The man behind the Ultimate Fighting Championship talks about broken arms, the killer instinct, and why he doesn’t want his kids to be fighters.
Playboy: Nine years ago the Ultimate Fighting Championship was blacklisted from television. Now your reality show , The Ultimate Fighter, is wrapping up its third season on SPike. How did you turn it around?
White: We always knew we needed to get on televsion, but television wasnt ready for the UFC. The Ultimate Fighter was our Trojan horse. We got on TV and suddenly people were watching mixed martial arts wtihout realizing they were watching it, because they got caughty up in the story lines. You also get to learn about the characters and see that these guys aren’t a bunch of fucking gorillas who just rolled in off a bar stool. You can see how hard they train and that they have real lives and families.
Playboy: The 16 contestants on The Ultimate Fighter live together and aren’t allowed to read, watch TV or listen to music. Why?
White: It’s not good televsion. You don’t want to tune in and see these idiots sitting around watching TV for eight hours or reading books. It’s not easy. It starts to drive them crazy. Imagine me and you in a house together every day, training against each other and knowing that eventually we have to fight each other. These guys start to get on one another’s fucking nerves. They’ve got 15 roommates, and the house is a mess because no one does the dishes. All these things build up.
Playboy: If you were a UFC fighter, what would you use for your intro music?
White: That’s a tough one. I live vicariously through all these guys because I pick all the intro music. There’s a couple I would use. “For Those About to Rock” by AC/DC. WE’ve been playing around with it and the lights. And DMX is perfect to walk out to. Mike Tyson has walked out to that. That’s one of the beautiful things Tyson brought to boxing. There was nothing like sitting there waiting for Tyson to walk out. We would say, ” Can you imagine being that fucking guy in the ring right now, waiting for Tyson to come out and knock his fucking head into the ninth row?”
Playboy: How would Mike Tyson do in a UFC fight?
White: He would get destroyed. I know it. He’s been getting destroyed in boxing lately. I’m not trying to slam Mike Tyson, because I’m still a huge fan. I like real fighters. Guys who are real fighters are born with something other people don’t have. You either have it or you don’t. It’s that ability to cash in all your chips. You put them all on the table and say, “This thing is either going to work for me or not,” and you go at it and you’re aggressive. It’s all you do and all you fucking think about.
Playboy: You were an amateur boxer. Why didn’t you turn pro?
White: I found out early in my career that I didn’t have it. I was about 26 or 27 when the window started closing. For a long time it really messed with e that I hadn’t fought a pro fight. But to fight pro is a lot of work, a lot of money, and a lot of sacrifice. I didn’t take that step. I’ve always felt I didn’t have the balls to turn pro. It wasn’t that I was a fraid to fight. Fighting is what I loved more than anything. But I used to see guys at the gym who were 35 or 36 years old who hadn’t made it. I would look around and think. Fuck, I don’t want to be that guy.
Playboy: Before you took over the UFC, you managed two UFC fighters, Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. How did you become involved with them?
White: One night my partners, Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, and I were at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas. We all boxed and had been involved with boxing for a long time. Frank said, “There’s one of those Ultimate Fighter guys.” It was John Lewis. We were saying how we wanted to learn submission fighting. I went over because I knew him, and I told him we wanted to hook up with him to learn. So we made an appointment and we all got together and started doing submissions. We got completely addicted to it. We were training three or four days a week, ripping each other’s arms off and doing all kinds of crazy shit. That’s how we got into the sport and started to love it. Through that I met Liddell and Ortiz. That’s how I started managing them.
Playboy: Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta are childhood friends of yours from Las Vegas. In 2001 the three of you teamed up to buy the UFC. What was the first thing you wanted to change when you took over?
