Since acquiring PRIDE FC back in March of 2007, Dana White and the Ferttita brothers staked claim to being the clear-cut number one mixed martial arts promotion in the world. However, White’s business practices remain scrutinized by MMA fans and pundits.
If it’s firing Jon Fitch for a day because of a video game, cutting Matt Lindland over a t-shirt or airing old Pay-Per-View broadcasts opposite of Affliction cards, Dana’s every move seems to be examined under a microscope.
While his methods may be questionable, there can be no denial that his results remain second to none. Despite the undeniable success of the UFC, one area where White has not prevailed has been signing the number one heavyweight in the world, Fedor Emelianenko.
Dana continuously boasts that the best in the world fight in the UFC and stated that he would like to see Fedor fight for ZUFFA. Clearly, Fedor holds the moniker of being the top heavyweight and arguably the pound for pound best fighter in the world. However, White’s legacy will not suffer immensely if Fedor never steps foot inside the Octagon.
White needs to continue doing what he has been doing and prove to fans that the UFC does not need Fedor Emelianenko. The UFC has not been impaired by the absence of the WAMMA champion on its roster. White has crafted a heavyweight division that compels fans to buy tickets to ZUFFA events and purchase pay-per-views. Most casual fans of the sport will probably never know a “Fedor” even existed unless he ends up inside the Octagon.
Brock Lesnar not only became the UFC’s heavyweight champion in 2008 but also the company’s biggest PPV draw by attracting approximately 2.2 million buys. Younger talents such as Cain Velasquez, Gabriel Gonzaga and Shane Carwin appear to be the heir apparent stars of the UFC heavyweight division, roles currently held by Randy Couture, Frank Mir and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
Presuming he gets by Josh Barnett, the number of top heavyweights left for Fedor to oppose continues to dwindle. If one considers the top heavyweights that remain outside the ZUFFA umbrella, (Sergei Kharitonovo, Alistair Overeem, Paul Buentello and Fabricio Wedrum) most, if not all, would be a downgrade in opposition for “The Last Emperor” after facing Barnett, Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia.
By turning the UFC into the juggernaut it has become, Dana finds himself in the driver’s seat when it comes to his or a fighter defining a legacy in MMA. White continues to publicly state that he remains open to negotiations with Emelianenko’s management and has never closed the book on signing Fedor.
In twenty years, if Fedor never fights in the UFC, who will be criticized the most? Dana White for not signing Fedor or Fedor and his management for not signing with the world’s top promotion? As of now White and the UFC do not need Fedor and Fedor doesn’t need the UFC.
That being said, the UFC will continue to retain the majority of the top fighters in the world and hold the distinction as the premier promotion that will be around for years and possibly decades. Fedor’s window for cementing a legacy does not come with a lengthy timetable. He may find himself compelled to sign with the UFC because of the lack of viable options needed to leave his mark as the greatest mixed martial artist of all time.
Even though Dana White sits at the top of the MMA heap, he needs to continue to take the steps necessary to hold that position. Fedor Emelianenko may be an isolated issue; however, Strikeforce’s possession of PRO Elite assets sets them up to air cards on Showtime and possibly CBS. This could force Dana to reconsider his thought process of playing hardball with a major network. While Dana states that the UFC will not give up production control of an event, he may need to be more flexible in his future dealings with networks.
Being able to reach mass audiences through “The Ultimate Fighter” put the UFC in the spot where they find themselves in today. However, the UFC brand cannot rely on SPIKE TV and PPV outlets forever. A network deal may not be necessary as of yet, but the time will come when, just like today’s mixed martial artist, the UFC must evolve in order to successfully carry on broadcasting their product to the general public.
The thing is, we never know what the UFC President has up his sleeve. They just ripped away whole weight divisions from the WEC in order to add to the UFC’s quality lineup. White has stated that MMA is “going to be the biggest sport on the planet” and while at first, that statement seems absurd, It’s hard to argue with a man that has already achieved so much. When one fathoms the possibilities with the UFC’s globalization efforts, they are bound to reach the conclusion that maybe we really have only reached the tip of the iceberg. If the past few years revealed anything about White’s business practices it would be this: nothing will stand in his way of the UFC’s success.
By: Matt De La Rosa