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Tough-talking UFC president Dana White is widely considered the MVP of his sport

Posted: 06/14/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 06/14/2013 7:21 AM | Updates

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UFC president Dana White drew a large media throng at a press conference in advance of Saturday's UFC 161. On Thursday, White promised to bring the UFC back to Winnipeg.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

UFC president Dana White drew a large media throng at a press conference in advance of Saturday's UFC 161. On Thursday, White promised to bring the UFC back to Winnipeg. Photo Store

Polite and cautious are not part of Dana White's act. He runs right up to reckless before easing off the verbal gas and keeping him and his sport out of trouble.

"It's f ing mayhem," answered UFC president White to a question put his way regarding a programming issue he's trying to fix.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman would have shook his head and sidestepped the query. NFL boss Roger Goodell would have glazed his audience over with legalese. Baseball's Bud Selig would have pretended he didn't hear the question. David Stern would have grown angry and had an NBA press secretary chastise the reporter.

Not White. Part of his allure is his unwillingness to charm anyone.

"Who gives a s ," said White when asked about one card or another having limited star power. "Either you're a fight fan or you're not. I'm the kind of guy if there's a fight on TV, I'm gonna sit down and watch it. If you don't like it, no one asked you to buy it. Don't bitch about it."

Tough talk, but from the man operating a virtual pay-per-view powerhouse, the words ring true. White knows his product is top notch and his fans will watch it because, regardless of the names, his cards provide action.

"In 13 years of doing this I can count on one hand the cards that have sucked," said White. "Our guys deliver. Our fans know what they're going to get. The greatest show in sports entertainment."

White was in town Thursday to host a press conference for UFC 161, set to go in Winnipeg Saturday night. Dressed in T-shirt and jeans, he stepped out on the stage of a downtown club and waded into a mixture of regular MMA media and the local set getting their first taste of his rap.

White was immediately at ease and took questions for close to two hours without once ducking a query or disrespecting his audience. He's a media-made creature and he knows it. He may be the best-known sports executive in the world and he has no interest in alienating or pandering.

"A suit never made anyone any smarter," said White. "I don't like wearing them. I grew up watching sports figures or heads of leagues and every time they'd come out and talk, they'd be reading canned statements written by lawyers. That's not me. Since Day 1 when we bought this company, I've been an open book. I've been open with the media and had my good and bad but it's always been honest. I don't ever not tell you what I'm thinking. I just gave you three dates that I probably shouldn't have. PR is going to be pissed off. But if you talk to me I'm going to tell you what I have to say and what I think. I'm definitely not reckless but I'm not careful."

White was working in MMA as a manager when he heard the former owners of UFC were looking to sell. He put together a group with childhood friend Lorenzo Fertitta, whose family owned Station Casinos. Fertitta and his older brother Frank bought the UFC, with White installed as its president.

Former CFL commissioner and Canadian head of the UFC Tom Wright describes the 46-year-old White as the "most street smart person I've ever met."

"We talk about how this sport is as real as it gets and Dana is as real a commissioner as you can find," said Wright. "He will tell you what he thinks and to your face. He's the most accessible commissioner in sport.

"He's the face of the sport and the fans and fighters respect him. He's a no bull - guy. I'll ramble a bit. When I was commissioner of the CFL, if a referee blew a call, you'd stand up for them and say they're human or whatever. In our sport, because the officials are third party, if they make a bad call, Dana will say, 'That's the stupidest call I've ever seen.' Every fan knows and appreciates, Dana will provide honesty."

White arrives at every card early and sits quietly with his social media staff and scours Twitter and the blogosphere for commentary on his event. Sometimes it angers him and sometimes it promotes action.

"If you come at me on Twitter with something stupid, get ready because I'm coming back at you," said White. "But if I see something that's wrong, I can fix it. We sold some seats at a venue that were blocked by TV equipment. We were able to move an entire section to different seats and save their experience. The fans of our sport believe they have a say in what we do and that their voices are heard."

Veteran UFC combatant Dan Henderson says White is the most valuable person in the sport.

"As a fighter, some of the things he's done you might not like but there's no questioning he's grown it and taken it to places no one else has," said Henderson. "The fighters respect him and believe he's doing what's right for the sport. You may not always like him or what he's doing, but he's trying to grow the sport and that's the most important thing you can ask of him."

Since White says he doesn't hold back and doesn't pull his punches, it was necessary to put him to the test. He delivered, promising before his first Winnipeg fight even began, that there would be another.

"We're coming back. Absolutely," said White. "We'll be back. We sold out and set a record. This is a great market. We're gonna put on a show like no one has ever seen before. People are going to leave this building saying, "Goddam, what a show."

Sort of like what people are left saying walking out of a Dana White media session.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 14, 2013 C1

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Updated on Friday, June 14, 2013 at 7:20 AM CDT: replaces photo, changes headline

7:21 AM: adds video

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