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
Staff Writer

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President of the UFC White
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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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White began his MMA odyssey shortly after high school when he went in search of a man named Peter Welch.

"He was a legendary street fighter type guy and I literally sought this guy out. He was like a (expletive) myth. Finally I caught up to him and said, 'Hi, I'm Dana White and I want to get into the fight business,"' White said. "I told him my whole (expletive) story and started training with him and boxing and fighting with him."

White said he always had ideas about how fights should be promoted and "a lot of my ideas were right."

With the financial backing of brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, the trio bought the rights to UFC in 2001 for a reported $2 million.

The organization was far from a moneymaker for the first three years.

"The reason we're still here and the reason it did work was my partners had the (guts) to stay in this thing when they were $44 million in the hole," White said. " 'The Ultimate Fighter' (reality television show) was our last shot. If that didn't work, it would have been over."

Or would it?

Echoing White himself, Peterson said there is something elemental to a mixed martial arts fight that cuts across race, language and ethnic lines.

"It's the whole metaphor that if you're on a playground and there's kickball in one corner, football in another and tag in the third, if a fight breaks out in the fourth corner where does everyone immediately gather?" Peterson said. "MMA speaks to something primal, but it's been perfected to the evolution of sport."


And there is still plenty of action at the grassroots level with hundreds of aspiring fighters training at dozens of MMA gyms that have popped up around Maine. A rare few, like Marcus Davis of Bangor, four-time Maine state wrestling champ Tim Boetsch of Lincolnville and former Standish native Mike Brown, have already tasted professional fame in the UFC octagon. Brown is fighting on Saturday night's UFC undercard and Boetsch is on the UFC 166 fight card on Oct. 19. Davis is extending his career with Bellator MMA.

Others, like Ray Wood, 24, of Bucksport -- with a 4-0 professional record and fast-growing fan base -- aspire to get there.

"That's the ultimate goal, to make it to the next level," Wood said. "That's my ultimate goal, the end of the tunnel."

After Peterson, 35, saw a few Massachusetts-based promotions fail to spark much interest in the state, he perceived a need for a better show. He had done some matchmaking, produced a mixed-martial arts podcast (also called New England Fights), and served as a manager for his brother Jesse, a professional fighter.

Nick DiSalvo, a lawyer in Billerica, Mass., also had a desire to start a New England fight program. DiSalvo had already targeted Lewiston as the right place to establish a new MMA brand, due to its history of supporting boxing and pro wrestling, when he called Peterson.

"You get a call from a Massachusetts lawyer, you're definitely going to be suspicious," Peterson said with a laugh.

They quickly found they shared a vision of how to produce local MMA fights and a strong cumulative collection of regional contacts, but also knew they would have to combat the negative image of a cage fight.

"It is a spectacle," Peterson said. "I can appreciate that to some people it just looks like two guys who fell off a bar stool and got in a cage to hammer it out. Where in fact it's the furthest thing from the truth."

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