When White first began thinking about taking control of the UFC, there was nary a supportive voice to be found. Based on the organization’s past history, there were few who believed it could become the success that White envisioned. Almost immediately after the purchase, the media began to speculate about the “oodles and oodles of money” that the company was already losing. Nevertheless, just five years later, the UFC had become the largest pay-per-view provider in the world, and was generating more in tax revenues for the state of Nevada than had any boxing promoter in the past. How did White do it?
White came from a background in amateur boxing. He understood what it was to be strong in the face of an attack. He was not one to back down when up against a challenge, whether physical or otherwise. And, it was that attitude that he took with him into the business world.
“We’ve been at the tipping point for awhile now,” says White. “We finally got to the point where we couldn’t be denied anymore. We’ve been kick boxing and wrestling’s asses for the last year and a half. We’re selling out venues; we’re breaking records everywhere we go.” In Columbus, Ohio, the UFC became the top grossing event ever, followed by the Rolling Stones and Elton John. So, too, did it beat the Rolling Stones in Houston, Texas.
In the early days, White claims it was next to impossible to gain any kind of corporate sponsors or legitimate media coverage, but that did not stop him from building the commercial giant that he did. “Look at how huge we are. I don’t need f****** Coke to keep doing what we’re doing, man,” he says. “18-to-34 year old males, they’re here hanging out with me. If Coke wants them, Coke needs to come to us. You know, this [UFC] wasn’t bought by smart businessmen.”
White says that the ultimate satisfaction came when the UFC got the cover story in a recent issue of Sports Illustrated, something of which he always dreamed. “It’s really the last nail in the coffin with the media not giving us the credibility and not looking at us as a real sport,” he says. “The cover of Sports Illustrated, the talk shows – we’re there. We’ve finally arrived.”
Today, the UFC is no longer the sports pariah that it once was. In fact, more and more copycat fighting leagues have been popping up in the years since White turned his company around. Nevertheless, he is not worried. “They stick around for awhile and then they disappear,” says White. “And it’s no different now than it was back in 2001. It’s exactly the same.”
In the meantime, White continues to build up his business and conquer the obstacles that are placed in his way. The only difference is that now, those obstacles are more likely to be ones related to having too much fame, money, and travel to do, than being unable to get people to take him seriously.