CHICAGO – Less than five months after USA Today declared the "UFC has a fight on its hands," the fight, if you want to call it that, is over.
EliteXC is dead. Its star, Kimbo Slice, is exposed and probably headed for Japan. Its broadcast partner, CBS, is uncertain what it'll do.
Dana White, the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, not only predicted all of the above, he went crazy at the mere assertion there was a challenger to begin with. It was so frustrating it practically caused him to slam his head against the caged octagon.
Anyone can waste money starting a football league in America, but does that automatically make it a "challenger" to the NFL?
He's declared the death of EliteXC a "great day" in mixed martial arts, yet on Thursday he talked at length about the stains it has left on the sport's still fragile reputation. Propping up Kimbo was one thing. The allegations that EliteXC paid a fighter to fight a certain way in an effort to influence the outcome was entirely another.
"Guys that fix fights shouldn't be in the business," White said while promoting Saturday's UFC 90 card in nearby Rosemont, Ill. "If you think you're watching mixed martial arts and a dirtbag went behind the scenes and told a guy not to go to the ground, that's kickboxing. It's not mixed martial arts.
"They have no business being in this business. They have damaged us and they have damaged the sport."
The allegation first came to light earlier this month, when EliteXC fighter Seth Petruzelli mentioned on a radio show that promoters paid him extra to stand and trade punches with Kimbo Slice. To do so was seen as a benefit to Slice, the company's meal ticket.
Petruzelli won anyway and later said the statement was misunderstood. A preliminary investigation by Florida State Boxing Commission is closed, according to MMAWeekly.com. EliteXC executives Jeremy Lappen and Jared Shaw both denied anything ever occurred.
White said Thursday he knows it did.
"I know for a fact it was (done)."
When asked if he knew of other instances of fight influencing in EliteXC, he said, "Yeah."
"They're bad guys," he continued. "Fight tampering. You start tampering with fights. A promoter should not be talking to a fighter about any fight strategy whatsoever … You wouldn't have me in a public blog saying the FBI should be investigating them right now if I didn't know it."
And with that, he was just warming up.
White says a lot of stuff and says a lot of it in an over-the-top manner. "Running my mouth," he calls it.
His rant was even stronger than usual. This wasn't just about drawing attention or making a point or shouting down an opposing opinion. This seemed personal.
He's spent a decade driving MMA into the mainstream and is furious that a bunch of former boxing promoters and a gullible broadcast network may have set the entire enterprise back.
You can hate White all you want, but he's 100 percent correct that even the perception of fight influencing is a disaster for MMA.
"It makes me sick to my stomach. I've been killing myself for 10 years. I don't need scumbags like that in here blowing this for everybody."
White remains a touchstone of controversy for fans. He's flamboyant, front and center, and not afraid to call people out – even popular former stars. His daily video blogs often descend into schoolyard name calling.
Just this week he called EliteXC's Lappen a "three-time loser" and encouraged him to use his law degree to "go screw up someone's court case." He called Jared Shaw "a little (expletive)" and said he should go "live at home with your mom and dad, go live in the basement."
A good winner he isn't.
He also remains the only man that has run a successful major national MMA organization in America. He did it – screams and swears aside – based on the respect and understanding of the sport.
The conventional wisdom is that the 38-year-old college dropout, former hotel bellhop and boxing instructor was simply the right man at the right time to make the sport work. As rivals continue to fail though, it turns out he's the only man, ever.
That he had a couple of high school friends – Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta – that were casino moguls willing to buy the UFC for $2 million in 2001 and dump tens of millions more into getting it going was obviously critical. He isn't the only one to work with deep pockets though. EliteXC just blew at least $55 million. UFC is now worth an estimated $1 billion.
There is a method to White's madness, a genius behind the over-the-top gestures.
"He believes in MMA," said Sean Sherk, a former UFC lightweight champion who's been with the company for seven years. "Dana believes in the sport. It's not just business."
There were plenty of tough days when the idea of a quick, circus fix was on some level appealing. He could've gone the EliteXC way. He never did.
"We never went the freak show route," he said. "We never went for a Kimbo. There was a time when I could have brought Mike Tyson in. If you don't think we didn't think about it and it didn't cross our minds, (you're crazy).
"Then we said, 'It's not right. It's not the right thing to do. That's not what this is. That's not true to the sport.' "
He embraced the nuanced ground game of the sport, encouraging wrestling, jiu-jitsu and submission skills even when early crowds didn't understand anything but stand and strike.
"The fans would boo and yell, 'stop humping' and all sorts of crazy (expletive)," he laughed.
He never turned his back on it, though. MMA would work or it wouldn't, but he wasn't going to run some Toughman contest. He continues to believe future growth is based on the art of MMA, not the blood.
"Don't ever be fooled why we got into this sport. We got into this sport because we really fell in love with it. If it didn't work the way we tried to do it then it wasn't the right time. I believe it's the greatest sport in the world."
You can roll your eyes at White's speeches. You can shake your head at his righteous indignation. You can hate him for how he gobbles up so much media attention.
The proof is in how he's run his operation, bigger and better than anyone could've imagined. To the victor goes the trash talk.
Now another "challenger" is dead and White's trying to move forward while dealing with the damage they may have left behind.
He doesn't lack for positives to point out. He's got Anderson Silva going here in the nation's No. 3 media market. There's already a record gate at the arena, a healthy push of pay-per-view buys and a bunch of new local media attention.
He's promising to get into New York in 2009. Boston too. The Philippines. Germany. The right deal and CBS isn't out of the question. There are two megacards in the next three months. There's the historic UFC 100. (Anderson Silva v. Georges St. Pierre in Madison Square Garden?) And so on. He had a lot of things to say.
Maybe he should just let EliteXC go away and be forgotten.
"You know," he said, "(expletive) them."
- Kimbo Slice
- Dana White
- mixed martial arts