For the fifth time in its history, a UFC event will be hosted in Boston’s TD Garden on Saturday night. It promises several intriguing fights, with the heavyweight clash pitting defending champion (and Cleveland firefighter) Stipe Miocic against challenger Francis Ngannou as the headliner.
Organizing it all is UFC president Dana White, who has been in his role since 2001. During his tenure, White has helped the Championship grow from a valuation of $2 million to $4.025 billion (which is what investors bought it for in 2016).
White recently sat down to answer questions on a range of topics, including Conor McGregor, being a Patriots fan, and his views on President Trump.
For the casual fan looking at UFC 220, what should they be watching for at this event?
Dana White: It’s probably the greatest heavyweight championship fight we’ve ever put on. Obviously Stipe Miocic is on track right now, that if he wins on Saturday night, he breaks the defense record. More title defenses than any other heavyweight. And Francis Ngannou has become this absolute force. I mean, the knockouts that you see are like in movies. You wouldn’t believe. Those are the type of things that this guy is doing. What makes the fight even more exciting is they’re both knockout artists. Both these guys have the power to finish a fight.
What excites you personally about UFC 220?
DW: Well me personally, I’m going to the Celtics game on Thursday, Saturday is the heavyweight championship, and I’m going to the AFC Championship on Sunday. So this is incredible. I’m going to events and eating food all weekend. I’ve been looking forward to this for over a month. I’m really excited about it.
So do you get a break after Saturday or does the work continue?
DW: No, I start filming The Ultimate Fighter on Tuesday. I’ve been on the road the entire month, plus we had a fight December 30th. But I had a vacation in between there, but I’ve been on the road all month. And I’ll be on the road for the rest of the month. There’s no breaking. The business is cranking right now. We just did a fight on Sunday in St. Louis. We exceeded all of our budgets on that fight, and we just did 1.3 million viewers on Sunday. So everything’s cranking on all cylinders right now.
And we just came off the best year we ever had. We sold the company for $4.025 billion, and then just had the biggest financial year we’ve ever had last year.
You mentioned Stipe Miocic. What is he like as a person – I know he has quite a story – and how important is he to UFC right now?
DW: His story is incredible. You look at the guy, he’s obviously the heavyweight champion and is about to break the record for title defenses if he wins on Saturday, but he continues to be a firefighter in his hometown of Cleveland, OH. He loves to help people. That’s what he likes to do. He says he’ll never quit, no matter how much money he makes. He’s going to stay a firefighter in Cleveland, and continue to do what he does. I think he’s a very grounded guy, and it’s such a cool story.
Given your local ties to this area, what does it mean for you to see people packing into the TD Garden to watch UFC, which you’ve been so central in building?
DW: It’s very important and very special to me. I love this city. Last night when we landed, I literally said to my friends, ‘I love this city.’ I love everything about it. And I’ve been so lucky because my daughter is 12, and my boys will be 16 and 17 this summer. And to be a New England sports fan, to grow up here, my kids don’t know what losing is. We have the Celtics, the Patriots, the Bruins, the Red Sox. It’s just such a fun city and I have lots of lifelong friends here and when I can come back here and do an event. And think about it: The Bruins play tomorrow night, the Celtics play Friday night, the heavyweight championship of the world is Saturday night, and the AFC Championship is Sunday. All of these events are sold out. That’s what a badass sports town Boston is, and for me to be a part of that, it’s pretty special.
From a business standpoint, what does Boston mean to UFC?
DW: Boston I was saying earlier that we’re bringing the most meaningful heavyweight championship fight in UFC history to Boston. It’s like when I come to TD Garden in Boston or I go to Madison Square Garden in New York, you bring the real deal fights. And Boston has shown me that they care about this fight and this is an important one to them.
One person very popular in Boston – as he is in many places – is Conor McGregor. Do you think that he will come back in the Summer or later than that?
DW: I think that he’s made his mind up that he’s going to come back in September for whatever reasons he has. But when he comes back, he will get the first crack to win the belt back. It’s funny because when you talk about him in Boston: the first place you bring an Irish fighter is to Boston. And we came in here and I said, this kid’s going to be a star. This kid is a global rockstar. He’s as big as you will ever see in sports.
And his fight against Floyd Mayweather was a success from an exposure standpoint…
DW: …and finance. Don’t listen to the weasel. The weasel from Showtime. That guy only gives a s*** about his own interest. He’s a piece of s***. And you know this was the biggest boxing event ever. Showtime only has is a piece of the pay-per-views here in the United States, this was a global event. Did almost seven million pay-per-views globally.
Do you worry about Conor maybe getting distracted by seeking a rematch with Mayweather instead of returning to UFC?
DW: These guys have been talking smack back and forth together. I heard Floyd showed up at XS, a big night club in Vegas the other night with a Conor McGregor t-shirt on. So it’s all starting. I am absolutely, positively not interested in that fight. That fight happened. We saw it, great. The next fight that I want to see is Conor coming back and either defending his championship or trying to win it back.
Right, but if down the line there was a chance for a rematch, would you support that?
DW: I’m just not interested in that fight. We saw it. Conor McGregor is not a boxer. I would be interested in that fight if Floyd wants to come into the Octagon. If he wants to come in and fight in the UFC, I’ll make that happen tomorrow.
Do you in your heart of hearts think that will ever happen?
DW: No. See there are many, many, many things that I respect about Conor McGregor. And one of them is he stepped into Floyd’s world and it was a fight! It was a good fight. Floyd would never do the same. He would never do the same. But if he did, I 100 percent honestly believe it would be the biggest fight in history. It would eclipse the first fight. Everybody on earth wants to see Floyd Mayweather take a shin to the face. Everybody.
