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Dana White pockets millions from UFC sale and will keep running the company

UFC President Dana White, right, and co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta attend a news conference announcing a sponsorship deal with Reebok in New York on Dec. 2, 2014.
(Chance Yeh / Getty Images)

Dana White cashed out his finder’s fee and 15 years of sweat equity Monday when Ari Emanuel’s Beverly Hills talent agency WME-IMG agreed to purchase the Ultimate Fighting Championship for $4 billion.

White, the UFC president, doesn’t have the stomach to leave the office along with UFC Chairman Lorenzo Fertitta and his brother, Frank Fertitta.

The Fertittas will retain a small, passive minority ownership interest, but White, 46, will return an undisclosed portion of his 9% stake in UFC and continue as president, minority owner, day-to-day promoter and the face of the sport.

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“This is what I do, man,” White said. “On Friday, we filmed the new episode of [Fox Sports 1’s] ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ and I got goosebumps about five times. I just love it. . . .

“People have been doubting us since the day we bought this company, doubting our ability to be able to do what we said we could do, doubting the sport, doubting the athletes.

“Now it all starts again.”

White was a manager for UFC fighters Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz 16 years ago when it became clear during a purse negotiation that the previous owner was in danger of folding the company.

White and Lorenzo Fertitta, high school friends from New England, had re-connected at a friend’s wedding in 1995, and saw each other frequently training in jiujitsu along with Frank Fertitta.

The Fertittas, owners of Nevada’s Station Casinos, acted on White’s tip and bought the Las Vegas-based mixed martial arts company for $2 million in January 2001.

Lorenzo Fertitta, calm and shrewd, and White, a passionate, streetwise Bostonian, meshed superbly to build their UFC stable and the sport.

“There’s been times Lorenzo’s been the calming voice and there’s other times he wasn’t rage-y enough, so we balance each other out,” White said.

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They constructed a global MMA empire with broadcasts that reach 156 countries and territories. UFC is especially popular with the 18-to-49 age group sought by advertisers, and the company generated a record $600 million in revenue in 2015, Lorenzo Fertitta has said.

A potential bidding war between Fox and ESPN for UFC television rights in 2018 could add another $250 million annually, experts have said.

About a dozen years ago, UFC needed an agent to advise the company on television coverage and that was how White and Lorenzo Fertitta met Emanuel.

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“I like Ari, he’s got an awesome, dynamic personality. Smart guy, a massive entrepreneur when you look at what he’s accomplished in a short period of time with his business,” White said. “He fell in love with the UFC the way most people have, and I’m looking forward to what we have planned.”

White did not elaborate on those plans, and Emanuel, who was on vacation, was unavailable for comment Monday.

White offers WME-IMG institutional knowledge on several fronts, including fighter relations and television/arena production, while providing promotional skills, an indefatigable work ethic and countless media contacts.

All of that was seen last week at Saturday’s showcase UFC 200, which generated a company-record $10.7-million live gate at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and could surpass the record 1.6 million pay-per-view buys of March’s UFC 196.

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With the sale looming, scheduled main-event fighter Jon Jones, UFC’s top-ranked pound-for-pound fighter looking to recapture his light-heavyweight belt against champion Daniel Cormier, tested positive for a banned performance-enhancing drug.

White left dinner at a Las Vegas steakhouse to summon reporters for a dramatic, late-night news conference with Cormier, then quickly went to work arranging a marquee replacement fighter, former middleweight champion Anderson Silva, to face the champion.

Then, instead of making former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar’s bout the new main event, White elevated the women’s bantamweight title fight between Miesha Tate and Amanda Nunes to the top spot.

It turned out to be the latest in a line of Midas-touch moments in White’s career.

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Nunes broke Tate’s nose with a first-round punch and submitted her with a rear naked chokehold, thereby becoming the first openly gay champion in combat sports history.

Emanuel was at Saturday’s event and has frequently attended UFC pay-per-view cards “over the last how-many years,” White said.

“There’s no doubt that losing Lorenzo is huge. We’re dealing with a bunch of [critics] who don’t know what’s next, who don’t know what Ari and I have planned. So here we go again,” White said.

“I look forward to proving everyone wrong again.”

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What will the new partnership be like?

“You never know until you get in there and start grinding, but Ari and I have had a good working relationship,” White said. “Let’s see what we can do together.”

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimespugmire

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