NEW YORK NY - JANUARY 13: Dana White UFC President speaks during a press conference to announce commitment to bring UFC to Madison Square Garden and New York State at Madison Square Garden on January 13 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images)
The American Dream. A three word cliche used to describe why people move to the United States by whatever means necessary. Chasing the mythical land of opportunity. Where any man or woman can change their stars should they work hard enough. The same can be said about Las Vegas, the home of Zuffa. It's a city where anyone can become a millionaire and a person can be whoever they want, if they can dream it. It's a cliche that very often never actually plays out, with many of us continuing to work a job where upward movement is rare and the ability to become the CEO is nearly impossible.
It seems that Dana White never got that memo. A hotel bellhop turned boxercise instructor, White was never supposed to become rich and famous. He reached his ceiling and would have to settle into a life as just another man living in Las Vegas. He was the manager for Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz, but with the SEG-owned UFC in shambles, the money just wasn't there in the sport to support a family on MMA. These relationships; however, did provide him some knowledge that SEG was looking to sell the company. Finding partners in childhood friends, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, Dana was given the opportunity to not only turn the promotion around but also his own career path.
The Zuffa run UFC struggled for years, despite White's best efforts. A year into the purchase he was given his first opportunity to deal with network television, showing a single fight on Fox Sports' Best Damn Sports Show, Period. While it was a relative ratings success, the sport just didn't catch on in the United States. Four years and a reported debt of $44 million, Zuffa took one last gamble to make the UFC successful with the reality television show The Ultimate Fighter. Even with the finale happening live, the Spike TV execs wouldn't commit to a second season. It was only until Forrest Griffin vs Stephan Bonnar that both sides knew they captured lightning in a bottle.
We're just over 48 hours away from the UFC finally making their network television debut. The anxiety is high for everyone at Zuffa, with the understanding that Saturday could determine if MMA or Ultimate Fighting will be accepted by a much larger audience. The desire isn't to reach the casual fan. The hope is to capture the non-fan and detractor. Dana White said on yesterday's media call that the goal of the card and broadcast is to educate the audience on what they are seeing. Everyone involved has been rehearsing since Tuesday to make sure the fights go off without a hitch.
Jonathan Snowden of MMA Nation knows what's at stake. Snowden, a former tape trader, has been a fan of this sport long before the Zuffa regime and has witnessed the rise and fall and rise again of the UFC. He also understands why the UFC is banking on Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos.
The Fox experiment is just beginning. We'll all know soon enough if the average sports fan will love this sport the way hardcore fans do. For most of us, the UFC is more religion than sport. It's what we live and breathe. Once you get it in your blood, every other sport pales in comparison.
The future of MMA is now - we've been on a roller coaster ride together for 18 years. Saturday we finally take the plunge down that first giant hill. The mainstream might end up rejecting our beloved. But it won't be because of Dana White and the UFC. They've done everything we could have possibly dreamed to get us here, to this pivotal moment. I'll be watching. I hope ten million more are by my virtual side.
The UFC is leading with their best foot forward and Fox is keeping in stride. With a lead up to card spanning the entire suite of Fox platforms and Alistair Overeem and Brock Lesnar providing analysis on a pre-show, Saturday night is about the heavyweights. MMA fans complaining about Guida and Henderson being relegated to Facebook fail to see the big picture. White has dealt with the fans and media questioning his decisions and looking for an opportunity to say "told ya so" since he took over the UFC.
Now 10 years after the purchase he finally has the chance to say it himself. He can say "I told you that pushing for government regulation when others were content fighting at Indian casinos as a good idea." He can say "I told you that a reality television show about fighters would work." And he can finally say "I was right all along for holding out on a network television deal." He can say all these things because they are true. He can say all these things because he possesses the vision to see where the sport will be in five years. And he can say these things because he, along with his friends turned a niche, dying sport, into a global powerhouse. The "American Dream" does exist as long as you are willing to make the sacrifice. Just ask Dana White.