White: Before we bought the UFC we went to a fight in New Orleans and sat in the crowd. The old owner didn’t care about the in-house show. All he cared about was the pay-television event. He didn’t care about selling tickets and building up the in-house show and making it exciting. Lorenzo and I sat there, saying, “What if we dim the lights when they walk in, play some cool usic and get the light shows going?” We knew the first thing we needed to do was make the in-house show cool. We believed a lot of revenue could be made from ticket sales, which the old owner didn’t care about because he was more focused on the pay-per-view. We figured we’d start to build the business from the live show. It ended up being the perfect plan for us. In the early days, when we were just getting this thing off the ground, ticket sales saved our ass.
Playboy: You worked with regulators to legitimize the UFC, adding weight classes, instituting drug testing and banning things such as head butting and biting. Did you resist any of the regulators’ new rules?
White: No. Regulators from different states used to tell the old owner that he needed to be regulated and sanctioned , and he would say, “Fuck you. You aren’t going to tell me what to do with my business.” So he’d go to Alabama or Puerto Rico . We took a different approach and ran toward regulation. We asked what we could do to make this thing safe and comfortable for the regulators. It was really just an education process. In the 13-year history of the UFC there’s never been a death or serious injury. Even back in the crazy days when there was head butting and all that shit, there was never a death or serious injury. So it was just an education process.
Playboy: Has it been hard to convince people that the UFC has changed?
White: There are people who like football and people who like hockey. I happen to fucking hate golf. Golf is the most useless fucking sport of all time. It’s a waste of fucking time. It’s a waste of fucking land. It’s a waste of everything. Homeless people are sleeping in the streets, and these rich dicks are out there golfing. Give me a fucking break. They ought to build houses for the homeless on all the golf courses. But that’s my opinion. Some guys feel that way about ultimate fighting, and you’re never going to convert them. No one is ever going to convince me that guys who play golf are athletes and that golf is a fantastic sport. You’re never going to convert me, and some people feel that way about the UFC.
Playboy: Dr. Peter Carmel, a neurosurgeon and a members of the American Medical Associations’s board of trustees, has said UFC fights are “as close to murder as you can get.” How do you respond to a critic like that?
White: He’s the ultimate rent-a-doctor. He’s a jackass. He doesn’t believe in any contact sports. At the end of the day, you’re either a fight fan or you’re not. I’m never going to convert a guy who isn’t a fight fan. I would never try. But he is so wrong. These guys are well-conditioned athletes who train and go out there and compete against each other, just like football players, who Dr. Carmel doesn’t believe in either. You’re never going to get a guy like that to look at this thing objectively and see it as a sport. I’m not sitting here telling you that the UFC is safe. When two men go out there and fight, there are risks. The good thing about this country is that we get to chose what we do with our lives. If I want to fight or if I want to play football or golf, I can do whatever the hell I want to do. If Carmel doesn’t like Ultimate Fighting, he doesn’t have to fucking watch it.
Playboy: One of the UFC’s biggest opponents has been Senator John McCain, an admitted boxing fan, who in the late 1990s wrote letters to all 50 governors asking them to ban what he called “human cockfighting.” What didn’t Senator McCain understand about the UFC?
White: I’ll tell you what about Senator John McCain. He’s a boxing fanatic and he went after the UFC, and thank God he did. I credit Senator McCain with our having this sport today. The bottom line is this sport needs to be regulated. The regulators make sure the fighters go through the proper medical testing, physicals and drug test. They make sure these guys are healthy; you never know from one fight to another or from training if someone has something wrong with his head or his heart. Then, on the day of the fight, regulators make sure doctors and ambulances are on-site. If it weren’t for McCain, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
Playboy: What’s the most vicious thing you’ve ever seen during a UFC fight?
White: Nothing really makes me cringe. I love fighting. But when Frank Mir broke Tim Sylvia’s arm with that arm bar, it was pretty crazy. Hell, we have four fucking DVDs of Ultimate Knockouts, so there have been some awesome knockouts.
Playboy: Is it inevitable that someone will be killed or seriously injured during a UFC fight?
