As Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta sought to find a buyer for the UFC, there was one condition laid out from every potential suitor looking to purchase the mixed martial arts promotion—Dana White had to be willing to stay on with the company.
According to the UFC president, that condition had him nervous about the buyers vying for a chance to run the organization because his bombastic, outspoken attitude might clash with a lot of business owners who weren’t his best friends.
White and the Fertitta brothers teamed up to purchase the UFC in 2001 and the three of them built the business from a $4 million failing promotion to an organization worth selling for over $4 billion just 15 years later.
In the end, Endeavor—a powerhouse Hollywood agency ran by Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell—placed the winning bid to buy the UFC but White says the Fertitta brothers sold to them despite having higher offers on the table because the chemistry was the right fit for the UFC.
“The scariest part during the sale was everybody that came in that was making offers to buy the UFC, the one stipulation was that I had to stay. So then I’m like holy s—t,” White told the “Short Story Long” podcast. “The Fertitta brothers were like ‘listen man, you’ve got to stay’ and it’s not that I didn’t want to stay, who am I staying with is the question? Again a testament to the Fertittas, there were higher bidders than Ari. There was a company that was bidding $5 billion.
“I said I don’t give a f—k about the money but at the end of the day everybody gives a f—k about the money and the Fertitta’s absolutely cared about the money but they were cool enough and smart enough to realize that we need to match him up with somebody that it’s actually going to work with and Ari was the guy. Ari was absolutely the guy.”
Emanuel had already been in business with the UFC previously when he helped negotiate the seven-year, multi-million dollar broadcast rights deal with FOX.
While he typically works behind the scenes when representing his famous clients, Emanuel became a household name after the HBO series “Entourage” based one of the lead characters on him.
On the television series, Ari Gold (played by Jeremy Piven) was loud, brash, unapologetic and more often than not rather offensive and rude to get what he wanted for his clients but White says that caricature doesn’t come close to the real Ari Emanuel, who now owns the UFC.
“Now with Ari [Emanuel], he and I end up being perfect partners together. It’s really cool,” White said. “You think of a guy like Ari, if you watch “Entourage”—Ari Emanuel has no ego when he deals in business and he’s a f—king killer and I love that about him, too.
“For me to be able to have two perfect marriages in business is pretty crazy.”
White says he’s never clashed with Emanuel in the past few years that they’ve been at the head of decision making for the UFC.
“Ari is f—king awesome. He’s awesome. He couldn’t have been a better guy to be the guy to come in with me again,” White said. “You know how many arguments me and Ari have had in f—king almost the last four years? Zero. We’ve had zero. Zero arguments whatsoever.
“All the s—t with the banks, dealing with all the banks and all the s—t that’s involved now, Ari does all that. Cause that’s what Ari does and that’s what Ari is really good at. You know what him and the banks do? They let me do my thing. They stay out of the way and they let me run the business. It’s f—king great. It’s perfect.”
White just recently inked a new multi-year contract to stay on board as the UFC president and he’s said openly that he has no desire to ever leave the promotion as long as they’ll have him, especially now that he’s built such an incredible working relationship with the new owners at Endeavor.
“The transition was completely smooth,” White said. “For two massive companies to merge like this, and have it run as good as it does now, it’s almost unheard of.”