The Weekly Wrap: May 9 – May 15

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By Jack Encarnacao May 16, 2009
The Weekly Wrap walks readers through the last seven days in MMA, recapping and putting into context the week’s top story, important news and notable quotes.

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The firebrand president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship was in the spotlight in a different way than to which he’s accustomed. Dana White’s background and personality were probed on a prominent ESPN documentary program, he made an appearance on “Dr. Phil,” and he was put in the awkward position of having to respond to another promoter’s challenge to fight.

ESPN’s “E:60” investigative series featured White in its season finale on May 12; it was the third piece the show has done on an MMA personality. In addition to Gina Carano, the show has also profiled current UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar; in fact, Lesnar’s profile last year set the program’s ratings record at the time. The White piece -- which came with an offensive language warning -- termed the boss everything from “crude” to “completely authentic.” It questioned whether the UFC, which the piece labeled as a billion dollar company, could get to the “next level” with White in charge. The story drew parallels between White’s at-times aggressive personality and the appeal of MMA and noted corporate sponsors and celebrity guests he’s won over, including NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal, who put White in the same category as Donald Trump and Oprah Winfrey.

The story also looked at White’s YouTube rant -- given in response to a Sherdog.com article about managers’ backstage credentials last month -- as it aired snippets of the tirade for the first time on national television. The epithet White used for homosexuals, and for which he later apologized, was not edited out; ESPN counted 46 insults in a 3:11 clip. The piece showed UFC critic and state assemblyman Bob Reilly tying White’s behavior to the debate over whether or not the UFC should get legislative approval to run shows in New York. Reilly called White “an unacceptable person” that the state does not want to “get in bed with.” White admitted he’s nothing like figureheads in other sports when it comes to dealing with the media. The E:60 report featured the primary target of White’s blog, Sherdog.com News Editor Loretta Hunt, who said White’s goal was partly to scare reporters. The story did not feature any clips of an incident -- which White talked about in other interviews -- during which UFC publicists were videotaped trying to interrupt a line of questioning from an E:60 reporter.

The feature included several tidbits about White’s relationship with his family. He claimed he has not spoken to his mother in a few years, and it was reported that White’s father worked for the UFC production crew. The piece also returned White to his old South Boston stomping grounds, where he ran a boxing class. In the neighborhood, highlighted in Irish mob films like “The Departed,” White said he once received a visit from a gangster who demanded a cut of his profits. White said he flew to Vegas shortly after and left most of his personal effects behind.

The report declared White “the star” of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show, which turned around the company’s fortunes, and reported that the program draws two million viewers per episode; it has actually drawn mostly in the 1-1.5 million range the past several seasons (not counting replays).

Former UFC champions Pat Miletich and Tito Ortiz were critical of White’s approach to business; Ortiz echoed his claim that the UFC did not pay for a $70,000 back operation. White made no denial. In extended footage posted to ESPN.com but not aired on television, White said the UFC’s insurance company denied Ortiz’s claim for the surgery, but the UFC president admitted he has paid for surgeries for fighters he considers team players. White called Ortiz “the first business mistake I ever made” and said he “left more money on the table than any human being I’ve met in my entire life.”

ESPN The Magazine also profiled White in much more detail in its most recent issue, calling him “a walking, (always) talking contradiction.” It includes scenes of White handing out $100 bills to people around casinos who appear down-on-their-luck, as well as threatening to sue one of his security guards who joked about writing a tell-all book about the UFC president.

White’s time in the spotlight did not end there. He was also asked to respond to Affliction promoter Tom Atencio, who challenged White to a fight. In an interview with Sherdog.com, Atencio -- who will fight as a professional for the second time on June 27 -- called White a bully who too often acts like a fighter without knowing what fighters experience. White fired back in an interview with Yahoo! Sports, as he called Atencio a “loser” and claimed he had killed all of Atencio’s hopes and dreams through counter-programming tactics.

Finally, White appeared on “Dr. Phil” on May 15, alongside former UFC light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin and top lightweight contender Kenny Florian. The topic was dangerous trends among teenagers and included teens “beating each up for fun.” The teens participating in the underground fight clubs have the stated goal of reaching the UFC and are confronted by White and company, who advise against the approach.
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