- Ryan Hockensmith
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Get a load of Dana White's schedule this week. The UFC president spent two days in New York on business, then flew right to London for this weekend's pay per view. Then he's flying back to New York for more meetings. "It's a little crazy right now," he says with a laugh. "But in a good way. This sport is blowing up."
The Mag caught up with him for a wide-ranging question and answer session about everything from this weekend's pay-per-view to Kimbo Slice. He couldn't answer some questions about pending deals (including an announcement he's planning for next week, an announcement he says will rock the MMA world). Other questions, such as his thoughts on Slice, he had plenty to say.
The Mag: Let's start with the main event this weekend, Matt Hughes vs. Thiago Alves.
DW: Interesting fight. Hughes is the most dominant welterweight champion ever. After the two losses to Georges St.-Pierre, people are wondering where he's at. He's been so dominant with his wrestling, but Thiago has looked good lately with his takedown defense and his standup is brutal. Hughes is either going to take a step forward and say, 'I'm still here and I'm not going anywhere.' Or Alves will say, 'No, I'm the guy now.' It's going to be a fun fight.
The Mag: I heard Hughes say the other day that, win or lose, he's definitely going to fight Matt Serra next. True?
DW: Those two want to fight. Serra told me before the GSP fight that he wants Hughes next. There's nothing like two fighters at their levels when they want to fight just because they don't like each other. That's never not fun. I think we'll make that fight for the fall.
The Mag: And break down this weekend's Marcus Davis vs. Mike Swick fight.
DW: A lot of people are pumped up about this one. Davis is on a tear and Swick is coming off one of the only boring fights he's ever had. Swick is not happy about that, and I've been busting his chops ever since then. I think he's going to come out like a mad man.
The Mag: If Davis beats Swick, that has to put him at the top of the list to fight GSP.
DW: If he wins, that's huge. He's in the food chain for a title shot, no doubt about it.
The Mag: What will BJ Penn do: stay at 155 or move up to 170 for a rematch with St.-Pierre?
DW: BJ has become one of the most well-rounded, most amazing fighters I've ever met. He used to be just a jiu-jitsu guy. Now his wrestling is second-to-none. His standup is (freaking) amazing. Even boxing guys say they like his hands. The kid is unbelievable. The only thing he lacked was so he was so (freaking) good, so talented, that he always came up with these crazy schemes to move up to heavyweight and do all this crazy stuff. It took years to reel him in and convince him to focus on being a 155-pounder. This kid is so focused and fired up right now. It's going to be fun to see what he does.
The Mag: So what do you think he will do?
DW: Penn against GSP is a huge fight. I think that fight needs to happen.
The Mag: How do you feel about those kind of superfights between different weight classes?
DW: I don't like it. I like guys to stay at their weight classes and dominate. I don't want guys moving up and down.
The Mag: So the dream matchup of Anderson Silva against GSP, maybe at a catch weight…
DW: Don't hold your breath on that one.
The Mag: Who will Chuck fight in September?
DW: The fight is going to be in Atlanta, Georgia—that's something we haven't said publicly yet. There's something no one else has heard. You have no idea some of the stuff that we have planned. I'm going to make an announcement next week that is going to blow people's minds. That deal is done, but my employees don't even know yet. I'm renting out a place next Thursday and I'm going to tell them. Then we'll make the announcement later that day. It's an indicator of where this business is going over the next five years. I gotta tell you, I was very, very disappointed in ESPN this past weekend. A 15-minute feature on SportsCenter about Kimbo Slice? That is embarrassing. It's so bad I can't even tell you. Then that show goes off. That guy he fought is a joke, and he went three rounds with Kimbo in a fight that shouldn't have been stopped. When the major media outlets would rather follow freak shows instead of real athletes, it's embarrassing. It just makes my life and job a whole lot harder. It's already been exposed. But getting that kind of coverage on ESPN, and BJ Penn doesn't? Everybody is so obsessed over who's going to take a chunk out of the UFC that those guys will get this kind of press coverage for no reason whatsoever. I think the show that happened on CBS the other day was a complete embarrassment for CBS and for the sport of mixed-martial arts. Urijah Faber is 145 pounds. He'll beat Kimbo Slice. Kimbo Slice sucks. He's terrible. If I had a heavyweight The Ultimate Fighter show, I don't think he'd win the show. And he's headlining a show on CBS?
The Mag: But if the Elite XC card is an embarrassment, aren't you and the UFC winners?
