d5fdd74c3c948210VgnVCM200000e66411acRCRDapproved/thenational/Articles/Migration/2010-03Dana White steps up his UFC fight to achieve world dominationc5fdd74c3c948210VgnVCM200000e66411ac____Dana White steps up his UFC fight to achieve world dominationThe UFC president tells <i>Leah Oatway </i>there is no denying its growing popularity over the past few years.<p>Dana White has spent years defending the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) - a sport that has been labelled barbaric by everyone from senior politicians to the boxing promoter Don King.
And as he prepares to bring the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) roadshow to Abu Dhabi next month, the UFC president knows there will be those who like nothing about such a raw form of combat.</p>
<p>No matter where you sit on the debate, UFC is going global, says the straight-talking 40-year-old American, and sooner or later resistant mainstream media will be forced to accept it for what it is - America's most lucrative and rapidly-expanding sporting export.
"I don't have to prove to the media that Mixed Martial Arts is a real sport," he says.
"It is. And you're either going to get on board and start to cover us, or not. We are knocking down doors and moving into other countries whether people like us or not."</p>
<p>Knocking down doors he has been since the company was sold for just US$2million (Dh7.35m) to the primary owners - White's childhood friends - the Fertitta brothers, Frank III and Lorenzo, aka Zuffa LLC.
When the UFC was first launched in 1993 it was a pay-per-view hit, but its brutal reputation soon garnered criticism, most famously from the US senator John McCain who compared MMA to "human cockfighting".</p>
<p>The sport was shunned or banned in almost every US state, the UFC lost its television rights, and the company was led to the brink of bankruptcy.
Five years after convincing the Fertitta brothers - whom he has known since their days together at Bishop Gorman High School, Las Vegas - to take over the ailing brand in 2001, the UFC was back on top, grossing more annual pay-per-view revenue than any promotion.</p>
<p>In 2008 Forbes estimated UFC's worth at US$1billion and this year Flash Entertainment, an Abu Dhabi government subsidiary, bought a 10 per cent stake in the company. White owns a nine per cent stake.
This month UFC made its Australian debut, in front of 17,831 fans, made US$2.5m and broke the Acer Arena's merchandising record.
"Our first trip to Australia was very successful," says White with a wry smile.</p>
<p>UFC would be back in Australia in a year's time, he promised. The plan is to make every successful overseas event an annual thing.
But the next time he hopes to stage the fights in Melbourne where, at present, MMA is not sanctioned.
"It's not legalised there but after such a successful event here [in Sydney] hopefully we can turn that around," says the buoyant father-of-three.
"It's the same thing we go through everywhere we go, it's an education process and like you said, it's about changing laws. That never happens too fast. So, we are on it."</p>
<p>Despite an article by a Sydney journalist published that morning proclaiming "Ultimate violence may escape on to street", followed by concerns about the sport's safety and influence on the younger generation, it is difficult to believe White will not get his way.
In the USA, the sport is sanctioned in 42 states, has its own magazine, a best-selling computer game and an action figures, along with a clothing and equipment range and more than one million people following the UFC president's every move on Twitter.com.</p>
<p>This week the UFC announced a deal that will see its 300 main events shown in cinemas, starting with UFC 111 on March 27.
While things are moving forward for the UFC at a rapid pace, its detractors remain. Having endured decades of negative press itself, many of boxing's staunch detractors and even supporters accuse MMA of being far less safe than boxing and responsible for the growing apathy towards the sweet science.</p>
<p>The latter is an accusation White is more than familiar with, and refutes vehemently.
"Everything that is happening to boxing, boxing did, and continues to do, to itself," he says.
"Take Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr - there is a fight that people from all over the world would be interested in seeing and they won't fight each other.
"They're doing all that to themselves. It's not me, it's not UFC, it's boxing doing it to boxing."</p>
<p>White also points out the confusion associated with the number of belts and sanctioning bodies available to boxers.
As for the issue of safety for participants, he points to the findings of a study published by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, USA, in the July 2006 edition of the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine.
The article reads: "With MMA competitions, the opportunity to attack the extremities with arm bars and leg locks and the possibility of extended periods of grappling could serve to lessen the risk of traumatic brain injury."</p>
<p>It concludes that knock-out rates are lower in MMA competitions than in boxing, suggesting a "reduced risk of traumatic brain injury in comparison to other events involving striking". The naysayers do not concern White.
"I really don't care about that, I don't sweat it," he says.
"We try and go out and educate these guys, some people get it and some people don't. It's like golf. I hate golf. I think it's the dumbest game in the world. I can't stand watching it and I would never play it, but it doesn't mean that other people don't like golf. Some press are going to come and cover the fight game and some people won't, but the reality is that this sport has something that no other sport has."</p>
<p>That "something", he believes, is the ability to transcend cultural and geographical boundaries in much the same way as football has.
"My best example is Georges St Pierre [GSP]," he said, referring to the 28-year-old UFC welterweight champion.
"GSP is from Canada. He comes down and fights in the United States and more Americans cheer for him than the American that he is fighting.
"BJ Penn [the UFC lightweight champion] went and fought in England and more people were cheering for BJ Penn... Wanderlei Silva was in Australia and the place went crazy over a Brazilian guy. When do you ever see that in any other sport? You get behind these guys because either you like their personality, or the way they fight.</p>
<p>"You don't see that in any other sport. You don't go to a soccer match when Australia are playing Germany and see Australians cheering for the Germans. And as the world keeps getting smaller, and through technology, we are in a position where we can really plug the whole world into this thing."
At the heart of White's strategy for the sport's global domination lies the reality television series The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), which he credits with transforming the competition's fortunes.</p>
<p>TUF is a reality TV series and MMA competition where professional fighters yet to make it big share a Las Vegas home and compete against each other, in one of two weight categories, for the title of The Ultimate Fighter and a six-figure, multi-fight contract with UFC.
Previous winners include Michael Bisping, Rashad Evans and Stephan Bonnar.
"If you are a fight fan then TUF is the best show on TV, it translates well in any country," says White.</p>
<p>"We are working on taking it internationally, we are working on that right now."
The first, he said, is likely to be the Middle East region and talks are already underway in Abu Dhabi to make it happen.
The first international TUF series is likely to take place in the Middle East.
His goal is to expand to every country and "continue to grow talent in all these different places, and do what we did in Australia and the UK".</p>
<p>But first come the live events and free TV viewing of those events for local viewers, as was done recently in Australia, to introduce the nation to the sport.
"That's our philosophy wherever we go and that's really how we got this thing kick-started in the United States too," says White.
"When we are moving to a new territory or country, when we expose everybody to it, they will get into it.
"We believe in the product that much.</p>
<p>"We also believe that when you bring a live event, you know the 20,000 people who were here tonight will leave and tell another 30,000 or 40,000 people about it. So that's our strategy."
The capital will also host the UFC 112 on April 10 for a 12,000 audience at Ferrari World, Yas Island. It will be the first UFC event to be held outdoors.
"Usually I shy away from outdoor events because of rain, but I am pretty confident it won't rain over there," White says. "You can still have wind and dust that could affect a fight. If wind starts blowing and dirt blows into a guy's eye then anything can happen."</p>
<p>Sydney's crowd were MMA educated, according to White, and he is interested in gauging the level of understanding of the sport when UFC lands in the UAE.
"It is going to be interesting. The last time I went to Abu Dhabi, when I got off the plane and got over to the boat - we stayed on a boat over there - people were screaming at me, yelling at me about the decision with Lyoto Machida and Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua, so they're pretty educated because they were pretty annoyed with me when I got off that plane about that fight. It will be interesting."</p>
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