I know earlier you mentioned the ownership of UFC. A big story around here when that happened was that Robert Kraft and Tom Brady are investors in that group. What does that mean to have those two involved in UFC. Do you talk to them at all in regards to UFC or just in football terms?
DW: Not as far as UFC goes. I talk to them strictly about Patriots stuff. I talked to Bob at the Mayweather-McGregor fight. And he is one of the nicest, most down to earth human beings you will ever meet. I love that guy, and Tom Brady is incredible. Tom Brady sat down with both my kids, who play football, and talked to them about football for 30 minutes. About training and all of these things about football. Last summer. And also my kids were at one of the fights that Mr. Kraft came to, and he walked over and said all of these things to my kids about me. Your dad is this and your dad is that. Then probably four days later, the biggest box of Patriots gear you ever saw showed up at my house for my kids. Just real guys. Genuine, down to earth people.
Is it vindicating for you to see this things, UFC, that you’ve helped to build from such a small place now has celebrities all kinds of successful people lining up to invest in?
DW: Oh absolutely. I mean the fact that you look at the list of guys, it’s incredible. My partners and I bought the UFC like 17 years ago and it was going out of business. Literally venues didn’t want us. We couldn’t get venues to accept events and now not only are we in the biggest venues in the world, we’re breaking records. I mean the record that we set at Madison Square Garden will never be broken. An $18 million gate.
So, 3:05 p.m. on Sunday, you’re going to be at Gillette Stadium for the AFC Championship? Will you tailgate?
DW: To get to Gillette and tailgating, you probably need to get there at 7 in the morning. The drive out there is brutal. I am not looking forward to the drive there or the drive back. But I am very much looking forward to the game. Me and my crew are going. Last year, my family and I went to the Super Bowl. It was incredible. One of the most amazing things in the world to be at. Not for the first three quarters, but the fourth quarter it was incredible to be at.
I assume you guys stuck around for the whole game?
DW: Yes we did. We did not [pull a] Mark Wahlberg.
Who do you have winning on Sunday?
DW: Forget Sunday, the Patriots are going to win the Super Bowl. This is going to be another Super Bowl. Again, you cannot deny Brady is the GOAT. Belichick is the GOAT. And Kraft is the GOAT as far as owners go. It’s the greatest dynasty in the history of the f****** world. We will win another one and piss all the haters off again.
Speaking of Brady and Kraft, they’ve both at different points addressed their friendship with the president. I know you have made your support known. What’s the background on your friendship with President Trump?
DW: I was just telling you no venues would take us in the early days. Donald Trump called me up, said we’d love to have you out here at the Taj Mahal. So we went and did our first event. He showed up from the first prelim to the last fight. And then we came back again and did another one at the Taj. He did the same thing. Then even when we left the Taj, we went to the Meadow Lands. He came, stayed from the first fight to the main event. Now if you think back to those days, Trump brand was up, UFC brand was down. It’s not like he needed us. He saw something in UFC. The guy’s an entrepreneur.
And for the rest of my career, even when we weren’t going to his casinos, every good thing that ever happened to me, Trump picked up the phone to call me and congratulate me, or when we did the FOX deal, he took the New York Times article that was written and said, ‘Congratulations Dana, I always knew you guys would do it.’ And sent the paper to me. Trump has always been there and has always been a good guy.
So, he reaches out to me when he’s running for president. I absolutely support him. I am not a Hillary Clinton fan at all. Then, since he’s become president, the guy has called me 10, 12, 15 times. The night that it looks like he’s going to win, they call me. I’m in New York. I go down, went to his party that night. He’s one of the most stand up guys that I’ve met in business.
And so your support of the president is centered around him as a person?
DW: When you have a president – I voted for Obama the first term, I did not vote for Obama the second term – and no matter who your president is, you’re never going to agree with everything they do and say. There are different policies, but I consider Donald Trump a friend of mine. He has always been very good to me, and I’m a loyal friend. And I’ve been a loyal friend back to him.
And when you own a business like me, and you have a laundry list of different political views and different types of stuff going on, a lot of people are afraid to say they’re a Trump supporter. I’m not racist. All Trump supporters get labeled as racist and all kinds of different things. I know exactly who I am. I know who I am as a person, and I support Trump. I don’t give a s*** what you think of me. I don’t care.
Did you as a business person worry at all about wading into the political world to make an endorsement of someone and the damage it might do to UFC?
DW: Not one little bit. One of the things that we should all love about this country is you can pick and choose and freely support whatever you want or marry whoever you want. Whatever it goes. One of the things that makes me sick about this election was all these lunatics. Ever since he’s been elected, you’ve got people marching up and down the streets.
I was in New York, because the Conor fight was around election time. And like I said, I went to Trump’s party when he was elected. It was madness in New York. Madness. You people all have the right to vote. You all have the right to vote. Shut up. He’s here, whether you like it or not, for the next four years. Maybe the next eight years. If you don’t like it, go out and vote. It’s just ridiculous. There have been a lot of presidents elected that a lot of people didn’t like. You don’t march up and down the street obstructing other people’s businesses, other people’s time.
Have you made other political endorsements? Or was that your first?
DW: Yeah that was it. I’m not a very political guy. I’m not a very political guy at all, but obviously the whole Trump thing.
That guy was there for me when my brand meant nothing and his was everything. And I’m just not that type of person that I wouldn’t support him.