On Wednesday, UFC president Dana White made his first public appearance since he was caught on video slapping his wife on New Year’s Eve. That appearance, which occurred before a hand-selected group of UFC access media, was strange.
In the early moments of the nearly 15 minutes White spent on the dais, the UFC boss fielded a question about possible repercussions from the above mentioned video. White’s reply was puzzling, narcissistic and insulting.
“What should the repercussions be? You tell me,” White said. “I take 30 days off? How does that hurt me? I told you guys when we were going through COVID, COVID could last 10 years, I could sit it out. What would be the problem?
“It’s much like COVID, actually. Me leaving hurts the company, hurts my employees, hurts the fighters. It doesn’t hurt me. I could have left in 2016,” he continued.
“Do I need to reflect? No, I don’t need to reflect. The next morning when I woke up — you know what I mean? I’ve been against this. I’ve owned this. I’m telling you that I’m wrong.
“But listen, we’ve had plenty of discussions internally, with Ari [Emanuel], ESPN. Nobody’s happy. Nobody’s happy about this. Neither am I. But it happened, and I have to deal with it. And what is my punishment? Here’s my punishment: I’ve got to walk around for however long I live — is it 10.4 years, or is it another 25 years — and this is how I’m labeled now. My other punishment is that, I’m sure a lot of people, whether it be media, fighters, friends, acquaintances, who had respect for me, might not have respect for me now.
“There’s a lot of things that I’m going to have to deal with for the rest of my life that are way more of a punishment than what, I take a 30-day [or a] 60-day absence? That’s not a punishment to me. The punishment is that I did it, and now I have to deal with it.”
White has a point. Thanks to his time with the UFC — and the Fertitta brothers selling the promotion to Endeavor — White is a very wealthy man. Removing him from his job as the UFC president will not affect his lavish lifestyle.
However, the idea that the UFC, its employees, or its fighters — who are not employees — would suffer if White departed from the promotion is a stretch.
Might the Endeavor stock slip if White left — or had been forced out — of his job as the UFC president? Yes, in fact, there would be an excellent chance of that happening. However, Endeavor knows what it needs to do to appease investors and get that stock to bounce back — instill confidence and show increasing revenue.
The confidence part would be easy. UFC Chief Business Officer Hunter Campbell and UFC COO Lawrence Epstein know the UFC business and have been around for a long time. While Campbell and Epstein might not be the faces many associate with the UFC, they are two intelligent and powerful UFC employees who would be able to keep the UFC moving forward and in the black. How? Simply by doing what they have been doing for their entire tenure with the company.
As far as revenue, that has been growing year-over-year since 2018. The UFC now brings in $1 billion a year, and is expected to continue its growth in 2023.
Speaking of confidence, if I’m a stockholder or a member of the Endeavor executive team, I would have one monumental question about White’s management acumen following his appearance on Wednesday: What have you been doing for 20+ years?
One of the most significant functions of a top executive is to prepare the organization to function in their absence. The person running a business might be present one day and gone the next. If the company fails because of their absence, there’s a fair chance they failed at their job. No company with more than $1 billion in revenue should ever live or die with a single person. For someone like White to imply the company and employees would be hurt by him leaving, points toward ego or bad management.
As for the fighters suffering in White’s absence, that claim begs further explanation. Is White implying that without him, fighters would be treated worse? Without White, would the UFC pay fighters even less than the already embarrassing sub-20 percent revenue share that they get? Fighters also currently don’t have employee rights, healthcare, or pension, and they’re clearly underpaid. With so many things that aren’t good for fighters, perhaps instead of asking if White’s absence will be bad for them, the better question would be to ask why it’s been bad during his presence.
On Wednesday, White made a valiant effort to make it seem like he is the only person in 2023, who can steer the ship that is the UFC. That might have been the case in the early days when the Fertitta’s were hemorrhaging money trying to keep things afloat, but today, there’s no way that should be true. White’s appearance at UFC Vegas 67 media day showed that the only punishment that would mean anything to him would be to remove him from the spotlight, to no longer promote him more than the UFC promotes its fighters.
That could still happen, but the silence, which remains from Endeavor and ESPN, indicates that’s not in their plans — at least not right now.