DW: We put on fights between the best fighters; we don't put on freak shows. Even in the dark days, when we were bleeding money, we could have gone out and found a freak show. I could be on CBS right now, but I'm not going to make a crappy deal. We're in this thing for all the right reasons. Now people are out there trying to cash in. The reality is, everything about that show sucked, but they created some brand confusion. A lot of people thought they were tuning in to the UFC that night. What does that do to me? For you to say that I walked away as a winner, I completely disagree. I lost that night.
The Mag: Don't you feel like in the long run, this is a step forward for MMA?
DW: It doesn't feel like it right now. Everybody thought Kimbo could fight—until Saturday night. He knocked out 50-year-old Tank Abbott and all of a sudden everybody thought he could fight? Most of the people who follow him are 16-year-olds on the Internet that don't know a thing about fighting. Listen, I don't want Kimbo showing up in my back yard wanting to fight. If he's in a backyard streetfight, he's a tough guy. I'll give him that. But this is a real sport with real athletes. He wouldn't last 13 seconds on our reality show.
The Mag: How did the WEC show from the following day compare?
DW: That's what the sport is all about—two guys at their weight class, Jens Pulver and Urijah Faber, who are the best in the world. Not just one guy in a backyard with a crazy beard. Everything we do is the best against the best.
The Mag: I spoke with Urijah Faber last week, and he said he'd be willing to go up to 155 and move to the UFC. How would you feel about that?
DW: I don't know if I want to see that. He's so small. I don't know how he'd do at 155. He's so talented at that weight, and he doesn't even have to cut to make it. That fight lived up to the hype. The place was legitimately sold out, with the best fighters in the world. He should stay at 145 and become a superstar.
The Mag: There's been a lot written and discussed lately about the UFC trimming its roster. Where was the roster at, where is it now, and where is it heading?
DW: Right now, we're at about 180 fighters. Before, we had 250. I like that number, 180. As long as we have enough fighters and fight cards to keep everybody fighting three times a year, that's where I want our roster to be.
The Mag: Much has also been made about fighters' pay, especially after Tito Ortiz's comments trashing you and the UFC for not paying guys enough. What are your feelings about salaries for your guys?
DW: Everybody thinks these guys don't make good money. But they make a lot of money—a lot. I don't like talking about pay. But the stars make millions of dollars, and the lesser-known guys do fine, too. Why are we the only organization that gets asked about that? Our guys do better than fighters anywhere else. People are popping up left and right and throwing money around, but that's proven to be a terrible business model. What good does it do for a guy to make $100,000 for one fight, and then the promotion goes under? Guys do all right with their basic salaries, and then we do a lot of bonuses that other promoters don't do. At our last pay-per-view, we gave out three $75,000 bonuses for great fights. Who else does that?
The Mag: Of the 180 fighters on the roster, what percentage of them make more than $50,000 a year?
DW: Tons make that, and most make a lot more. I'd say a huge percentage.
The Mag: Would you say 75 percent of your guys—of the 180 on the roster—make that or better?
DW: Easily 75 percent. Probably more than 75 percent.
The Mag: In the recent Rolling Stone story, and in other interviews, you've said you don't want to stick around once this business isn't fun any more. With the Tito ordeal, and the lawsuits and trouble with Randy Couture, and other promotions popping up, are you still having fun?
DW: It still is a lot of fun for me. There's so much left to do. People talk about how big this sport is right now. But we still have so much room to grow. I have a road map for where this is going, and we're not even close to that place yet. In the next 10 years, MMA will be the biggest sport on the planet.
The Mag: Where is the sport going? Are you talking about it going international?
DW: Yes, this sport is going international. I think it's going to be the first world-wide pay-per-view company. Right now, we're in 170 countries either on PPV or free TV. In the next five years, we're going to take live events all over the world.
The Mag: When was the last time you spoke with Randy Couture?
DW: I talked to him at the last PPV, when he cornered Wanderlei Silva. I said, 'Hey, what's up?' And he was very cool. I like Randy. He had the problem with me. I hate Tito Ortiz, but I don't hate Randy.
The Mag: What are the chances that Randy fights again in the UFC?
DW: Better than zero. There's still a chance. We're still in litigation with him. But I could see us putting everything behind us some day. I don't know what will happen. But if we could patch things up, I'd put him in The Octagon in a heart beat. All I care about in this business is putting great fights on. If I can get Randy back, I would.