LAS VEGAS – At nearly every public appearance he makes, UFC president Dana White is routinely begged for a job. Those on the outside who love mixed martial arts see the glamorous side of his job and want to be a part of it.
They see the sell-out crowds and the high-energy music, the hobnobbing with celebrities and the rewards that come with being super rich.
Taking that job, though, comes with a warning: Work for White and be prepared to work as hard, or at least nearly as hard, as White himself. That means 12- and 18-hour days and, very frequently, seven-day work weeks.
It means time away from family and friends and the golf course and the beach and any semblance of a normal lifestyle. If one wants to work for White, it means committing life almost fully and completely to the UFC.
White has done that since 2001, when he and his partners, casino moguls Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, purchased the then-struggling company for just $2 million. These days, it's reportedly worth more than $2 billion and White is an A-list celebrity worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
There's a price, though, to pay for such an all-in philosophy. The human body can only take so much, and White is pushing it to the limit.
But taking the UFC to where he envisions it requires plenty more work. He's going to do what it takes to accomplish that, consequences be damned.
"I don't care [about my health]," White said. "If I [expletive] died tomorrow, I don't care. I mean that from the bottom of my heart."
As White strolls out of the executive boardroom at his company's corporate headquarters just a few blocks from the Las Vegas Strip, he instantly begins pecking out a message on his cellular telephone.
He's spent more than an hour with a small group of local reporters, promoting anything and everything UFC- and mixed martial arts-related. As he exits the room, there are at least five people vying for his attention.
He has a list of meetings to attend as long as his arm. Fighters, managers, reporters, sponsors and employees are calling him and texting him, desperate for a few seconds of his time.
His employees need his seal of approval on projects they're working on. Nothing – nothing – happens in the UFC without White's approval. Reporters are desperate for a word with him to get confirmation of the latest rumor. News can be confirmed on the record only by White.
His many friends are eager for a couple of tickets to a show or for him to appear at an event.
Everyone, it seems, tries to corral him at the same time.
"This [expletive] never stops," White says.
For a fleeting moment, the UFC president seems weary, as if the toll of those marathon days has finally forced him to tap.
Almost instantly, though, as he shoves his phone into the pocket of his jeans, he beams.
"And I [expletive] love it," he says.
For 11 years, this has been his life, a world spent in overdrive. In the early days, he was an evangelist, preaching the Gospel of MMA according to Dana. In the beginning, he had to convince people that not only was MMA viable, but that it was actually a sport.
Now, he's in charge of a $2 billion business and he's no longer desperate for attention.
Sometimes, it seems as if his life is a 24-hour reality show available in real time on the Internet. There is little privacy, few secrets and extraordinary demands.
The guy who once fled Boston to avoid vengeful mobsters, who once taught aerobics classes at a Las Vegas gym to help make ends meet, is now a millionaire hundreds of times over.
He's got all the toys of the super rich, but he barely has time to enjoy it all. He's 43, with a wife and three young children, all of whom have grown up in the lap of luxury.
He's so driven to succeed, to propel the UFC to even greater heights, that he scoffs at a suggestion that he might soon slow down.
He points out that at a boxing card a few days hence in Las Vegas, a $100,000 bonus will be given to the fighter who scores the most impressive knockout.
It's a gimmick White came up with years ago. Now, he says, boxing promoters and rival MMA promoters are copying much of what he's done. He speaks of how Bellator is planning a reality show for next year that will air on Spike TV, the former home of the UFC.
"Where do you think they came up with that idea?" White asked, his voice tinged with sarcasm.
Boxing promoters are beginning to invest in the in-arena product, working on the lighting, the music and the overall atmosphere. It was something White pioneered in 2001, insisting that a UFC card be upbeat, fast-paced and entertaining even between fights.
"Everything we're doing, you see these promoters now trying to copy," White says. "But as they're going this way … "
He gestures, moving his hand from left to right, before resuming, "We're going this way [gestures up]. Boom. When you see the direction we're taking this thing in the next five years, you're not going to believe it."
And so, despite the success, despite all the money and the toys and the notoriety, White isn't yet satisfied. There is so much yet to do, he can't waste time on things like a day off. Or, for that matter, an eight-hour day.
The thought of walking away abhors him.
"I don't ever think about it," he says, shaking his head vigorously. "I don't ever think about it, not once. The way I look at this thing is, I made a commitment and I'm committed to this. I know what we can do and the things we're working on.
"Dude, I love this [expletive]. I love this [expletive]. I set out to make this thing as big. … The stuff that's happening now, I was saying this [would happen] 10 years ago. People thought I was [expletive] crazy. Everything we're doing now, I said we would do 10 years ago. I'm telling you right now, here today, wait until you see what we do in the next five years. I'd be pussing out and I'd be [expletive] everybody [if I quit]. … I think I'd be screwing a lot of people if I walked away."
He spends a second thinking about the right way to finish the thought. This is his company, his plan, his vision. The UFC without Dana White would seem strangely lacking something.
White knows this and he knows it's why, despite the incredible burden his fame puts on him, he can't leave.
"I'd screw a lot of people if I walked away and, honestly, it would be a selfish move," White said. "And I don't think I could do it, anyway. But I don't want to [quit]. I like what I do; I like what we do. I like what we're building. I like what we've created.
"The day will come when it's time for me to walk away. When it comes, hopefully there will be somebody who is willing to jump in and do what I have done and work as hard as I have to keep it going and take it to the next level."
And so, he'll push himself beyond the point most can go without collapsing.
His children, he said, will be all right. He's secured their futures, and his future grandchildren’s futures, with the work he's done and the money he's earned.
Dying would deprive them of their father, but he knows they'd be alright. He grew up with a strained relationship with his parents and to this day, rarely speaks with either of them.
He has a great relationship with his wife and children, he says, but he's certain his children could survive without him.
"They're going to do just fine," White said. "Look: This is what I do. This is what I love."
Earlier this year, White was scheduled for surgery because of Meniere's disease. He avoided surgery, as it turned out, but he wasn't happy with what it did.
Losing four days is almost impossible for White, because there is always another event to promote or a new project on the horizon.
He won't quit until he's made this sport as big as it can possibly get. Much, he says, is still to be done. And his battle with the disease didn't help him accomplish that.
"It put me down for four days," White says. "That's been it and I've been cranking ever since. I won't let it [stop me]. … It ain't going to stop me. Nothing's going to stop me. I'm here for a while longer because there is a lot of work to be done.
"Like I said, it's probably the most egotistical thing you'll ever hear me say. But I honestly believe it won't happen if I'm gone."
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