White: I fear it. I really do. To be honest, I don’t know how I would deal with something serious happening to one of the guys I fucking love and care about. Take a fight like Chuck Liddell vs. Randy Couture. I love Chuck Liddell and consider him part of my family, and I’ve become very close to Randy Couture. He’s become a good friend of mine. So when they fought, two of my friends were fighting. You’d be surprised how many times my emotions get caught up in this stuff and I get freaked out by it.
Playboy: You have several college-educated UFC fighters. Middleweight champion Rich Franklin is a former high school teacher. What makes a guy like that want to become a UFC fighter?
White: It’s the competition. These guys are real athletes and real fighters. It doesn’t matter if they used to be schoolteachers or accountants. They love to compete. It’s great when you’re part of a team and you run out onto the field and the crowd is cheering. But when you walk into a fucking arena with 17,000 people and your music is playing and everybody is looking at you and going crazy, it’s an amazing feeling. It’s a high you can’t even imagine. Having fought myself, I know it’s something guys dream about. You can’t wait for the day.
Playboy: Does this sport require a life of martial-arts training, or is it possible for some badass to walk in off the street and be successful?
White: Some guy walking in off the street would get killed. But if somebody walked in off the street and wanted to train in the sport, how long it would take depends on the individual. Some guys take five or six years before they’re ready to compete. For some guys it could take two. It depends on the type of athlete you are and how quickly you pick it up. It’s all about talent, and the training has really changed. Early guys like Chuck LIddell came from kickboxing and learned everything else. Randy Couture and Matt Hughes came from wrestling and learned everything else. Now, guys like Georges St. Pierre and B.J. Penn are mixed martial artists. They are well-rounded and take a bit of everything. I think this is the most exciting combat sport in the world right now. No doubt about it. And it’s only going to get more exciting as the level of athleticism continues to step up another notch.
Playboy: Is the UFC any better than the WWE?
White: Yes, because it’s real. I think the WWE is fantastic. It’s amazing when you’re 12 to 15 years old. But when you hit 16 or 17, you realize it’s fake, and you want to see something real. I was a huge WWE fan as a kid. I got to an age when I got tired of the shit. It was just acting. Then I got into boxing.
Playboy: You grew up in Las Vegas and live there now. Do you gamble?
White: Like a motherfucker. I went gambling last night. I also get this crazy urge to gamble on Christmas Eve. Two years ago I went out and lost $25,000. That was a fun Christmas. That night I thought, Why did I do this to myself? You’re supposed to wake up and be happy on Christmas, but I can’t get any fucking Christmas presents today that will bring back that $25,000 and make me feel better. Why did I do this to myself? I started with blackjack and got my ass kicked. Then I went to craps and got my ass kicked. Jumped over to roulette and got my ass kicked. I think I must have hit every table in the place that night. Finally I just tapped out. I drove home at 2:30 A.M., and my wife was wrapping presents. I walked in feeling like a dickhead. The whole family was there, and I’d just lost $25,000. Christmas was going to suck.
Playboy: There have been rumors of a fight between Joe Rogan, the comedian who does color commentary for all the UFC pay-per-views, and actor Wesley Snipes. When will that happen?
White: The rumors were all buzzing, and I know some guys were trying to put the fight together. Apparently Snipes is balking at it.
Playboy: Whom should we bet on?
White: You should bet on Rogan. He’s a bad motherfucker.
Playboy: You have two sons, ages three and four. What if one of them wants to become a UFC fighter?
White: I love my kids so much. Do I want them to be fighters? No way. But I don’t want them to be football players either. And I don’t want them to stub their toes. And I don’t want them to get hurt at all. This is how fucked up I am, that I sit around and think about this, but I dread the day when they get into a fight at school. I have two boys, so it’s inevitable, but I dread that day. I remember what fights were like in school. It’s traumatizing. I love my kids more than anything and I don’t want that to happen, but that’s a reality. So if the day comes when my kid wants to do motocross or wants to fight, I would never hold him back. The worst thing would be for my kid to come home and say he wants to be a dancer. But if he wants to be a dancer, I guess I have to support him.
Thanks to Schadenfrede from the forum of bloodyknux.com to post this odd.