Dana White vs. The Media

The UFC president finds solace in insulting a familiar foe.

DANA WHITE HAS ALWAYS MAINTAINED a weird relationship with those of us in the working media.

Publicly, he has always bashed the press. Not just because he knows it’s the sort of thing that reverberates with a subsection of his audience, or that it makes him look like the kind of Real Bad Ass Guy he wants to be. Both of those things are true, obviously, and if we are being honest, he was way ahead of the curve on the whole media-bashing thing that has become so commonplace in recent years. So on that front, I guess, he’s a visionary.

But like other famous and powerful leaders, White is privately obsessed with the press. He always has been. He’ll stand up at a press conference or go on a podcast and let everyone know how much he doesn’t care about what the media says, but each morning at the office for him has long started with a collection of media clippings curated for him by the PR staff. He cares so little about press coverage that he puts together a literal book for UFC employees filled with media coverage he doesn’t like, which is totally what someone completely indifferent to coverage would do.

When White talks negatively about The Media, he’s actually just referring to anyone who publishes something he doesn’t like. That’s because, in White’s view, the media should be a promotional partner that helps build and sell fight cards. Need proof? Back in 2009, former Sherdog writer Jake Rossen wrote a column on the UFC’s 10-year forecast, and boy, White did not like it. Did. Not. Like. It.

Here’s what White said:

Like I give a f***what Jake Rossen thinks. What has this guy ever done to move the sport of MMA forward-- okay? First of all, first of all we've done- - we've made this thing grow despite all the dicks that write on Sherdog, okay? Number one. And, and-- but his f***ing input about business and he also says the UAE [United Arab Emirates] is f***ing-- uh, has big financial trouble. They are worth a trillion f***ing dollars! This guys is a f***ing ass bag, okay

You’ve heard all of this before. But the second part of the quote is far more interesting, because it’s where White accidentally told us how he really views the working media.

So, instead of, wait, instead of, instead of promoting the fight this weekend-- instead of promoting the fight this weekend, this guy is f***ing arguing with me about how big MMA is going to be in the next ten years and why it wont be as big as I say it is. Are you mother f***ers into Mixed Martial Arts!?

For those of us who have been around for awhile, these kind of quotes are easy to ignore. Dana said something stupid about the media? Must be a (insert literally any day here). Life goes on.

Why do we let this stuff roll off our backs? There are many possible reasons, but I’ll give you a few.

  1. Getting into a public, verbal back and forth with someone who will absolutely out-stupid you until you give up? Yeah, that’s a waste of time.

  2. We’re too busy running to our laptop so we can write and publish a story on the quote with a targeted, tight SEO headline before our competitors.

  3. We’re afraid we’ll lose our jobs.

  4. We are adults.

Dana is especially upset with the media these days.

Why? Because some of us think the idea of running a combat sports event in the middle of a global fucking pandemic is a bad idea1, and because some of us voiced that opinion before UFC 249 was originally slated to take place.

It was postponed, obviously. But it took California governor Gavin Newsom putting pressure on Bob Iger—the Disney executive chairman and perhaps the most powerful sports or entertainment executive in the entire world—and a call from ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro before White would finally cave on his irresponsible (and abhorrent) plan to skirt regulators by running the card at Tachi Palace in California.

Postponing events on the promotional calendar was the right call from the start; it was the path chosen by Bellator, ONE, and by every other MMA and boxing company in the world because it was just common sense. But common sense has never played a meaningful role in the UFC or White’s decision-making process.

After the postponement, White needed someone to blame. He’d spent the weeks leading up to the event in battle mode, first telling us how he didn’t give a shit about the virus and then—realizing the virus was something he should give a shit about—promising that nothing would change his plans.

But something did change his plans, and Dana needed a scapegoat or something, I guess. How do I know? Because he went out and said some real stupid shit.

Some real, real stupid shit:

A lot of the media were going crazy about me trying to pull off the fight last weekend. A lot of the media are going to get laid off pretty soon. This is just the beginning.

Even if you don’t watch the video I embedded, you can read the above quote and probably see how these two things are connected in White’s brain.

It is true that a lot of the media are going to get laid off pretty soon. It is also true that a lot of media have already been laid off. Brilliant, respected journalists are losing jobs they’ve held for decades. You know who else is getting laid off? Everyone. As of the time I’m writing this sentence, there are more than 25 million unemployed workers in the United States alone. By the time I publish this story, it might be 30 million.

But for White, the media getting laid off? That’s a cause for celebration, bro. He’s so happy about this whole getting laid off thing that he can barely stop smiling long enough to speak. But, he says, no UFC employees will be laid off.

That should be a comforting bit of news to the UFC employees who also subscribe to this newsletter.

But something tells me it probably isn’t.

THERE WAS A TIME, STRANGE AS it is to say, that White’s schtick worked on almost everyone in his target audience. They—and we—loved how he said whatever shit popped into his brain.

Dana White, love him or hate him, was pivotal and crucial in the UFC’s growth. Lorenzo Fertitta is a brilliant and insightful businessman. Joe Silva’s matchmaking prowess—and his ability to strike fear in the hearts of men three times his size—will never be matched. Craig Borsari is a visionary producer.

But without Dana White doing and saying the things he did, it is possible—and perhaps even likely—that the UFC never gets bought by Endeavor or finds itself on ESPN. Anyone who says otherwise is either uninformed or willfully ignorant.

But it’s 2020. Most of us figured out White’s schtick long ago. We know that White “just saying stuff” is probably just White lying to us. He has lied to the public so frequently that when Dana White Says something, our first reaction is well, that’s probably not true.

And media coverage of White has shifted over the years, too, in ways that were unthinkable in 2010. Yeah, he still has cheerleaders and places where he can be “interviewed” without facing hard questions or pushback when he feels the need to say dumb stuff.

Like this:

Go online and look at some of these people -- and this isn’t a knock, this is just a fact: The weakest, wimpiest people on Earth cover the biggest, baddest sport on Earth. What do you expect them to say? What do you think they’re gonna say? Listen, the media can talk as much s--- as they want. They don’t feed families. They don’t take care of f---ing people. They don’t have people that count on them. They don’t have people to support.

I really wanted to end this story with some righteous indignation. I can’t. I can’t get angry. This is a man who still thinks calling someone a wimp or weak is both insulting and hilarious. It is neither, but it is sad. And anyone who takes joy in people losing their jobs is an asshole, obviously, but they’re the sad sort of asshole you can’t really get mad at.

Ultimately, it’s one more piece of evidence that Dana White is still being the only Dana White he knows how to be, even as the world around him changes and leaves him behind.

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It is a very bad idea.