Dana White's Failure to Sign Fedor Emelianenko and a Network Deal Stopped the Upward Surge of the UFC

What, Dana worry?

MMA Junkie scores a solid interview with Dana White, getting him to address numerous topics.

Dana gives his current take on Strikeforce and Fedor Emelianenko, the #1 heavyweight in the world according to the USAT/SBN Consensus MMA Rankings:

"[Strikeforce has] sold 4,000 tickets to the (June 26) Fedor fight," White said. "That fight is in a couple of weeks. Nobody gives a [expletive], and nobody is going to give a [expletive] about Fedor until he gets in here and fights the best fighters in the world. And believe me when I tell you I tried to make it happen. You don't even know the crazy [expletive] places that I've flown and the [expletive] that I've done to try and get this fight done. It got to the point where it became an obsession. I wasn't sleeping.

"I've signed Brock Lesnar, who came from the WWE, James Toney from boxing - he's a nut chasing me all over the place - Tito Ortiz, whom I hated, and he hated me. I signed him twice when we hated each other. I've kept Chuck Liddell, kept Matt Hughes, kept Rich Franklin, when they were all champions. Anderson Silva, I've dealt with all the crazy [expletive] with him.

"But I can't sign Fedor? How is this possible that I can't sign this guy? It's not possible. These guys don't want to fight the best in the world."

Dana remains baffled and enraged by his failure to sign Fedor Emelianenko. While I'm still naively holding out hope that Fedor will beat Werdum and Overeem for Strikeforce and sign with the UFC, it seems increasingly unlikely.

 I'm of the opinion that Dana White and Zuffa blew it with Fedor when they bought PRIDE and tried to dictate terms to the greatest heavyweight in the history of the sport. When he followed it up by shit talking Fedor, his chances of signing Fedor were done. 

The second (and rumored third this year when Fedor was holding out on Strikeforce) go rounds between Zuffa and M-1 were just Vadim Finkelstein and Fedor toying with Dana IMO. I can see how it's driving Dana crazy, but it's his own fault. Well, his and M-1's fault, they are utterly unreasonable foreigners after all.

But the reality is that Dana White's failure to sign Fedor Emelianenko after the fall of Affliction is what opened the door for Strikeforce to get on CBS instead of the UFC.

The failure of the UFC to get on network television and Strikeforce's subsequent utter bungling of that opportunity has led to MMA's amazing half decade of growth grinding to a halt. 

Here's Michael David Smith on where we're at:

The problems selling tickets don't indicate that the UFC is on the decline, but they do indicate that the UFC simply can't sustain the incredible growth rate that it went through from the time that White and the Fertitta brothers took over through the summer of 2009, culminating in UFC 100. It wouldn't be realistic for any business to expect a continued expansion like the UFC has had.

In a sense, the UFC may be a victim of its own success. There was a time when getting to see a live MMA show felt like a very, very big deal. Now the UFC has been to most of the major markets in America, regional MMA shows are all over the place, and televised MMA feels like the norm, not the exception. In the next week MMA fans can watch four live fight cards from the comfort of their own homes: Strikeforce on Showtime Wednesday, Bellator on Fox Sports Net Thursday, the UFC on Spike Saturday and the WEC on Versus Sunday. MMA is everywhere, and when it comes to your town it doesn't seem like so much of a novelty anymore -- even if the UFC has never come to town before.

None of this is reason for MMA fans to worry about the future of the sport: There are still a lot of reasons to believe that MMA has room to grow, especially if it gets legalized in two of North America's three biggest markets, New York City and Toronto. MMA is here, it's here to stay and it's only going to get bigger. But it's not going to keep getting bigger at the pace of growth it has recently achieved. The inability to sell tickets in Salt Lake City showed that.

Essentially I think we're in for a healthy holding pattern for MMA for the next decade or so. It will take a charismatic break out star that transcends the sport for the UFC/MMA to be more than what it is now -- a popular niche sport.

I address a couple of Dana's other remarks in the full entry.

Dana on MMA web sites:

"Everything that's happened throughout the years, all the [expletive] that I've gone through, my biggest beef with a lot of these MMA websites is that these guys are for-profit websites. They're not [expletive] news sites. They're for-profit websites."

Dana is apparently unaware that NewYorkTimes.com, CNN.com, and yes, even the fair and balanced FoxNews.com are all for profit web sites.

He also admits that there is a place in the MMA ecosystem for other promotions, serving as a feeder to the mighty UFC:

"Everybody thinks it's me being anti-competition," White said. "There is no competition. We're the NFL. You don't see people looking at the NFL and going, 'Yeah, but he's not the best player in the world because there's a guy playing for the Canadian Football League or the Arena League over here.' We're the NFL. There is no other guy. 

"Strikeforce, we need Strikeforce to exist. I don't want Strikeforce to go away. I need these guys. I need them and all the other guys. I wish the other idiots didn't blow their brains out like they did."

I basically agree with Dana here. But he brought a fair bit of his troubles with Strikeforce on himself when (according to rumors I heard or my imagination, guess which) he tried to poach Cung Le from Strikeforce and stole Tito Ortiz away from them at the last minute. 

Had the UFC allowed Strikeforce to build a roster of network ratings friendly fighters that are fundamentally irrelevant to the UFC's job of determining the best in the world, Strikeforce might not have signed Fedor. But once war to the knife was declared....

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