UFC President Dana White curses at press conferences, crushes his competition, and ended up saving a girl’s life.
There’s nothing diplomatic about the way Dana White runs the UFC empire. Unlike other prominent sports figureheads such as Bud Selig, David Stern, and Roger Goodell, White doesn’t talk or act like he’s constantly up for re-election in the state of Louisiana. Because his sport is, by its very nature, not mainstream, White has the freedom to do things like overuse four-letter words in press conferences or keep a fake tombstone inscribed with the logos of other, now-defunct MMA leagues that once vowed to displace the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Let’s be honest, the fact that he owns UFC also enables his eccentricity.
That Dana White’s knack for all things unconventional has begun to extend outside his sport is not surprising—but to where it’s extended is. Around the holidays, UFC forums reported that the founder of the fastest-growing combat sport in the United States had volunteered to pay for a 7-month-old girl’s life-saving surgery. Specifically, White paid for the child, the daughter of a martial-arts trainer in Phuket, Thailand, to receive a liver transplant (estimated cost: $50,000). Not bad for a Lex Luthor lookalike who devotes most of his energy to pitting tattooed former Marines against one another in an eight-sided metal cage.
News of the infant girl’s condition found its way to White over the course of a few days. It began when a few fighters who had trained at Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket found out via the girl’s father and proceeded to raise money within the MMA community. Naturally, they turned to the Internet for maximum exposure, posting the girl’s story on a number of blogs and message boards.
The story first caught White’s eye on a popular MMA messageboard called The Underground, where one user had posted an appeal directly to the UFC chairman. White confirmed this in a text to the press, saying, “I was reading the Underground and saw it and clicked on it and I don’t know, I just did. She needs it fast, so I did it.”
There are two things worth pointing out here. The first is the nobility of Dana White’s unflinching and definitive answer to a good cause. He deserves all the praise he gets for that. The second—and here White sets himself apart from his peers—is that he’s directly in touch with his fans. Had he not signed in to the Underground, he probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to save this girl’s life. Maybe that’s the secret to White’s success: he takes the time to get to know his sport’s fanbase.
Maybe that’s why UFC is thriving, while no other MMA startup can get the ball rolling. And maybe it’s time for Goodell, Selig, and Stern to start taking notes.