Opinion: Is Dana White Out of Touch with MMA Fans?
By Jesse Heitz
I recently read an article that claimed Dana White has become out of touch with the MMA fan base. The article was well-crafted and certainly well-argued, yet I’m far from sold on the notion that the long-time UFC boss has lost his connection with the fans.
One reason given is White’s repeated orders to disgruntled fans not to purchase UFC cards if they were dissatisfied with something. The claim being that it was beyond foolish for the UFC President, in a disappointing fiscal year, to suggest to fans that they don’t purchase UFC pay-per-views. That such foolishness was deemed to be an obvious sign that White had lost touch with the UFC’s horde of loyal fans.
I would simply offer up that White’s relatively recent comments, which have been viewed by many as a betrayal to fans, are really nothing new. Aggressive, brash, off-the-cuff, and in-your-face comments are textbook White. Let’s not forget that he’s the man who called one of the most popular fighters in the world, Fedor, “a joke”. He’s the guy that launched a vicious and profanity-laced tirade against veteran MMA journalist and former Full Contact Fighter Editor Loretta Hunt back in 2009.
In short, White has always had a propensity to say things that fans could find highly insulting. It is difficult to understand why the president of the sport’s largest promotion would tell fans not to buy their product during a period of economic stagnation, but that’s White, always opinionated and confrontational. Do we actually know if anyone was so offended that they did enact a boycott on the UFC? My guess would be that they lost fewer fans than they gained.
The inside scoop is that White’s unpredictable and often abrasive public personality is good for business. Sure, it gets taken to the extreme once and a while, for which an apology must be extended, but his persona keeps the UFC in the spotlight, it draws mainstream interest, all of which keeps it running well ahead of its competition.
Another common gripe about White is that he’s beginning to offer an inferior product; that the quality of UFC events is dropping off substantially. White has publicly defended the fights his promotion has put together as of late, saying “there’s nothing wrong with fun fights”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a great hater of irrelevant fights; in my opinion every fight should be a means to an end. Yet can we place the blame for the recent poor crop of cards exclusively on White?
Many have claimed that White no longer listens to the fans, that their insight falls upon deaf ears. We must remember that White has repeatedly tried to give us the fights that we want to see. He’s fresh off of trying to put together: Jones vs. Henderson, Jones vs. Machida, Jones vs. Rua, etc. He has for years tried to give us Anderson Silva vs. GSP, he has put together virtually all of the great fights that we wanted to see, save a few superfights. I would say that fact in and of itself is a definitive indication that White has his ear to the ground.
The reality is that MMA has become a true professional sport; his ability to bully fighters into taking fights they don’t want has eroded. Premier professional fighters are increasingly shown to be businessmen at heart—which is to be expected, rather than true scrappers. White can offer them a fight, but he can’t make them take it. Little coercing can be done in this day and age.
While I’m certainly not trying to be a White apologist, as I have often been critical of his management style and personal conduct, I don’t think that the UFC’s recent ailments can be laid solely at his feet. Nor do I believe that his comments or promotional actions provide proof that he has lost touch with MMA fans. I believe what we’re seeing is the traditional White, only now he’s being squeezed by economic realities and the ever-evolving professional nature of the sport itself.