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T.J. SIMERS

UFC's president has a passion and shares the pain

With UFC 100 looming in Las Vegas, the obsessed Dana White is on a mission to educate the world about something he just loves.

July 09, 2009|T.J. SIMERS

FROM LAS VEGAS — It's UFC 100 week here at Mandalay Bay, and had I not known, I would have had no idea I missed the first 99.

The Grocery Store Bagger just loves this stuff, but then the son-in-law also wears his shorts below his knees, has tattoos written in Chinese and he's not all that versed in English, and thinks a good day includes a new shipment in frozen foods.

He buys every fight, reads every magazine and warns me whatever I do -- do not go near some moody beast by the name of Brock Lesnar.

I'm scheduled to tease Lesnar on Thursday.

The daughter's just as crazed. She says it excites her -- so does the Bagger, and I really don't want to know any more.

But I'm too young to be old so soon, so I'm open-minded and figure I'll give it a try, knowing I will hate it -- beginning with the UFC's obsessed president, Dana White.

White made news a few months back using the derivation of an obscenity 42 times in a three-minute rant along with an anti-gay slur because he didn't like something a female reporter wrote. He's no relation to Jeff Kent, I'm told.

He says, "I'm a bleeping grown-up," which means cussing whenever he wants, but somehow manages to write 418 words for the premier magazine issue of "UFC" without including one obscenity.

"Someone else wrote it for me," admits White, who is not only bleeping hilarious and self-deprecating, but he makes it clear he's drinking Smart water, "because it's obvious I need it."

In some places he's portrayed as a monster, but with fight fans he's in-your-face cordial, and on a mission to educate the world about something he just loves, surrounded most of the time by camera-packing martial arts enthusiasts, White obliging every one of them.

It's only an hour or so later he reveals himself to be a freak of sorts, his office all black and white just as he comes across, one wall dedicated to a portrait of the back of Mike Tyson's head with size two-foot neck, another wall featuring a pair of steroid-enlarged tarantulas.

There's also a statue in the corner featuring an American flag, White receiving the Patriot Award recently in tuxedo ceremonies in Washington, D.C. No tie for White, of course.

"The lack of patriotism in this country makes me sick," he tells the Patriot Award audience after staging two shows for the military's benefit, $6 million going toward treatment of traumatic brain injuries suffered by soldiers in Iraq. "There is nothing more unselfish, brave and amazing than our American soldiers."

The testosterone is not dripping, so much as pouring from every corner of this room, the arm of a hairy ape holding a gun on one wall, not too far away from the portrait of porn star Traci Lords looking a little worn out.

"It's visually stimulating" is the interesting way UFC publicist Jennifer Wenk describes the room.

Visually stimulating, they tell me, is also another way to describe the brutality I'll witness Saturday.

White's distinctive upscale office, though, is a telling barometer of how far the UFC has come. It was $44 million in the red with White in charge of one other employee nine years ago, but now the UFC is two buildings full with 115 employees across the company, 300 contracted fighters, and White wearing $550 PRPS jeans, which are designed to look as if they should be thrown out.

"This is going to become the biggest sport in the world," White proclaims, and he says a lot of things that will require either the test of time or the suspension of belief.

"Budweiser did research in St. Louis and became a UFC sponsor after learning males 18 to 34 couldn't name 10 St. Louis Rams, but could name 10 UFC fighters," he says, the Rams obviously just not the same without Georgia Frontiere.

Hard to figure now why ultimate fighting struggled so early on, White's partners' Lorenzo and Frank Fertitita, who own the Station casinos here, not only socking millions into White's vision for a new worldwide sport, but taking a $10-million gamble on a reality TV show.

"If it didn't work out on Spike TV, it was over for us," says White, the show not only a success, but leading to this, more than 1 million pay-per-views for UFC 100 at $44.95 a shot. Wonder what they'd charge if they could ever get the lions and Christians together again?

"You won't believe the atmosphere when you walk into the arena," White says, while an assistant uses alcohol to rub some of the blood splatter off his blue dress shirt.

Spike TV's just finished filming the semis at a nearby training facility for the next reality show to begin in September. Front row close to the octagon, it's clear now why White is introduced as "the man who caged pain."

The winner of the second semi finds his nose just below one of his eyes, while the loser wants to know, "How long was I out?"

Auto racing fans like crashes, and the NFL sells videos featuring the game's most vicious hits. It's accepted mayhem.

Ultimate Fighting is still trying to get past the early stigma of being known as human cockfighting. Everyone in the sport is quick to say no one gets killed or seriously hurt -- good sportsmanship, they insist, as much a part of it all as the rear naked choke.

Sounds a little unbelievable, but what are you going to do -- fight them?

"You go to any major city, and maybe they're playing stick ball on one corner, street hockey on another, then maybe somewhere a fight breaks out," White said. "Where's the crowd? The guys playing stick ball and hockey are going to stop to watch. It's a part of our DNA; we like fighting."

That might help in explaining Ron Artest, until now the only ultimate fighter I've ever seen, but that's a column for another day.

Right now it's all about giving Saturday a chance, which now that I think about it, is more than what I'll probably give Artest.

--

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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