State of the UFC: White Talks on Eve of UFC 53

By Steven Curtis May 30, 2005
We seriously doubt Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has attended a minor league tryout for at least a decade. And we’d bet that NBA Commissioner David Stern hasn’t been near a summer pro league game in at least as long.

These guys represent the “old guard” in professional sports — content to stay up in their executive offices, surrounded by entourages and yes-men, as far removed from the action and fans as a commissioner could possibly be.

And then there’s UFC President Dana White, the anti-Selig. Involved in every aspect of his sport’s business operations, from scouting to marketing to licensing to training. visited Dana at the Ultimate Fighter II tryouts at Renzo Gracie’s dojo in Manhattan recently and in-between leading the 50-plus fighters in drills (including three-minute grappling sessions and 90-seconds hitting the mitts), conducting live television interviews, and serving as cheerleader for all the participants, he found time to talk about TUF Season II, and a bunch of other topics including Chuck-Wanderlei and the fate of BJ Penn.

“If I had a staff of a thousand,” he told us, “I still wouldn’t have enough to view all the tapes we got for this season.” He described this year’s combatants as “stone cold killers.” and with a couple of exceptions we certainly couldn’t argue. (While Dana didn’t offer any hints about who will make the cut this season, we’ll make our own prediction. Eddie Alvarez, whom Sherdog first mentioned at the May 14 Euphoria event, will be on the show.)

Dana also wouldn’t reveal who the coaches would be for this season, swearing that he had “no idea” even though taping is scheduled to begin in June.

But he did offer some helpful advice to all the TUF wannabes out there — it’s going to take much more than submission skills, striking power and a solid chin to make it to the Show. How did these guys end up here?

Dana White: The process is incredibly rigorous. You have to pass a background test, a drug test, a steroid test and you have to be available. A group of guys, a thousand guys, right there, that weans it down. First we’re looking for guys who are great fighters. That weans it down. Then we’re looking for guys that have great personalities. That weans it down. Then we’re looking for guys with perfect background checks. That weans it way down. It’s not that we’re not looking for the best fighters available, it’s just that they’ve got to go through a lot of hoops to get here. They’ve got to be good in a lot of areas. So the application process is officially closed? Some fighters seemed to be under the impression they can still apply.

White: No, we’re way past that point for Season II. How will Season II be different — and please don’t say you’re going to make it like the Contender?

White: I’ll tell you where the Contender blew it: it was the fights. You had to watch the fights through editor’s eyes and not through your own. Fighting is reality TV for men. A bunch of buddies get together, they watch a fight and they all argue over who won it, and why he won, and you never got that opportunity with The Contender. I’ve talked a lot of smack about The Contender and about Stallone. I’ve talked to Stallone many times and I feel bad because he put his face and his money behind this thing because he believed in the sport of boxing and he really wanted to do something good. I feel sorry; it would be the same way I would feel if our first season flopped. Needless to say, Burnett never answered your challenge [to pit the TUF winner versus the Contender winner]?

White: No he didn’t. How is this show put together every week? Who comes up with the challenges?

White: This season we hired Randy Couture as the consultant for the challenges. Couture is going to be the guy who comes up with all the challenges this season. So they’re going to be more sport-oriented and more geared towards what these guys everyday physically to train. How much of this is scripted?

White: Very little. In fact, with the exception of when I greet the fighters everyday, none of it is scripted. They’ve asked me to do retakes and I won’t do them. You’ve obviously got a very busy schedule running a business and then participating in this show. How much of a time commitment does TUF require from you?

White: I’m buried man. It’s one of those things where I always say, “Be careful what you wish for,” because once it hits, it’s a million miles an hour. I mean, we were going a million miles an hour trying to get everything done the first four years — [getting] sanctioned in all the different states we wanted to be in; get back on cable; get a TV deal; get PR, etc. And now that this thing is really rolling, it’s a lot. I have the same staff now that I did three years ago. It’s a lot of work. We know you’re working hard to extend [the UFC] brand — at some point might there be a TUF UK or a TUF Japan?

White: Actually, TUF is being sold internationally. I think season one is almost at the end of its run in the UK and Ireland. It’s in France and a bunch of different companies. But I see what you’re saying. But right now I have to focus on the American market. Originally I went to England and I did that event over there and I got crushed in the UK. But through that I would not give up on the UK. I kept doing everything I could to make sure the UFC was successful over there and finally we got a TV deal over there with Bravo. They’re showing TUF and they’re airing our fights live. So finally we got that done. I wasn’t going to waste that money over there, let’s put it that way. Looking ahead to UFC 53, there are still rumors out there that you’ll be adding more fights to the card. Is that true?

White: God I hope not! (laughs). The card’s done. What about Pride-UFC? You’ve been sending fighters over there for years. We had Randy call out Wanderlei. Now Chuck is calling out Wanderlei …

White: (interjects) Wanderlei is calling out Chuck now! Is that fight ever going to happen?

White: Pride chirps a lot and they make a lot of noise but they never back it up. Wanderlei Silva will fight anybody. I know that he’ll step up and fight, but it’s the executives over there. I don’t think they’re ever gonna do it. I think it’s a crime that Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva don’t fight. If the fans never get to see that fight, I think it’s a crime. And I’m willing to do that fight right now. We could do that fight in October. Or September. Whatever. I’m ready to go. You’ve been trying to get UFC back in Japan, is that still on the table?

White: Yeah. I had egg on my face when I said we were going to have an event over there and I had to pull it, but I’m still working on getting a show over there. Last question — his personal troubles aside, is the return of BJ Penn a possibility?

White: I’ve talked to BJ and his people, and I never say never, but we’re so far apart in terms of how we think and how we want to do things and just the overall, I don’t see it happening. But I never say never.
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