Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White may call Las Vegas his home now, but make no mistake, his heart will always belong to Boston.
Years before becoming one of the most powerful figures in the rough-and-tough world of mixed martial arts, White trained and managed fighters at a South Boston gym. Judging from his sometimes abrasive — yet refreshingly honest — comments that could rival any Fenway Park heckler, it’s easy to see how his time in the Hub has influenced him.
When news of the Boston Marathon bombings reached the UFC president, it shook him on a very personal level.
“From a guy who’s walked those streets and been there at the finish line so many times, it really freaked me out,” said White. “It still freaks me out. I have a hard time talking about it.
“How cowardly and disgusting that these people, who lived in the city as long as they did, did that. To put the bag right next to kids, I don’t even like talking about it. It’s just disgusting.
“You know how many times me, my friends, we’ve all been down by that finish line? How many times we’ve been standing down there? We used to know a dude who did the badges, you know, we could sit up in those bleachers where everybody was.
“I’ve had a lot of great times down there. It hit me so hard, obviously, because it’s a city that I love.”
White heard about the bombings while he was in a meeting with other UFC executives, one of whom was “freaking out,” according to White, because his sister was a member of the Boston Police.
Heartbroken over the situation, White announced that he would be flying straight to Boston right after UFC 159 in Newark, N.J., April 27, vowing that the UFC and broadcast partner Fox would “write some checks” during this visit.
“Yeah, I brought checks and I got money,” White said. “The UFC donated, I donated personally, the Fertitta brothers [who own UFC] donated personally, and Fox donated. I was really happy about that.”
In addition to making donations to those personally affected and the One Fund, White had hoped to meet with some of the bombing victims face to face. However, after looking into the situation, the UFC president decided to take a subtler approach.
“People are still hurting,” said White. “When I say that, I don’t mean physically. People still need time. I got money that we are donating for people, but I’m backing off on the whole meeting people. Even Mayor Menino is still visiting families.
“People are really emotionally trying to deal with what’s going on, so I backed off a bit.”
White does hope to speak with Mayor Menino during this trip to the city.
“I’m going to, but I haven’t yet,” he said. “First of all, Mayor Menino has his own health issues right now, No. 1. And No. 2, he’s been traveling around, he’s been meeting with families and people who are injured and a lot of the real heroes who were on the ground when this thing went down.”
White will return to Boston Aug. 17 when the UFC comes to town to launch the new Fox Sports 1 network. While no plans for a tribute to the marathon victims have been made as yet, he hopes the UFC event will energize the Boston fan base during what will be a very busy weekend on the local sports scene.
“I want to make it a great experience,” White said. “Fox has a lot of cool things planned. That actual weekend, Friday night, the Patriots play a preseason game live on Fox. Then Saturday, Fox has the Yankees versus the Red Sox. And then we have the fights on Fox Sports 1. So it’s pretty damn cool.”
With Irishman Conor McGregor on the card and a host of local fighters vying for a chance to compete in their hometown, White hinted that he has even bigger plans for this event.
“This is the biggest card on free television that we’ve ever done,” White said. “I haven’t put the fights together yet, a couple more fights have to happen.
“But if I say that we are going to put on the best free television card we’ve ever done — and you know the television cards that we’ve done — it’s going to be damn good.”Matt Juul can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MattchidaMMA.