and the Future of UFC
Jim Morrison once sang, "The future’s uncertain and the end is always near". But according to Ultimate Fighting Championship President, Dana White, the future is certain and the sky’s the limit for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).
Born in Manchester, Connecticut, Dana grew up in Las Vegas and has a background in boxing and grappling. "I boxed in the amateurs before getting into submission fighting and got hooked. Actually, I owned three boxing gyms in Vegas. I trained and managed fighters and had a sports management company. One day I met Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell, who I started representing, and I got into this huge contract negotiation with Bob Meyerwitz, the former owner of Tito Ortiz’s contract. Through that, Bob and I developed a mutual respect for one another, and I discovered he was selling UFC.
"Lorenzo Fertitta was a good friend of mine since we were kids. He and I were going to do something together in boxing anyway, so I called Lorenzo - he was down in Miami - and I said, ‘You know what, I just found out the UFC is for sale. What do you think?’ And he said, ‘That’s interesting.’ A month later we owned it."
When Ultimate Fighting Championship came on the scene in 1993, it was originally about seeing which martial art was the best of all fighting arts. In short, the answer then was Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. And the best exponent competing at the time was Royce Gracie, having been champion for three of the first four UFCs. Today the best art is not any one particular discipline, but a combination of the best of two or three arts: particularly boxing, wrestling and Jiu Jitsu. And UFC has helped to refine martial arts worldwide.
"It’s a little tough for the traditional martial artists to swallow, because one system doesn’t do it. You’ve got to cross-train in many different systems. Actually, the father of mixed martial arts, if you will, was Bruce Lee. If you look at the way Bruce Lee trained, the way he fought, and many of the things he wrote, he said the perfect style was no style. You take a little something from everything. You take the good things from every different discipline, use what works, and you throw the rest away."
During the early years in western MMA competition, UFC fights were the world’s ultimate proving ground. Then Japan’s PRIDE competition seemed to challenge UFC for this international number one spot. Today, UFC has ground’n’pound its way back to being king of the MMA castle. In UFC 43: Meltdown, the bill featured such topnotch names as Tank Abbott, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Kimo and Vitor Belfort.
"I’m pretty happy with the way everything has worked out with UFC. We’re the original, and we’ve come a long way in a couple of years. I think UFC lost a lot of lustre there for a little while, but we’re back. And I’d definitely say we’re the top mixed martial arts organization in the world."
Dana White believes the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s tag ‘As Real As It Gets’ to be an accurate description. He agrees it’s as close to a one-on-one street situation as you can get within the law. "No doubt about it. The reality is, there’s nothing fake, obviously, like pro wrestling, and it is the most hard-core, full-contact event in the world."
UFC 40 - Liddell vs Babalu
In 1993, many people had the misconception that fighters were going to be maimed and killed in the Octagon, due to the ‘caged combat’ idea, and because it was billed as ‘No Rules Fighting’. However, there were some essential rules and the Octagon fence is a safety fence design. There have been fights where a competitor has lost a bout from a submission hold or from leg kicks, and they have never been struck in the head, whereas in boxing, most strikes are to the head. Admittedly, there are body shots in boxing, but the majority of strikes go straight to the head.
"UFC is also safer than boxing because of the tap-out rule. I’ll give you an example: when Roberto Duran said, ‘No mas’ (meaning ‘no more’ in Spanish) because he couldn’t continue and knew he was hurt, he was ridiculed the rest of his career. In UFC, a fighter can tap out if he’s in a dangerous position or believes he’s going to be seriously injured.
"And one of the big misconceptions is the big gloves in boxing (16 oz). We use little, tiny gloves (4 oz), and people think, ‘Oh my God, those tiny gloves: boxing is safer’. That’s not true. The reality is, boxing gloves were created to protect the hands, not the head. They were created so a guy can punch another guy in the head, more times and harder, without breaking his hand. In UFC you have the combination of grappling, so a fighter isn’t just taking repeated blows to the head, round after round. And most of the injuries in boxing are brain injuries."
