Does Dana White wish he had a Floyd Mayweather Jr.?Author : Jack Barrington
There were two big events in the world of combat sports last weekend. In East Rutherford, New Jersey, Nate Diaz and Jim Miller fronted the third UFC on Fox event, while in Las Vegas, Nevada, we saw Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Miguel Cotto headline what could be the best selling boxing pay-per-view of the year.
Both cards delivered. Both main events gave us impressive performances and both audiences went home happy. In terms of star power, though, there was only ever going to be one winner.
In Floyd Mayweather Jr., boxing has a star that MMA (and the UFC specifically) can only hope to ever equal.
It is true that UFC on Fox 3 was hardly filled with the promotion’s marquee names (Josh Koscheck being arguably the best known fighter there) and it may be unfair to compare it to one of the biggest boxing events of the year, but is there a UFC event in the pipeline that can compete with the star power of last weekend’s Mayweather-Cotto card? Has there ever been?
What Floyd Mayweather Jr. does is something Dana White has both coveted and feared since the day he took charge of the UFC. Mayweather is a star outside of his own sport. He has drawing power that transcends combat sports in general and a name that goes beyond the usual boxing media, something that translates into pay-per-view buys.
It isn’t just boxing fans who watch Floyd Mayweather Jr.; any average person reading a newspaper or watching a sports channel leading up to one of his fights is liable to show interest. His numbers themselves back this up. Four out of Mayweather’s last five fights have sold more than one million pay-per-view buys (the one exception being his fight against Ricky Hatton, which came in just below the mark but without taking into account the buys from Hatton’s native England, which would have pushed it comfortably over one million). To put this into context, only seven UFC events have ever broken one million buys, something Mayweather does routinely.
He transcends his sport, he puts people in seats and he captivates audiences. Floyd Mayweather Jr. should be a promoters dream. But is he?
For Dana White, it would seem, the answer is a firm maybe. The UFC president has made efforts in the past to create stars--realising perhaps, that the brand can only sell itself for so long--but these attempts have been few and far between and, always, shaped by circumstance.
The first star of the Zuffa era was a necessity. With the promotion floundering, White turned to Tito Ortiz, and his rivalry with Ken Shamrock, to keep them afloat. It worked, but the pay demands and declining skills of Ortiz soured the relationship and, perhaps, forever clouded White’s view of creating superstars.
Its second star, while just as necessary, was different. In Chuck Liddell, White found a knockout artist who not only captivated the fans, but in whom he could trust, too. Liddell wrestled the torch from Ortiz and carried it through what were some of the UFC’s best years, becoming Zuffa’s first real breakout star while always maintaining a close relationship with the management that prevented any awkward money demands. Bound to Dana White by personal loyalty, Chuck Liddell fulfilled the role of superstar without resorting to the diva-like stipulations that often go with it.
And let’s not forget the biggest star the UFC has ever had, the only person to come close to doing for MMA what Floyd Mayweather Jr. currently does for boxing: Brock Lesnar.
In his short, four year tenure with the promotion, Lesnar broke UFC records almost everywhere he went. With a name already built by a stint in pro-wrestling, and after being fast-tracked to the title, Lesnar was involved in four of the seven UFC events to sell more than one million pay-per-views, and was undoubtedly the face of the promotion. But it didn’t last. Health issues, a naturally awkward persona, and declining fan interest saw Lesnar leave the promotion at the end of last year, following back to back knockout losses.
So the UFC have tried in the past to build pay-per-view stars, and with Jon Jones it appears as though they are again, but with the exception of Georges St-Pierre, none have shown any real longevity. More importantly, none have achieved the fame and recognition Floyd Mayweather Jr. currently holds.
Dana White knows that stars mean fan interest and that fan interest (usually) means pay-per-view buys. But White also recognises that stars command power, and with power comes increased wage demands and fighter control – something the UFC have always been wary of.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. had a guaranteed purse last weekend of $32 million, much more than any UFC athlete has come close to earning in one fight. And it doesn’t stop there. The amount of influence Mayweather has over the running of events, and the profits derived from them, is something almost no other athlete commands. While UFC stars are content with the promise of a locker-room bonus and standard pay-per-view cut, Mayweather earns a percentage of: every ticket purchased for an event, every hotdog eaten there, every piece of merchandise bought, every theatre showing the fight elsewhere… the list goes on.
Mayweather has a piece of everything; pieces Dana White does not want to give up.
So does Dana White wish he had a Floyd Mayweather Jr. of his own? Well, Floyd draws crowds and attracts pay-per-view buys like nobody else can, which is something every promoter loves, but the money he demands and the sheer influence of a star his size looks set to continue to deter the UFC president from pursuing one of his own, at least for the time being.
The answer for Dana White, I think, remains a firm maybe.