By Andreas Hale
Before Dana White was the bombastic UFC president who has become the face of the sport, he was emptying spit buckets while trying his hand at becoming a boxer at the age of 17. Three decades later, it appears that White is going to get himself involved in the first combat sport he fell in love with.
Earlier this week, White made it clear that he was prepared to get involved in the promotional side of boxing by telling the Los Angeles Times "I’m getting into boxing with [WME/IMG head] Ari [Emanuel] and the UFC will be doing boxing, too.
“It’s still early,” he continued. "We’re still working on it. I’ve got to get my [stuff] together, but I’m getting into boxing, man. It’s coming.”
White also teased the concept of Zuffa Boxing during the build for the Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor boxing match that took place in August. Apparently, he’s dead serious.
But what does Zuffa Boxing look like and how does it factor into the cold war between promoters that has thawed a bit over the past few years?
It’s interesting considering that White has always been a fan of boxing and one of the primary reasons the UFC has been successful is because of how White has eschewed the promotional politics and sanctioning bodies that have long plagued boxing. Not to say that the UFC doesn’t have its own peaks and valleys, but White, for the most part, has been responsible for making the fights fans want to see sooner rather than later. For example, in White’s world, a Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight wouldn’t have simmered for several years and had a little bit of luster knocked off from a Pacquiao knockout. If the fans wanted it, they would have received it. Of course, that could have affected the buildup to their mega fight. But nobody would have accused White for trying to milk the fight by putting Mayweather and Pacquiao in fights that had little bearing on their overall status in the sport.
But wading into the complex waters of boxing and having to negotiate with rival promoters is something that White has never had to do. And it’s always been evident that he doesn’t play well with others. Although he’s passionate about his sport, he has never had to share the ball with another promoter. While many will cite White having to work with Al Haymon and Showtime, that was a completely different scenario in its entirety. For one, the matchup was already made and the UFC was paid handsomely for the services of McGregor in a fight he had absolutely no business being in. There was no sanctioning body in the way nor was there a network battle to secure the services of a fighter. It was a pretty easy to navigate negotiating table with far too much money that nobody was interested in throwing away over the sharing of a few coins.
But this, on the other hand, would be incredibly different. As cited in the Los Angeles Times piece, White could find himself in business with Al Haymon and provide the proverbial mouthpiece for a man who lives in the shadows. A joint venture with White could help PBC promote its fighters in ways that Haymon hasn’t been able to. The White voice behind an Errol Spence Jr., Keith Thurman, Deontay Wilder and the Charlo brothers could push those fighters to new heights. However, the challenge begins when White wants to see the best fight the best.
Making fights happen in the UFC is a pretty linear process. White and his matchmakers have a conversation, offer the fight to the respective parties and then the fight is made. Boxing is a far different ballgame when it comes to things such as dealing with the sanctioning bodies that mandate top contenders, purse bids and networks. White has never been someone who is interested in letting a fight build but the boxing world is far different. In White’s world, we’d get Thurman-Spence immediately. There would be no tune up fight for Thurman, nor would there be questions about Spence needing another fight or two. The fight would likely be scheduled for mid-2018. But this isn’t the UFC and White would have to deal with all of the people having a say in how and when a fight would happen. If you think that world is frustrating for a boxing fan, there are no limitations on the level of frustration that White would subject himself to. He means well, but boxing isn’t the UFC and the rules are different.
To make matters worse, White’s abrasive personality certainly would clash with another promoter. And when the #2 pound for pound boxer in the world resides under the Top Rank promotional umbrella, you have to figure out a way to play nice with Arum. But that’s too late considering how much vitriol has been exchanged between the two parties over the year. The same can be said with trying to land a Canelo fight for Jermall Charlo considering how the relationship with White and Golden Boy Promotions CEO Oscar De La Hoya have gone.
Now, keep this in mind that this is only if White aligns himself with Haymon. If the goal is to go into business for himself, he has an even higher mountain to climb. With no boxers under the Zuffa umbrella (you could count McGregor, but, come on…), White will have one hell of a task trying to convince notable fighters to join his promotion.
Dana White wants to try new things but he may have already burned too many bridges in the boxing world for this to be a successful venture. The best case scenario is that White forges a strong relationship with Haymon and helps PBC promote their fighters. But the worst case is that Zuffa Boxing is to the UFC as the XFL was to Vince McMahon’s WWE.