UFC PR Manager Jack Taylor recalls the heavyweight boxing match between Lennox Lewis and Russian Klitchko, where the left side of Klitchko’s face was cut wide open, and the fight was allowed to proceed a number of rounds before being stopped. In contrast, this brings to mind the bout between Vitor Belfort and Marvin Eastman (UFC 43), where Eastman sustained a gash to the forehead, and the fight was stopped instantly.
"That’s a valid comparison. That cut wasn’t as bad as the Klitchko cut, but the UFC fight was stopped immediately. If such an injury does occur, we halt the fight instantly and it’s declared a TKO: the ringside doctors treat the competitor straight away and he fights another day," says Jack Taylor.
Dana White can see a day when the UFC will be bigger than pro wrestling and world boxing events. He believes because the youth of today are growing up with mixed martial arts, rather than boxing alone, they will not be satisfied with watching a fighter employing just his fists, when he has so many other weapons and skills at his disposal.
UFC is definitely a younger guy’s sport. Our target audience is anywhere from age 17 to 35. And our fighters will be household names. Where I’d like to see it is like it is in Japan right now. We were just over there (10 Aug. 2003) with Chuck Liddell, who was representing UFC in a UFC versus PRIDE fight. And he knocked out Alistair Overeem in the first round (3:09) of the PRIDE Grand Prix Elimination tournament. That was awesome, man. Chuck couldn’t leave the place on Monday morning. He went to go shopping, to buy some things for his family, and he was swarmed for forty-five minutes. The mall security had to pull him out of there and throw him in a car. There were thirty seven thousand people at the event, and it was the first time the tournament was shown on free TV. So millions of people saw him fight that night – not only in Japan, but in the US," says Dana.
And UFC 44: Undisputed promises to be every bit as big as UFC 43: Meltdown was. Heavyweights Tim Sylvia and Gan McGee are both looking to begin with a stand-up fight because of their size, and because they both have such tremendous punching power. (For more on this bout check out www.ufc.tv ).
To be held at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Friday, September 26, 2003 (Las Vegas time), the bout is being billed the "Battle of Giants". In this co-main event, Tim Sylvia (6’8", 265 lbs) will be defending his Heavyweight title for the first time against Gan McGee (6’10, 265 lbs).
However, the bout of most concern on the card appears to be the decider for World Light Heavyweight Title between Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz. (Interviews with Ortiz and Couture at www.knucklepit.com)
Whilst it wouldn’t be fair for Dana White to give his prediction for the fights’ outcomes, he does have one prediction: "The main event and co-main event are going to be awesome. They’re going to be great fights."
And there will be another, now renowned, Post Fight Party after UFC: 44. Revelers are still raving about the UFC:43 Post Fight bash held at Hard Rock, which featured Beastie Boy DJ Hurricane as the disc jockey.
Many fight fans are wondering if there will be a rematch between Frank Mir and Wes Sims, after Wes was disqualified for kicking a downed opponent and holding the fence in UFC 43. "Yeah, you know that’s very interesting too. We thought about doing that, but the way Sims blatantly disregarded the rules kinda makes us a little worried. But we’re definitely thinking about doing that rematch."
So Dana, will we be seeing more of those lovely ring card girls?
"I hear you. I’ll see what I can do about that."
The UFC’s next live PPV event will be UFC 44: Undisputed at 10 p.m.EDT on Friday, September 26, from Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nev. Locate the UFC on the Internet at www.ufc.tv.
"The Ultimate Fighter Series"
Dana White (left), Chuck Liddell & Bruce Buffer (right).
All photos copyright 2004 Zuffa LLC
Photography by Joshua Hedges
UFC President Dana White and partner Lorenzo Fertitta have been running the Ultimate Fighting Championship since UFC 30. During this period the "Superbowl of Mixed Martial Arts" has grown from strength to strength, and is about to be catapulted into the living rooms of more viewers internationally with the production of a 13-episode series, The Ultimate Fighter.
