Dana White - Sportsman of the Year

Thomas Gerbasi, UFC - UFC 67, February 2007. It was the usual hectic fight week for UFC President Dana White, filled not only with the typical events and dramas that lead up to an event, but one that also included the UFC debuts of Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Mirko Cro Cop and a title fight that became a non-title fight in a matter of moments when Travis Lutter failed to make weight for his challenge of middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
By Thomas Gerbasi

UFC 67, February 2007. It was the usual hectic fight week for UFC President Dana White, filled not only with the typical events and dramas that lead up to an event, but one that also included the UFC debuts of Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Mirko Cro Cop and a title fight that became a non-title fight in a matter of moments when Travis Lutter failed to make weight for his challenge of middleweight champion Anderson Silva.

That’s enough stress for anyone. But White, as is his custom, took it all in stride, got through what was ultimately a successful event, met the press afterwards, and began what should have been a two minute walk to his car outside the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Instead, the walk took close to 30 minutes, as he stopped to talk to every reporter who wanted to ask him a question, and signed every autograph and took every picture that fans asked him to. He even spent time with a group of non-English speaking Croatian fans who just wanted to shake his hand and thank him for bringing Cro Cop to the UFC.

This is Dana White.

Sure, everyone talks about the outspoken nature of the UFC President and his no holds barred approach to taking the organization and the sport to the next level, but when all is said and done, he’s still the same guy he was when we first got a glimpse of him in 2001. He’s still a fan, and he simply loves what he does. So don’t expect the rigid demeanor practiced by other top executives in sports. That’s just not who he is.

As he told me in one of our early interviews, “I don’t care how big this thing gets or what happens, I’m never going to be that guy. I hate that, and it’s never going to be me.”

And along the way, he’s never lost sight of his early vision, which is to take the UFC not only around the United States, but around the world. That was a lofty goal back even back in 2005, when he said, “eventually, not only do I want this to be sanctioned in all the States, but the unified set of rules we use here in the United States, I would like to see all over the world. To really make this a sport, it’s gotta be like basketball, baseball, soccer – the same game we play over here is the same game they play in England, Brazil, Japan, and that’s the way it needs to be.”

But since that statement, the UFC has built a stronghold in the UK, with shows around England and Northern Ireland, and the organization has also entered Ireland and Germany, with even more international shows planned in the future.

Of course, these are the things that everyone sees: the consistent shows, the television deals, the international expansion, the always entertaining interviews, his interaction with the fans, etc. What many may not see is the charitable work that White has done over the years, some of which is very visible, such as his efforts with the Intrepid Fallen Heroes fund, but much of it being unpublicized and done not for a positive blurb in a newspaper, but to genuinely give back to the community or help those less fortunate.

Add everything together, and it’s easy to see White is being honored tonight at The Palms in Las Vegas by ESPN Radio 1100 as “Sportsman of The Year”, joining previous honorees Joe and Gavin Maloof, UNLV basketball coach Lon Kruger and boxing promoter Bob Arum as a recipient of the award. The reception at The Palms is the highlight of a fund-raising event that includes a 24-hour radio marathon on ESPN Radio 1100 as well as a UFC auction that features one of a kind items such as the opportunity to watch an Ultimate Fighter fight with White or to be part of a fighter’s camp for a UFC pay-per-view event. Proceeds will benefit Las Vegas’ The Caring Place, a non-profit organization that provides free services for the mind, body and spirit of those touched by cancer.

And even though the stars of the sport (including Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, and Matt Serra) are going to be in attendance for the event, it’s safe to say that you can count White not as a celebrity or the most powerful executive in mixed martial arts, but as a fan. That’s the way he’d want it.

“I'm still very much a fan,” said White. “This is one of things in life that I have a passion for. I love it and I just want to see it succeed and grow. You can't let the work part of it beat you up and suck all the passion out of you. And I won't let that happen.”

To listen live to the 24-hour radio marathon, click HERE. The first UFC personality on air today will be Forrest Griffin at 11am PT, followed by Randy Couture at 1pm PT, Amir Sadollah at 2pm PT, Brandon Vera at 3pm PT, Stephan Bonnar at 4pm PT, Chuck Liddell at 5pm, Dana White at 6pm PT, Rashad Evans at 7pm PT, Matt Serra at 8pm PT, Octagon Girl Arianny Celeste at 9pm PT, and Mike Swick at 8am PT on Saturday.

To view the auction packages being offered by the UFC, click HERE.

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