ATLANTA — Dana White is a sick man.
It’s 8:51 p.m. on fight night and the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship has just been shot up with two bags of IV fluids in an anonymously marked lounge in the bowels of Philips Arena. Food poisoning, he explains, from a bad turkey burger during last night’s red-eye from Las Vegas.
“I can’t f—ing believe I’m standing here,” White says, nursing a three-quarters-full SmartWater bottle filled with a urine-colored fluid (“Pedialyte,” he says). “I thought I was going to die this morning. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t walk. I was sweating like someone sprayed me with a hose. I was sprawled out on the marble floor of my bathroom.”
Yet White is on his feet, peering at a MacBook screen over the shoulder of Kristin Adams, the UFC’s 28-year-old social media whiz, who is busy engaging with celebrities and fans buzzing about tonight’s UFC 145 card. His attention diverts to the flatscreen TV showing the undercard bout currently happening outside between Mac Danzig and Efrain Escudaro.
As Adams reads aloud tweets from celebrities posting about the fight — Criss Angel, Jerry Rice, Jim Norton, Kelly Slater — White dictates rapid-fire responses as he unboxes a new cell phone. He directs Adams to tweet out the number, offering his more than two million followers an opportunity to trade opinions with one of the most powerful and unorthodox executives in sports.
“There’s no service down here, they’re all going to voice mail,” he says. “Five voice mails, six voice mails, seven voice mails.”
Finally the phone rings; a fan calling from Sweden made it through. “Who’s this?” White asks, before reassuring the voice on the other end, “I swear to God it’s really me.”
Another caller rings from New Zealand. Another from North Carolina. Another calls from inside the arena and asks if he can attend the post-fight press conference. White gets an assistant to take down his seat location and cell phone number and makes it happen. “Thanks so much for the support, bro,” he says before clicking over to the next call.
It’s White’s hands-on approach that’s helped make MMA the world’s fastest growing sport, but it’s his willingness to reach out and connect with the fans that create a brand loyalty that ensures they’ll be long-term customers.
It’s hard to imagine Roger Goodell or David Stern shooting the bull with fans before an important game. “I don’t understand why though,” White says. “It’s so easy to do. It takes two seconds.”
– Bryan Armen Graham