Dana says, "We basically hooked up with Craig Piligian, who is the producer of the first three Survivor shows, plus American Chopper, American Casino…He’s a very successful TV producer. We like his work and we liked his vision on this show for the UFC. So we teamed up with him and did the old Spike TV. We’re going to air 13 episodes. Basically what we’ve done is, we’ve gone out and got the best fighters in the country: guys who should already be in the UFC. But there wasn’t any…You know, it’s very hard to get on the UFC considering we only have six shows per year on Pay-Per-View. And on those shows we have eight fights that showcase 16 fighters. And we have 10 to 12 superstars who we have to fit into the regular cycle.
"So these guys on The Ultimate Fighter series should be in the UFC already, but they haven’t had the opportunity. They will all live in a house together, and they will train under two different captains: Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture will be the two team captains. Randy and Chuck will pick these fighters dodge-ball style like you did in school. You know: ‘I’ll take you, you and you.’ By the end there will be eighteen guys and sixteen will be picked: two guys will be eliminated right off the first episode.
"What’s going to happen is these fighters will have different challenges they’ll have to do, and guys will become eliminated. I can’t really get too deep into the show, but the end result will be that there are two light heavyweights and two middleweights on the twelfth episode. Then on the thirteenth episode, we’ll do a Live, two-hour fight: the first-ever free fight on free TV. Those guys will fight and the winners will get a UFC contract."
Dana says there will be fighting throughout the twelve episodes, leading up to the thirteenth and final episode, where viewers will get to see the other contestants compete. All episodes of The Ultimate Fighter will be aired on Spike TV, commencing January 15, 2005, and already many other countries have signed to pick up the show.
After the 13 episodes have aired, team captains Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell will have their own battle for the UFC World Light Heavyweight Title, probably around April, at UFC 52. And although there was a lot of hype at UFC 49: Unfinished Business regarding a Couture/ Wanderlei Silva unification bout, White believes it was just that: hype.
"I doubt it will happen. PRIDE talks a lot, but they don’t back any of it up. I believe Wanderlei Silva will fight anybody in the world. He wants to fight, yeah. PRIDE talks a lot, but they don’t back any of it up."
January 2005 will mark four years since White and Fertitta purchased the UFC, and they are delighted with the surge in the company’s popularity during that period. For UFC 49, over 13,000 tickets were sold to a sell-out crowd at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
"The first show we did in Atlantic City sold 3,500 tickets. We’ve been on sale in Atlantic City for a couple of weeks (UFC 50: The War of ’04), and we’ve already sold more than 3,500 tickets. The sport is growing rapidly. And now with this free-TV deal we’re hoping it will grow even more."
Dana, the big question from all the UFC fans in Australia: "When will the Ultimate Fighting Championships be back on in OZ?"
"We’re working on that now. We’re trying hard to get it back on. We weren’t on for a while there in the UK either after a Live event there, and we just got it back on. You can tell the fans in Australia that I won’t stop until we do get it on TV in Australia. So one way or another, it’s coming. It’s just a matter of when."
In answer to the debate of "The Cage versus the Ring", Dana agrees the cage is more realistic, given that in the street, there is rarely a time when combatants don’t end up against some type of wall, whether it be a shop front, a fence or the corner of a bar. He also lists two other reasons for preferring the cage.
"The cage is much better. It is there for the safety of the fighters. When these guys do wrestling takedowns, slams and everything else, they run the risk of falling out. I’ve seen guys fall out of rings many times and get hurt. Plus actionwise too. When they go up against a cage, they can keep fighting. When they go in the ring, somebody’s got to drag them by their feet back into the centre of the ring. And that’s just goofy."
And what else does UFC have coming up besides this reality show The Ultimate Fighter?
"We have a lot of things coming up. We’ve just released the first album we’ve ever done and it’s called Ultimate Beatdowns Vol.1. We’ve just released UFC 47 on DVD. The Ultimate Knockouts 1 & 2 has been the hottest selling DVD in this country in the sports category."
Dana, aren’t you holding out on us? Isn’t there something else coming up that you’re not mentioning?
"Another TV show? Yeah, we do have another TV show. We’re working on it right now, but I can’t…We don’t have the contract done yet. It drives me crazy to announce stuff when we don’t have the deal done, ‘cause you never know what can happen."
