I try to keep things as realistic as possible here, to help you achieve your immediate income goals and execute your current action plan so you can start getting results and making more money right now. That’s the purpose of showing you a lot of success stories from blog readers, all the way to top trainers and national celebrities.
But now, let’s look at and give some credit to a guy that’s blown up so big, so fast, that it’s hard to believe that he was once exactly where many of us started, training clients and just trying to make things happen.
I’m talking about none other than UFC President Dana White. If you’re UFC fan, you’re no doubt very familiar with him. He’s the face of the sport as much or more than any of the stars. And he’s personally turned it into the fastest growing sport in the world by far. Despite the value of the league now in the billions, the pace hasn’t slowed down an iota. Dana’s a president, a marketer, and manager on a world class level that takes the term “going hard” to a completely new level.
Like I mentioned, he started out just like any trainer. The difference is Dana did a lot of things right, and adhered to a lot of the principles we talk about here on the blog. The foundation for his success came from staying true to the sport. To White’s credit, he never gave in to going for a steady job. He kept his pulse on his passion, which was boxing, and became a boxing trainer, which was covered in a recent Esquire article written about him:
Fifteen years ago, White was riding his bike through the slushy winter streets of Boston with eighty pounds of equipment in a hockey bag on his back, going from gym to gym to train his fitness clients.
Dana bounced between the east and west coasts, and ran aerobics classes in Las Vegas for a while too. This later turned into part ownership of a gym, which no doubt raised his business IQ a bit more.
With this strong foundation, he was able to take every opportunity and work every connection that he had available to him. First, this meant becoming a manager for Tito Ortiz and Chuck Lidell very early on, when the UFC was still pretty much a joke. I remember having underground videos of UFC fights back then, but the sport was nothing close to what it is now.
His big break was working the connection he had with two friends he made while attending prep school in las Vegas, the Fertita brothers, who were a pair of casino owners and property billionaires.
Here’s a quick and dirty run down of how it all happened, from the Esquire article. Pay attention to how Dana turned passion into business. Most people would listen to naysayers and decide to “grow up” and stop thinking there was any kind of opprotunity in the sport and activities he was passionate about – but not these guys:
As it happened, we’re here tonight because White, a lifelong boxing fan, had become fascinated with jujitsu — an ancient form of combat developed around the principle of using an attacker’s energy against him, rather than directly opposing it. One night at the Hard Rock Hotel in Vegas, White met an MMA fighter who specialized in the discipline. In short order White had himself and both Fertitta brothers signed up for lessons. “We got fucking psychotic about it,” White recalls. “We started training three, four days a week. And then we started to learn shit on our own that the other guys didn’t learn, so that when we trained, we could tap each other out.”
Traveling around the country to attend UFC fights as spectators, White and the brothers would sit in the audience and brainstorm — We could do this so much fuckin’ better! White branched out to managing and training some MMA fighters himself, including Chuck Liddell and another former champ, Tito Ortiz. During negotiations for one of his fighters, he discovered that the then-seven-year-old UFC was in trouble. MMA fighting was banned almost everywhere; pay-per-view wouldn’t touch it, either. White and the brothers ended up buying the league in 2001 for $2 million.
Lorenzo Fertitta had recently stepped down as the vice-chairman of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Using Fertitta’s contacts and general know-how, the partners set about changing the rules of UFC fighting (e.g., time limits and rounds), cleaning it up, making it more palatable in statehouses around the nation. At one point the league was $44 million in debt. There was a decision to stay the course. At the eleventh hour, White and company somehow convinced testosterone-rich Spike TV to air a UFC show, The Ultimate Fighter. (That first season, to sweeten the pot, the partners even paid the production costs.) Today it is the network’s biggest franchise. In 2008, Forbes estimated the UFC’s worth at $1 billion. Even in 2009, despite the awful economy, UFC says its revenues grew by 20 percent over 2008.
The $2 million buy out story is now legend among UFC fans. How they raised that value into the billions in under ten years is mind-boggling. A lot of that has to do with Dana’s skills as a promoter. He uses every media channel he has in front of him. He made the TV deal like you read about above. But what you may not know is that he makes heavy use of social media in way that would put any scumbag internet marketer to shame.
Dana’s got over 800,000 twitter followers, and uses twitter to it’s full power to drum up as much interest as possible. The same is true with his blog and the many blogs that cover him. One of his favorite practices is to shoot out last minute tweets before fights and give out tons of tickets to people who show up. Here’s how one of thesse mass giveaways turned out the last time he was in my hometown:
“I’m in New York City. It’s 10:30 on a Monday night in midtown Manhattan. It’s raining. And it’s a Jewish holiday, okay? As you know, I’m a Pinkberry freak. I like to have my Pinkberry. I have this one store in midtown Manhattan that will stay open for me late. I just have to call and let them know, and after I have dinner, I always go there and eat Pinkberry, right? So this one time I’m like, ‘Let’s just fuck around here and try something.’ I Twitter my people. I say, ‘Meet me at Pinkberry in midtown Manhattan. I got tickets to the fight if you guys want to go.’
