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UFC's Dana White on Donald Trump, ESPN, Roku Docuseries 'Fight Inc.'

UFC's Dana White on Donald Trump, ESPN, Roku Docuseries 'Fight Inc.'
UFC's Dana White on Donald Trump, ESPN, Roku Docuseries 'Fight Inc.'


UFC CEO Dana White is one of the stars of Roku's new original documentary series “Fight Inc.: Inside the UFC,” billed as an “unprecedented” insider look at the company, marking its 30th anniversary.

Earlier this month, White – a well-known Donald Trump supporter – played a starring role in various productions: Trump's first TikTok video. Following footage of the ex-president greeting fans at UFC 302 in Newark, New Jersey on June 1, the video shows White with Trump backstage at the fight. “The president is now on TikTok,” White says. “It’s my honor,” Trump said.

White, in an interview with Variety to promote Roku's “Fight Inc.”, did not answer the question of why Trump – who is running for president of the United States again in 2024 against President Biden – is the best candidate for the position. Instead, he spoke of Trump as a longtime friend, dating back to 2001 when Trump agreed to have UFC 30 held at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about Donald Trump,” White said. “I've had this incredible relationship with him for many years… You know, when we first bought [UFC], the stigma was so big with the UFC that the sites didn't even want us. He reached out, made a deal, showed up for the first fight, stayed until the last fight.

“You know, politics is very dirty. A lot of bad things are said about him, and all I can tell you is that in my almost 25-year relationship with Donald Trump, he has been an incredible friend,” White said. “Amazing. He's as stand-up as they come, and I'm obviously a big supporter and a very close friend of his. Trump was accused of trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and inciting his supporters to attack the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Among his other legal troubles, Trump was convicted on 34 charges of criminal fraud by a court. Manhattan jury at the end of May.

White spoke at the 2020 Republican National Convention (after also doing so in 2016), where he said in part that “it is critically important to re-elect President Trump”, that he hailed as “one of the most loyal human beings I could imagine.” have ever met” and said, “Before the pandemic, President Trump built the greatest economy in our nation’s history and created opportunity for all Americans like no one before him. »

Today, mixed martial arts is a mainstream sport and the UFC is a billion-dollar business, with revenue of $1.3 billion last year. Since 2019, UFC pay-per-view fights have been available exclusively in the United States via Disney's ESPN+ streaming platform. ESPN also owns linear television rights to UFC events. That deal runs through 2025. Regarding the prospect of renewing the deal with ESPN, White said, “We're obviously in talks and figuring out what's next. You know, what's the next chapter for the UFC as far as television is concerned.

“I love being with ESPN right now. I like the working relationship we have with them, but you never know,” White said. “We will see how this plays out as we enter into negotiations.”

White said: “I've had my battles with [ESPN] Over the past few years we have worked together and I think because of that the relationship has become incredibly stronger. He explained: “It was our first race with ESPN bringing together, you know, two huge machines together and what's different about us compared to the other sports that they have is that we do everything in-house. I do my own production. You know, when you make a deal with ESPN and Fox and some of these other networks, they come in and do all the production… We ran into some obstacles. We get confused a little here and there [but] I feel like I've been through all of that with ESPN now and we're in an amazing place. We work very well together.

Of “Fight Inc.,” of which White was an executive producer, he said, “There’s no script. It was our 30th anniversary. This is literally reality TV… Everything that happened was real. After months of filming, “there were tons of things behind the scenes that got cut because you only have so much time. But I really wasn't like, “Oh my God, let's not air this.” » »

'Combat Inc.' is the first time the UFC has allowed filmmakers to show its behind-the-scenes process of matching fighters, according to White. “It’s almost like a secret sauce that I don’t really like people to dig into, but it’s the coolest part of the business,” he said.

The Roku documentary series only shows a small part of the UFC's reach, according to White. “We have 562 employees worldwide, including 412 in Vegas,” he said. “So what you saw in this Roku document is a glimpse into how big this company is and how it actually operates.”

In 2016, Endeavor (then called WMG/IMG) acquired the UFC for $4 billion. At the time, “all the majors, all the big guys came in and kicked the tires” on the UFC, White said. “Ari [Emanuel, CEO of Endeavor] he was the one who ended up sealing the deal.

Last year, Endeavor merged the UFC and WWE under the publicly traded TKO Group Holdings. Meanwhile, Endeavor entered into a $13 billion privatization deal with Silver Lake, expected to close in early 2025, while TKO will remain public.

When asked how different ownership structures have changed – or will change – the way the UFC does business, White replied: “None of that affects us at all… We do the exact same thing than before TKO. The advantage of bringing the UFC and WWE together is that they can achieve economies of scale, and the UFC team has helped WWE strengthen its sponsorship deals, he said. “Ari now has this powerful machine where we can come in on Saturday and have a UFC event, and on Sunday or Monday the same city could have a WWE event. Two totally different demographics,” White said.

In March, TKO revealed it would pay $335 million to settle two class-action lawsuits filed by former UFC fighters, alleging the company violated antitrust laws by paying UFC fighters less than that. what they were entitled to and eliminating or harming other MMA promoters. Asked about the settlement and whether the UFC treats its talent differently now, White responded: “This type of lawsuit is what happens when you're successful…I run my business exactly the same way as I always did.”

“Fight Inc.,” premiering June 7 on the free, ad-supported Roku Channel, includes three 48-minute episodes. The series chronicles key storylines featuring the UFC's biggest stars, including former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones, as he prepared to return after a three-year hiatus; the rise of Sean O'Malley, as he challenged for the bantamweight title; and the “greatest female fighter of all time,” Amanda Nunes, as she headlined an event “full of challenges for the UFC team.”

Why hasn't the UFC released a documentary about itself on its own platforms or through ESPN? White said the company could have done it, but Roku contacted the project. “We got on a plane and met with these guys” — including Roku Media president Charlie Collier and head of originals Brian Tannenbaum — “and I liked them, and they were the ones I wanted to do,” said White.

The docuseries logline states that it follows White and the UFC amid “the euphoric highs and crushing lows of the fight business.”

When asked what the “crushing lows” were, White replied: “Injuries. You plan a big fight, you spend a lot of money on marketing, the whole machine gets going. Then a fight breaks out – and you see how hard we have to struggle… We have to go back now and redo everything that's already been built, tear things down, redo posters and, you know, the billboards and the advertisements need to be redone.

White said: “The highest of all is when you create a great map, it's very successful, and it turns out exactly as you planned. The lowest of the low are the things you've seen when a fight falls apart.




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