At UFC 46: Supernatural, UK’s MMA star Lee Murray made a dramatic Octagon debut when he choked out Jorge Rivera. Murray was then scheduled to fight Curtis Stout at UFC 48: Pay Back, but was replaced by Trevor Prangley due to Murray’s visa problems. Dana says Lee will be back.
"We’d love to see Lee Murray back. He’s fighting here real soon. I’m not sure which UFC that will be because he’s having a hard time getting out of his country."
Another fighter to have made a big impact on MMA fans is Belarus-born heavyweight Andrei Arlovski, who defeated fellow countryman Vladmir Matyushenko at UFC 44: Undisputed, and "Cabbage" at UFC 47: It’s On!. Heavyweight Champion Frank Mir was expected to go to war with Arlovski at UFC 50, but that bout has been postponed until December, due to Mir’s scheduled wedding in September.
"Definitely Andrei Arlovski is owed. He deserves a fight. It’s just a matter of putting it together now. I think we’ll probably do that in Japan in December for UFC 51. And that will be Frank Mir against Andrei Arlovski for the title."
Already signed for UFC 50 (22 October, 2004) are Tito Ortiz v Guy Mezger, and Matt Hughes v Georges St. Pierre for the welterweight title. And Dana White has news of a further, upcoming Ortiz bout:
"Tito Ortiz will be fighting Vitor Belfort. Win, lose or draw against Guy Mezger, Tito’s going to fight Vitor – unless he gets injured."
As the popularity of UFC continues to grow internationally, so does the standard of MMA, with the world’s greatest gladiators having to strive harder and harder to compete in this modern-day Coliseum of N-H-B competition.
MMA is Booming
© Marc Wickert
UFC President Dana White is excited. And he has a lot to be excited about. There are the DVD releases of UFC 49: Unfinished Business and Ultimate Knockouts 3, which, judging by sales, appear to be ideal Christmas presents for MMA fans.
And The Ultimate Fighter, a 15-part MMA series on Spike TV, goes to air internationally on January 17, 2005, which coincidentally will be Muhammad Ali’s 63rd birthday. The reality-based series culminates in a final two-fight episode, between two middleweights and two light heavyweights, being shown Live on television. Winners of these two bouts will receive sic-figure contracts to fight in the Octagon for the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
"I feel The Ultimate Fighter series went very well. I actually get the first episode on Thursday (Dec.9, ’04). I’ve seen rough cuts of it, but I’ll have the final version on Thursday. And I’m happy with the way it came out. I’m happy with the cast we had. And I think it’s going to be a great show," says Dana.
All sixteen fighters involved in the series were divided into two teams, with half the fighters being coached by Chuck Liddell and the other half coached by Randy Couture. At UFC 52, to be held in April 2005, Couture and Liddell will face off for the UFC light-heavyweight title.
"What ‘s weird is they’ve spent a lot of time together and worked together on the show, and in April they’re going to have to fight each other again. The funny thing is, when they do get in the Octagon, they’ll look as though they never knew each other. They’ll go at it."
Dana says the professionalism of Couture and Liddell will override their friendship, and MMA fans will be in for a great battle. "The thing that I like about Chuck and Randy is that they’re both serious competitors and hate to lose."
Since Randy’s decisive victory over Vitor Belfort at UFC 49: Unfinished Business, Japan’s PRIDE organization has been promising a bout between their 205-lb champion, Wanderlei Silva, and UFC’s 205-lb champion, Couture. But White believes the match is still unlikely.
"You know, I’ve heard PRIDE talking about it and everything else. I think everybody knows where I stand with that. I’ll put my fighters up against their fighters any day of the week. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again. So it’s up to PRIDE."
In the meantime, the Ultimate Fighting Championship continues to grow worldwide. International DVD sales indicate that a health ration of UFC footage is one of life’s necessities. And at the time of this interview, Canal, a company from France is doing a documentary on UFC, which Dana is assisting with. Japanese fans will also get another firsthand look at the Octagon’s best fighters when UFC returns to the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ in June.
