Dana White has engaged in heated verbal bouts with powerful boxing promoters Bob Arum and Oscar De La Hoya.
Now, as the UFC president revealed Tuesday night in a lively discussion at powerful Hollywood producer/director Peter Berg’s Wild Card West speaker series in Santa Monica, White says he’s ready to slug it out with those men in the boxing business.
White told the crowded venue that he’s “getting into boxing, 100%,” and is in the process of attaining his promoter’s license.
He later explained that the venture will be connected to the UFC, but stopped short of identifying which fighters he’s eyeing for the organization.
There’s potential to pursue boxers managed by others, or in allowing some UFC striking specialists to engage in boxing matches, as popular lightweight champion Conor McGregor did in losing to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the most lucrative bout ever involving a UFC fighter, in August.
Several UFC fighters, including McGregor, Nate Diaz and former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt could become those type of swing fighters.
“It’s still early. We’re still working on it. I’ve got to get my … together, but I’m getting into boxing, man. It’s coming,” White said.
White said he will remain UFC president and elaborated on the shift in attention to boxing, a sport he first became involved with as a teenager.
“The history of boxing … we all know boxing is broken. The question is, how do you fix boxing?” White said in response to a question from Berg, a boxing enthusiast who owns Wild Card West.
“If you think about all the people involved in boxing, not a lot of people make a whole lot of money,” White said. “There’s a handful of guys making all the money and the rest make nothing. If you think about the billions of dollars boxing has brought in, at the end of the day, what’s there? Nothing. Because there’s no brand. There’s a bunch of cowboys.”
The “cowboys” he refers to are promoters and managers.
“Every time there’s a boxing fight, it’s a going-out-of-business sale: ‘Let us get as much money as we can from everybody and let’s get the hell out of here.’ Right? That’s how boxing has always done business.
“Nobody tries to invest. You think these guys in the boxing business are investing back in the sport? No, they’re not. Most of these boxing promoters are middlemen. They don’t risk their own capital, their own money. They get money from HBO or ESPN or Showtime, or in conjunction with these guys on pay-per-view. They don’t even assume the risk on pay-per-view.”
Boxing is a different business model from the UFC, however, with the federal Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act providing protections for boxers to evade the control the UFC wields as promoter and matchmaker.
White is counting on his fight-game and business savvy to bridge the gap after he and former UFC chairman Lorenzo Fertitta turned a $2-million investment to buy the company in 2001 into an empire that sold for $4.025 billion to Beverly Hills talent agency WME/IMG last year.
“We assume 100% of the risk on pay-per-view, and we’ve built a company. We’ve built a brand,” White said.
“When the UFC’s on, you know what you’re going to get. We stack cards, we build stars, because we want everyone on the card to get some love. You want people to be excited about the entire card.
“You go to a boxing card, everyone shows up 10 minutes before the main fight … you go to a UFC event, that place is packed from the start and I’m in the ‘Holy ... business. I need you to jump out of your seat three or four times and yell, ‘Holy … .’ Boxing, now the entire sport and the entire event rides on that one [main-event] fight, and if that fight sucks, I just stayed home on a Saturday night, blew some money and I’m not happy when I’m turning my TV off.
“My job is to make sure every time you turn your TV off, you feel like you got your money’s worth. I can’t guarantee [a single fight] is going to be the best you’ve ever seen. That’s why you have to stack the card and [ensure] everyone on that card makes money. … We spread the money around.”
One of those White is especially excited about now is UFC welterweight Darren Till, 24, of England, who improved to 16-0-1 Oct. 21 by knocking out veteran Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in the first round.
White is so enthused with Till he announced he’s assigning his next fight to be a formidable test against recent welterweight title challenger Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, who just claimed a pay-per-view victory by decision Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
White’s in the process of moving Till’s scheduled appearance on a Feb. 24 card in Orlando, Fla., back to England, pointing to the process as an example of how a promoter should think creatively, with a long-term vision for his fighter.
“We look at this kid. He looked great. There’s little things you have to always look at a fighter and ask, ‘What can I sell in this guy or girl?’ This guy’s from England, he’s super exciting. He’s really talented. I think he has the potential to be a world champion,” White said.
“So … I literally switch my whole schedule – I’m laying … out here I shouldn’t be talking about. We’re supposed to do this fight in Orlando. I’m pulling it from Orlando, and I’m moving it out to his hometown in England,” Liverpool.
White didn’t specify when the Till-Thompson fight will occur.
“So now, we’re doing the same thing we did with Conor McGregor. We headline him in his hometown. We have him fight ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson. If he can beat ‘Wonderboy,’ now you have this whole hometown thing behind him, then you move him to Las Vegas, then to London. You move him back and forth between London and Las Vegas and you turn the kid into a star.
“If I do my job and the kid does his job, this should work. It doesn’t work every time, but it works a lot of times.”