three people in the octagon, two fighters and a referee. Everyone else can be spread out.
“I get that everyone thinks it is just about money, but there is definitely a part of (White) that just thinks that getting sports back is something that needs to be done, and that he’s the man to do it.”
White doesn’t do things by halves. Aware that Saturday’s card is firmly in the spotlight, he ordered his matchmakers to stack it with appealing fights. Ferguson, riding a 12-fight winning streak, against Gaethje, one of the most entertaining action fighters in the organization, is a blockbuster main event.
There is also a bantamweight title showdown between two-weight champion Henry Cejudo and former champ Dominick Cruz, while even the free-to-air undercard features popular athletes like Anthony Pettis, Donald Cerrone and Michelle Waterson.
— danawhite (@danawhite) May 5, 2020
And then, the UFC plans to do it all again, with another card next Wednesday, and another on May 16.
This period, and Saturday’s show in particular, will be an intriguing test case. There will be no live fans, but it is a very worthy pay-per-view boasting perhaps the deepest lineup in years, albeit lacking a megastar crossover name such as a Conor McGregor.
There isn’t much else on, and it will be relentlessly promoted by ESPN, so numbers could be high, although counterbalancing that is the fact that many find themselves in uncertain financial circumstances these days.
But White ploughs on regardless, with Saturday and what follows being the result of his refusal to press the pause button, no matter what. He knows there are plenty who question his approach, and even his sanity, and he really doesn’t care.
“Nobody wants to be first, man,” White told Yahoo Sports. “Nobody wants to be first and take that chance.”
Dana White does. This weekend, he will.