“So you’ve been to New York enough, right? People don’t give a fuck about anything in New York. I’ve never seen a city where people just don’t fucking care — Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie can be walking down the street holding hands and people could care less, you know? They take shit in stride.
“I’m twenty minutes late showing up to Pinkberry. The fucking place is packed. There’s people everywhere. I get out of the car and everybody starts cheering and going crazy. I look at the police and I’m like, ‘Are you guys mad?’ And they’re like, ‘We didn’t believe you were coming.’ I get out, I sign autographs, take pictures. We hand out like a zillion tickets. We’re there for two hours.
“And this is the craziest fucking thing about this whole story: Not only is it Monday night, raining, in midtown Manhattan on a Jewish holiday, I’m giving away tickets to a fight in fucking Los Angeles.“
As a boss, Dana’s meticulous and brutal. He obviously believes in the old axiom of management by walking around, and is a quality control fanatic. If you’re a UFC fan and watch fights frequently, you know that everything is top notch. From the knowledge of the commentators, the body-fat percentage of the ring girls, to Bruce Buffer belting out his version of “let’s get ready to rumble”.
White keeps his fingers on all of this. When it comes to the sport itself, he’s it’s biggest fan, defending it and lashing out at any naysayers. But that’s only because he believes in the quality of the product, which he works equally hard to protect. Dana’s not afraid of hurting feelings to preserve the image and “prestige” of his league. He recently cut internet sensation Kimbo Slice, because he believes in the integrity of the league over hype. Here’s another story about Dana’s emphasis on quality control, that I pulled from ESPN News:
UFC president Dana White released welterweight Paul Daley from the organization Saturday night. White made the announcement after Daley suffered a lopsided unanimous decision loss to Josh Koscheck at UFC 113 in Montreal.
Koscheck dominated the 170-pound title eliminator, but that isn’t the reason Daley finds himself out of UFC. It was his conduct after the final horn that got him the boot.
Frustrated by constant oral taunting from Koscheck during the fight’s final seconds, Daley delivered a sucker punch that connected — after the bell.
The 17,647 in attendance, an overwhelming majority of whom cheered Daley throughout the bout, roundly booed his postfight actions. White observed the entire incident from a few feet away, and became infuriated.
From that moment, Daley’s brief UFC tenure was quickly dwindling to a permanent end. It is now over, and according to White, there is no chance of Daley ever entering the Octagon again.
“He’s done,” White told ESPN.com during the postfight news conference. “I don’t care if he’s the best 170-pound fighter in the world, he will never come back here again. He will never come back.
Dana was also very hard on the sports best fighter, Anderson Silva, for goofing off during a recent fight. No one is above the leauge, and Dana makes this real clear. If you run a business and manage employees, there’s a lot you can learn from that.
His skills as a marketer are also sharp – here’s how he described how he changed the image of the sport with his partners, from an article in Entrpreneur Magazine in 2007 (guess I’m a little late in pointing out this guy’s business skills):
White: They marketed it as the most brutal, bloody sport in the world: Two guys enter a cage, one man leaves. It was great for them short term because originally their plan was, “Let’s get a couple of pay-per-views out of this thing and make a quick buck.” It took off and then evolved into a sport, but they had already laid down the foundation that this was a brutal cockfight.
When we got involved, we started to meet some of the [fighters] and realized the old marketing wasn’t true. Most of these guys are college-educated guys, really good people and incredible athletes. We came in and marketed it the way it should have been marketed–as an incredible sport with amazing athletes
That’s a great lesson in the positioning of your product, and how important it is to the success of it.
But these guys weren’t always bullet proof and didn’t have a completely clear crystal ball when it came to predicting the future. In a very near-miss story that you hear about a lot of entrepreneurs, even Bill Gates and the Google guys, White and his partners almost sold the league before they even got started. This goes to show that how important it is to ride out the hard times and never give up:
Entrepreneur: At one point, Zuffa was $44 million in the hole. Was there ever a time when you thought maybe you should cut your losses?
White: Yeah, we were nervous a few times. One day I’m sitting in my office and Lorenzo calls me. He says, “This is crazy, and this thing keeps losing money. Why don’t you go out there and see what you can get for this thing right now.”
So I get on the phone and started calling around, and I found someone to buy it for $6 or $7 million. So I called Lorenzo back and said, “I think I got about $6 or $7 million for this thing.”
He says, “Alright, I’ll call you tomorrow.” The next day he calls me, and he’s like, “F— it; let’s keep going.” And here we are.
He hasn’t made too many wrong moves since then. In particular, Dana is aggressive in making use of any and all revenue and growth channels that the sport has in front of it. He’s constantly looking for new income streams, recently launching a new pay-per-view channel and holding their first ever fan expo in a couple of months.
Dana’s absolutely committed to making MMA the number one sport in the world. And the fact that I stopped watching a live NBA conference semi-final game yesterday to watch old Anderson Silva highlights on Spike goes to show you that it might happen very soon.
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