Dana White entered the “Ronda Rousey” conference room at the UFC’s plush new headquarters Tuesday afternoon for his first media luncheon in years with a more cheerful disposition than he had when such events were regular occurrences.
White said he had just gotten off the phone with Ari Emmanuel, the head of WME-IMG, which bought the UFC for more than $4 billion last year. It was a pleasant conversation.
“This is the best year the company has ever had in the company’s history, so he’s off-the-charts pumped,” White reported. “We’re actually coming in over the number they had budgeted.”
The UFC will wrap up its banner year spotlighting its ever-growing roster of female fighters. The annual New Year’s Eve weekend pay-per-view card, scheduled for Dec. 30 at T-Mobile Arena, features women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg defending her title against Holly Holm in the main event.
The other local card this month, which takes place Friday at the Park Theater, showcases the new women’s flyweight division to conclude “The Ultimate Fighter: A New World Champion.” Nicco Montano will take on either Sijara Eubanks or Roxanne Modafferi — their pre-filmed semifinal fight airs at 7 p.m. tonight on Fox Sports 1 — with the winner becoming the first-ever 125-pound female champion in the UFC.
The proliferation of women’s mixed martial arts in the sport’s biggest promotion is another source of White’s enthusiasm.
“Even when women’s boxing started to get some print and some notoriety, when you watched the fights, they really weren’t great fights at the end of the day,” White said. “These are great fights. These women are legit, talented, well rounded. The fights are fun and exciting.”
White has come a long way from four years ago when he introduced female fights solely around Rousey, and even further from the year prior when he reiterated that women would never compete in the UFC.
“No. 1, I didn’t believe the women were technically that good yet, and I was wrong,” White said. “No. 2, I believed that people wouldn’t want to see a girl getting cut wide open on the forehead and blood — you know how much the forehead bleeds when you cut it — all over the place on national television. I was wrong again.”
Rousey famously changed the mind of White, who revealed the exact moment he warmed up to the idea on Tuesday. White said Rousey cornered him backstage of a weigh-in, introduced herself and asked for five minutes of his time.
They ended up talking for 45 minutes, and White had decided Rousey was someone he wanted in the UFC within 30 minutes.
“It was the right decision: If you look at not only how big (Rousey) became, but now how big the women’s sport has become,” White said. “Every time there’s a card, there’s a women’s fight on the card that you’re excited to see.”
That means female fighters deserve their share of credit for what White calls the biggest year in company history. Although ultra-successful one-off events like Conor McGregor’s boxing match against Floyd Mayweather and last month’s UFC 217 provided a major boost to the UFC’s bottom line, the biggest difference for the promotion this year has been an increase in content.
The UFC has staged more fights than ever across platforms ranging from pay-per-view, Fox television channels and its own UFC Fight Pass. Adding two more female weight classes, with flyweight joining featherweight this weekend, to give the UFC a total of four has helped make it all possible.
Female fighting has proved to be self-sustaining even without Rousey, whom White noted had still not officially retired but said he never wanted to see fight again. There were concerns at the beginning of the year about the effect Rousey’s absence could have on the company, but they’ve slowly faded away.
“I’ve been doing this for so long, it just doesn’t faze me anymore,” White said. “You just keep rolling with it. I know it’s all going to work out, and it did. We ended up having a killer year.”