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UFC 118 Preview: Dana White Brings Back the Zuffa Myth for an Ignorant Boston Press

The ride into Boston has been an interesting one indeed for Zuffa and President Dana White. Sure, the tickets aren't selling and thousands of seats will either be empty or filled with freeloaders. But at least they get a chance to dust off the "Zuffa Myth" again for yet another rapt reporter. This time the victim was Boston Herald stenographer Ron Borges, who wrote a glowing profile of White that bordered on hagiography:

That belief never wavered, even after four years of having doors slammed in his face, phones slammed in his ear and the word "No" as his constant companion. The fighter’s spirit he learned at McDonough’s was never extinguished as he rewrote UFC’s rules to exclude troubling practices like groin shots, eye gouging and head butts, and civilized things as much as one can when the object is to break a man’s spirit, perhaps by breaking his nose.

Of course, assuming Borges is a victim may be a bit naive at this point.  He wrote a similar piece four years ago for the Boston Globe, filled with this and other fictions:

Las Vegas casino operators Frank Fertitta 3d and his brother Lorenzo, and former Boston boxing aficionado Dana White, the three men who in 2001 resurrected UFC from the scrap heap of bad marketing and no-holds-barred mayhem when they bought the company name from Bob Meyrowitz for around $160,000. At the time ultimate fighting had a sullied reputation. No state would sanction its bouts because it had no rules and boasted of its refusal to cooperate with state regulatory bodies. Not even cable television would carry its bouts, having dropped it in part because of pressure from people as powerful as Arizona Senator John McCain, a prize-fighting fan who termed the no-holds-barred form of mixed martial arts ``human cock fighting."

Zuffa has long promoted the myth that Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG), the previous owners of the UFC, ran away from regulation while they ran towards it. White credits himself with cleaning up a dirty sport. The problem-his account is mostly fictional. SEG went to great lengths to get the sport approved in New Jersey and California (where the battle raged for years). After Campbell McLaren's early marketing based around the sport's brutality backfired, the UFC went into overdrive to change the public perception of the sport. Techniques like head butts had been eliminated long before White came on the scene and eye gouges were never allowed. And even the Unified Rules used to govern MMA today came from the Mixed Martial Arts Council (MMAC) manual created by UFC Commissioner Jeff Blatnick for SEG.

Blatnick explains how the UFC's preexisting rules were adopted around the country in the full entry:


I read our rules to him line by line and they took almost all of them. The only change they made was to eliminate wrestling shoes.  They wanted standards and uniformity for all the fighters so they didn't want some people in shoes and some without them.

The rest was almost verbatim from the scoring system to the fight rules.  It was all taken from the Unified Rules which was essentially the MMAC manual.  People in the know, they know where it came from. They say they created the rules and in a way they did.  The Unified Rules and the rules in Nevada.  But what had changed from the rules we already had?  That is a different question.  

They were our rules, but they didn't belong to me.  People were promoting MMA shows before I ever came around.  I didn't create them from scratch.  We just wanted to create a fair balance between grappling and striking and we wanted to protect the fighters.  And I think we did a good job.  We must have because they are still using our rules today.

Of course, it's easy to understand why White prefers spreading fiction to the truth, as amazing as that truth is. It's not enough that he and his partners were able to right a sinking ship and turn a $2 million investment into a billion dollar behemoth. That story is too complicated. As Jake Rossen explains, it's easier to just say "I built it." The actual story may be too complicated for mass consumption:

The UFC and MMA as we know it today is the product of many, many people: the Gracies, who popularized the idea of disparate styles meeting in Brazil; the boxers who would consent to fighting a wrestler sporadically throughout the 20th century; Bill Viola, who strapped headgear and pads on martial artists and let them punch and submit each other in Philadelphia at the height of the Toughman craze; Pat Jordan, who wrote a 1989 Playboy article on Rorion that brought [Art] Davie to his Academy; Davie and Rorion, who packaged it as a commercial property; SEG, which turned it into a viable television product; Joe Silva, who can make sense of the bigger picture in matchmaking; and White and the Fertittas, who used money and connections to make it digestible to the masses.

The Zuffa Myth is simply part of a larger marketing plan to promote White as the face of the UFC. Nothing can be allowed to get in the way of that agenda. When you see big boxing matches being promoted, it's the athletes that are front and center. Floyd Mayweather makes appearances on talk shows and on ESPN to promote his fights. So does Oscar De La Hoya. When the UFC gets a similar opportunity, they minimize the importance of the fighters-instead sending White to shill the show. It's a genius plan to promote the brand over the athlete. And the UFC brand is Dana White-the Zuffa Myth is just a small part of the Dana White mythology, the brain child of a promoter who believes his best product is himself.