"In America, we’re sanctioned in every state you’d want to hold an event in. It’s sanctioned in California now, but not in New York. I don’t think I’d want to do a show in New York anyway. Places like Madison Square Garden, where we’d want to hold it, are far too expensive, the cost of hotel rooms… Las Vegas - everybody wants to come to Vegas. It’s pretty cheap to stay here. It’s cheap to get here. It just makes more sense."
Dana, I receive many emails similar to this one from Tristian in Ohio, and he says:
"I grew up watching fighters like Ken Shamrock and Mark Coleman, and ever since then I knew I wanted to be a fighter, but I don’t know how to go about it. I did study karate and a little judo, but I don’t think it is enough. I need real information on where to go to train and other information on how to get my shot at becoming a fighter. I realize that this is something not to mess around with, but I am dedicated to it. If I get my ass beat that means I have to try harder and train harder. I thought of doing a toughman contest, but boxing isn’t for me. Being an MMA or Full Contact fighter is. So could you please tell me the steps I need to take to make this dream come true."
What advice do you have for him?
"How old is he?"
He doesn’t say, but I get a number of emails from readers wanting to know how to get into UFC and other MMA events. My reply was to suggest Tristian start out in some of the lesser competitions first, because it’s just not that easy to get into UFC anymore. And he’s better to test his skills in the lesser shows first.
"That’s right. That’s exactly what you do. You get into the smaller shows first. Probably have to hook up with a manager who can get him…you know, a guy who has a lot of fighters already…get him into the show and start building his way up. And I’d say the biggest way to do it is to start beating some guys with names."
Like Paul Buentello?
"That’s exactly right. I mean, there are a lot of guys out there who we’ve heard a buzz about, because they were talented: like Dave Terrell. You’ve heard about him for years and then he got into the UFC…Paul Buentello, Justin Eilers, Chris Lytle…"
King of the Cage, IFC, Rumble on the Rock, Rage in the Cage, are they still some of the big, but lesser-known MMA events under UFC?
"Yes. Those are the kind of shows you build up in."
Any more news regarding UFC coming back on in Australia?
"If you don’t think I want UFC back on in Australia, you’re crazy. I’d love it. It’s going to happen though. We keep chipping away. It’s going to be on everywhere. Everywhere."
So will The Ultimate Fighter TV show be aired in Oz?
"We’re working on it. We have a company out there that’s selling the stuff internationally. And a lot of countries have picked it up. We’re in England, Germany, France, Japan, New Zealand and Brazil."
Are you saying that company is working on Australia?
"They are definitely working on Australia!"
Andrei Arlovski - are we going to see him in UFC 51?
"Absolutely. He’ll be fighting Tim Sylvia."
Is that definite?
"Well, Tim Sylvia fights this weekend at Super Brawl 38 in Hawaii. So if he wins that fight, he’ll definitely be fighting Arlovski."
What if he doesn’t win?
"Well, that would be bad."
Do you know who he ‘s fighting at Super Brawl?
"Wes Sims. It’s a grudge match."
Yeah, Wes has said in previous interviews with knucklepit that they’re definitely not friends. So will it be the winner of that one against Andrei?
Now, Paul Buentello vs Justin Eilers - that should be a big fight.
"That’s a great fight, isn’t it? I love any time that two bangers get in there and fight. I love watching that. They’re both big strikers and they’ve got great chins. They’re perfect examples of athletes working their way up through the lesser competitions. Paul Buentello has been arouind for a while. He’s been fighting in a lot of small shows and so has Justin Eilers. They’re perfect examples."
The other question I get all the time: Any sign of Tank Abbott returning to the Octagon?
"I don’t think so. But you never know. I never say never."
Dana, anything you’d like to add to this article?
"The next show is going to be dynamite, and we’re really excited about it. Looking forward to seeing Tito Ortiz and Vitor Belfort square off. Robbie Lawler and Phil Baroni should be another big show."
For more on UFC 51: Super Saturday – www.ufc.tv
LATE NEWS: Tim Sylvia defeats Wes Sims in Super Brawl 38 by KO, Round 1.