August 17, 2013

UFC chief with ties to Maine has overseen fight to the top

The sport is growing under the eyes of its de facto commissioner, who grew up near Bangor.

By Steve Craig scraig@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Close to 18,000 fans are expected to file into Maine venues in 2013 to watch what Sen. John McCain once called "human cockfighting."

President of the UFC White
click image to enlarge

Dana White took over the UFC in 2001 when he bought it with other investors for a reported $2 million.

File photo/Reuters

Nate Diaz, Dana White
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Dana White, right, has overseen the rise of professional mixed martial arts from his upbringing in Maine to his role as UFC president.

File photo/The Associated Press

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Mixed martial arts fighting has come a long way since its bloody style vs. style debut in 1993 and has seen a sudden explosion of interest in Maine since legislation made the sport legal in 2011. Rep. Matt Peterson, D-Rumford, the promoter most responsible for its rapid in-state growth, knows whom to thank.

"We wouldn't even be having this conversation without Dana White, let's face it," said Peterson, co-owner of Lewiston-based New England Fights (NEF) promotion, which is planning seven fight nights of its own in Maine in 2013.

In a professional mixed martial arts contest, the fighters square off in a boxed cage wearing thin gloves and no padding on their legs. They can use any form of martial art, including jiujitsu, standard wrestling, boxing and kick-boxing. Choke holds and other submission tactics are allowed. Fights vary in number of rounds, but each round lasts five minutes.

White has watched all the changes from his perch on top of the sport.

White -- the president, CEO and promotional frontman for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) -- is in Boston for Saturday night's UFC Fight Night 26. On Friday night, he joined Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, in the owner's box for the exhibition game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Foxborough, Mass.

Along with his international reputation, White brings with him a deep connection to Maine.

A 1987 graduate of Hermon High, just outside of Bangor, he has helped turn a fiscally failing organization in a fringe sport derided for its brutality into an entertainment juggernaut that has become the global standard of a sport. White is candid, blunt and at times profanely combative. He is the de facto commissioner of the sport who uses Twitter (@danawhite) to voice opinions, wears jeans and sneakers to a press conference, and has no qualms about calling a Boston city councilor "a typical lying politician."

You want a fight?

Dana White will give you a fight.

He has elevated UFC to the major league of mixed martial arts fighting, with fighters from around the globe who have fought their way up through smaller, regional promotions. In 2012, UFC signed a seven-year television rights deal with Fox Networks that includes Saturday night's show at Boston's TD Garden, which is the premier live event on the new 24-hour all-sports Fox Sports1 channel.

A HOME IN MAINE

While in high school White lived with his grandparents in Levant. He now has a vacation home on the same site with several additional dwellings spread over 100 acres.

"Basically my grandparents lived in a trailer on a piece of property they rented. ... I bought the whole street," White said. "I bought all the people out. I knocked on their doors and said, 'I want to buy your house.' I bought the houses. Some I knocked down and others I kept, a couple of guest houses, some barns, and made it my ultimate incredible playground."

So why did a guy who has a home in Laguna Beach, Calif., and digs in Las Vegas want to build a home in Maine?

"First of all, Maine is the most beautiful state in the country. Period," White said. "The other thing is, it's the one place where I can truly relax."

White said that when he was attending Hermon High he had no interest in school sports but was always interested in boxing and fighting.

"I was cool. I got in a few fights. Got into some trouble," White said.

(Continued on page 2)

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