Dana White might call Las Vegas home, but he is a New Englander through-and-through – and that fact figures prominently in the extraordinary way his life and career unfolded.
White was born in Connecticut and started boxing at the age of 17. He tried college, but it just wasn’t the right fit. Instead, White launched his career as a boxing coach – a decision that ultimately led to Dana White’s current net worth of more than $500 million.
How did White go from college dropout to head of the multi-billion dollar Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)? It starts with White’s boxing business and an encounter with Boston’s notorious mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger.
Dana White Mafia Encounter
It was the late 1980s, and Whitey Bulger was king of South Boston’s Winter Hill Gang. Bulger and his associates were loan sharks, bookmakers, arms traffickers, and truck hijackers – and they were particularly skilled at extorting “protection” money from the area’s businesses.
Meanwhile, Dana White and his partner Peter Welsh were working with at-risk youth, bringing them in from all over the city to channel negative energy into positive action through boxing. The program wasn’t profitable – nor was it intended to be – so White and Welsh got the bills paid by providing personal training services.
These clients weren’t amateur boxers intent on making it big as pros. White and Welsh trained housewives, businessmen, and others interested in increasing fitness through boxing. Demand for their services was high, and the two started offering group classes at area health clubs. It was White’s first big success in the world of business. White and Welsh were making money – and that got the attention of Whitey Bulger and his gang.
As White tells it, he was teaching a class at the Boston Athletic Club when there was an interruption. Several intimidating men walked in – and they were not dressed for boxing. They demanded a conversation with White and introduced themselves. White remembers that one was Kevin Weeks – Whitey Bulger’s right-hand man.
Weeks told White that it was time to pay up. The Winter Hill Gang wanted its cut of White’s professional success. The “bill” was $2,500 – an amount that White said was like $25,000 to him. He couldn’t pay – wouldn’t pay – and he managed to hold the gang off for a bit. Eventually, Bulger’s patience ran out, and White got a call. He was told he had until 1 pm the next day to pay up.
White knew he couldn’t pay, and he wasn’t interested in finding out what would happen next. Within minutes, he booked a flight to Las Vegas, and it was a matter of hours before he left Boston for good. As it turned out, this forced relocation put White in the right place at the right time to build a personal fortune.
When Dana Met The Fertittas
When Dana White got to Vegas, he quickly found his niche – managing the mixed martial artists that were fighting in the then-fledgling UFC. At the time, the brand was just starting out, and its marketing had fans intrigued. According to the UFC, “the only rule is that there are no rules.”
Fights took place in a ring reminiscent of a traditional boxing ring, with one important distinction. It was an octagon. The premise was that participants would bring any and all martial arts, boxing, and wrestling training to the octagon in matchups that tested disciplines against each other.
Dana White had two of the UFC’s marquee names on his client list: Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell. Some say that the heavily promoted rivalry between the two fighters sustained the UFC when times were particularly tough. Fans kept coming back to see Ortiz and Liddell compete, and that kept the UFC afloat after it had been banned from pay-per-view and a long list of locations nationwide.
Nonetheless, the UFC was struggling financially, and in 2001, bankruptcy was a real threat. The UFC brand belonged to Semaphore Entertainment Group, which was owned by Bob Meyrowitz. When White learned that Meyrowitz was interested in selling the UFC, White sprang into action. He knew a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when he saw it.
Dana White had friends in high places. One of those was Lorenzo Fertitta, who White knew from high school. At one time, Fertitta had served as commissioner of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Fertitta and his family, including brother Frank Fertitta, operated lucrative Las Vegas casinos, and White knew they had the cash to buy the UFC if they only saw its potential.
How Much Did The Fertitta Brothers Buy the UFC For?
Dana White was convinced that the UFC could become a multi-billion dollar enterprise with the right management – and he was certain that he was that manager.
However, he didn’t have the cash to purchase the brand on his own. Instead, White persuaded Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta to take on the project. In 2001, they acquired the UFC in its entirety for just $2 million.
Of course, after all of its financial troubles, the UFC didn’t amount to much when the Fertitta brothers took over. As White tells it, the $2 million bought the UFC name and an old octagon. The Fertitta brothers put White in charge as the company’s president, trusting him to transform their investment into a global sensation.
Big Step: Dana Got the UFC Regulated
The first thing Dana White did when he became the UFC’s leader was to take on the regulatory issues. It was difficult – near impossible – to generate cash when no-holds-barred fighting was banned just about everywhere.
White took on the task of bringing legitimacy to mixed martial arts in the world of sports. Among other accomplishments, he supported development of the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), which were eventually adopted by the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) on July 30, 2009.
Over time, White ramped up marketing, secured corporate sponsors, and facilitated a return to pay-per-view. He also promoted the release of video and DVD versions of popular fights, which generated additional revenue.
At the same time, Lorenzo Fertitta was working on deals to take the UFC global. He acquired international competitors and created television partnerships in France, Germany, China, and Mexico. It wasn’t long before the company was valued at tens of millions – an impressive return on the Fertitta brothers’ $2 million investment.
Why Vince McMahon Turned Down UFC
If the UFC’s marketing strategy sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Acclaimed World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) chairman and chief executive officer Vince McMahon wrote the playbook on promoting this type of event, and he created a massive global enterprise.
Many see McMahon’s best practices in Dana White’s strategic plan, and they note the similarities in personality. Both men are loud, boisterous, and combative in public – perhaps a deliberate attempt to gain publicity, perhaps not. Social media fans regularly promote the tongue-in-cheek “rumor” that McMahon and White are the same person.
There is one critical difference between WWE events and UFC events that appears to divide McMahon and White on a fundamental level. WWE events are scripted and intended as entertainment only, while UFC events are true competitions of skill vs. skill.
Vince McMahon is convinced that the scripted events are essential to the success of his enterprise. He is so passionate about that fact that he turned down an opportunity to purchase the UFC when it was valued at around $30 million.
McMahon’s son tried to persuade McMahon to acquire the UFC brand, believing – as White did – that it would eventually become the largest MMA promotion company in the world. However, McMahon was adamant that “you can’t build stars when you can’t control outcomes.” Clearly, White has proven that theory false.
How Much Did The Fertitta Brothers Sell the UFC For?
The Fertitta brothers did eventually sell the UFC brand, and it’s hard not to be curious about Vince McMahon’s reaction to the final sale price. The opportunity he turned down at $33 million was sold for $4.025 billion in 2016. When the transaction occurred, it marked the biggest sports acquisition of all time.
White stayed on as the UFC’s president, and there was talk of an IPO in 2019. However, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed or disrupted certain elements of the UFC business,
How Dana White’s Net Worth Exploded
When the UFC’s parent company Endeavor began considering an IPO in 2019, Dana White’s net worth was estimated at roughly $500 million. That was due in large part to the nine percent stake he had in the business at the time of the sale to Endeavor, plus the additional ownership stake he received as part of the acquisition.
In late April 2021, Endeavor became a publicly-traded company, and today it has a market cap of nearly $12 billion. Along the way, Dana White – a man who once relocated thousands of miles over $2,500 – has created a personal fortune through his passion for mixed martial arts.
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