Eurosport - Thu, 06 May 15:43:00 2010
Dana White was all the way over in Abu Dhabi last month. It was a big day for the Ultimate Fighting Championship and its president, his mixed martial arts promotion making its first live appearance in the Middle East.
A big crowd had shown up. There were all sorts of curious media. The buzz was palpable. Then in the main event, UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva started acting, as White put it, "like an (expletive)."
Silva wouldn't attack opponent Demian Maia even though Silva, arguably the best fighter in the world, could've knocked him out with ease. Instead Silva, danced and pranced and made silly faces and made a mockery of the sport.
All the while White sat by the Octagon and fumed. Soon enough he did what he always does during every UFC pay-per-view card: check his Twitter account on his cell phone to get the pulse of the public. The messages rolled in from outraged fans around the world. They'd paid about $45 to watch a fight. Instead they got a clown show.
"I always check my Twitter, although I didn't need to during that fight," White said this week. "I knew how bad it was even before I saw all the comments coming in."
The UFC returns to pay-per-view Saturday with a card in Montreal featuring a light heavyweight (205-pound) championship rematch between Lyoto Machida and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.
White is doing his usual work promoting it, although the memory of Dhabi has left him a bit humbled and perhaps even a little gun shy. Those are two descriptions rarely used with the bombastic promoter who helped build his company from a fledgling enterprise to a global, billion-dollar entity in less than a decade.
Perhaps White's most endearing quality is that as his personal wealth has grown, as his power and influence has soared and as the need to defend the UFC brand has become paramount, he's never lost touch with those fans that put down their hard-earned money to watch his fighters fight.
He still feels their pain when the UFC, for whatever reason, doesn't deliver. He can't forget feeling the same feeling when he'd bought boxing shows as a kid. So there's no sugar-coating things. There are no carefully crafted press releases. When the card goes bad, White's the first to acknowledge it and react to it.
White walked out of the Silva debacle, refusing to put the belt on his champion in a public show of disgust. He then delivered the following opening statement to the media:
"I'll answer the questions about what a disgrace the main event was and what an embarrassment it is," White said. "I don't think I've ever been more embarrassed in 10 years of being in this business."
Later he threatened to cut Silva from the promotion if there's another similar performance.
"At the end of the day, I'm a fight fan," White said. "I'm very proud of the product we have built here. I'm proud that I know we deliver and when fans put down $45 they are going to get a good product.
"I think of myself being the guy at home. And sometimes it isn't even the 45 bucks. You may have a bunch of guys over chipping in five dollars. It's about wasting an evening of your life.
"We all work. We are all busy. We all have families. There are a lot of options on a night off. To spend it on something that sucks, I can't stand that."
Many fans love Dana White. Others don't. No one can say he doesn't care though.
You aren't going to find another commissioner in sports reading through Twitter comments during a boring game and then immediately blasting the participants, let alone a star of the level of Anderson Silva.
It's rare the suits do anything but try to spin the bad into good. It's rare they even admit a substandard product or acknowledge any deficiency.
Not White. He takes it to another level.
"It was borderline crazy," White said of Silva. "He needed a psychological evaluation after the fight."
White sighed. The memory kills him. His company puts on dozens of events annually, produces hours and hours of television programming and handles hundreds of fighters. Yet one horrible event grinds him.
"There's nothing I can do about that," he said. "It was our first time in the Middle East. The first event (many people in attendance) had even seen. They're([saying), 'OK, I've heard all this hype about the UFC, let's go.' And then they get that?
"There's no doubt whatsoever we lost some people."
White's plan with Silva is two more fights at middleweight (against Chael Sonnen in Oakland this August and then, if victorious, Vitor Belfort). If Silva wins those, White said he wants him to move up in weight class permanently. Fights against big, dangerous guys such as Rashad Evans, Rampage Jackson or even Brock Lesnar will force Silva to compete.
In the meantime, White is back trying to sell another card of fights.
"My job is to get out there and get back on the horse. I'll do everything in my power to make sure this is a great card. I'll do that every time."
There's no way to ever predict what will or won't happen inside the Octagon - the fighters are in control once the cage door is locked. Saturday's title bout could be legendary. It could fall well short. It's the same with the rest of the good, solid card.
The only guarantee fans get is that Dana White will check his Twitter account to read what you think. And he'll actually care.