© Marc Wickert www.knucklepit.com
All photos copyright 2004 Zuffa LLC.
Photography by Joshua Hedges
Jim Morrison once sang, "The future's uncertain and the end is always near". But according to Ultimate Fighting Championship President, Dana White, the future is certain and the sky's the limit for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).
Born in Manchester, Connecticut, Dana grew up in Las Vegas and has a background in boxing and grappling. "I boxed in the amateurs before getting into submission fighting and got hooked. Actually, I owned three boxing gyms in Vegas. I trained and managed fighters and had a sports management company. One day I met Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell, who I started representing, and I got into this huge contract negotiation with Bob Meyerwitz, the former owner of Tito Ortiz's contract. Through that, Bob and I developed a mutual respect for one another, and I discovered he was selling UFC.
"Lorenzo Fertitta was a good friend of mine since we were kids. He and I were going to do something together in boxing anyway, so I called Lorenzo – he was down in Miami – and I said, 'You know what, I just found out the UFC is for sale. What do you think?' And he said, 'That's interesting.' A month later we owned it."
When Ultimate Fighting Championship came on the scene in 1993, it was originally about seeing which martial art was the best of all fighting arts. In short, the answer then was Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. And the best exponent competing at the time was Royce Gracie, having been champion for three of the first four UFCs. Today the best art is not any one particular discipline, but a combination of the best of two or three arts: particularly boxing, wrestling and Jiu Jitsu. And UFC has helped to refine martial arts worldwide.
"It's a little tough for the traditional martial artists to swallow, because one system doesn't do it. You've got to cross-train in many different systems. Actually, the father of mixed martial arts, if you will, was Bruce Lee. If you look at the way Bruce Lee trained, the way he fought, and many of the things he wrote, he said the perfect style was no style. You take a little something from everything. You take the good things from every different discipline, use what works, and you throw the rest away."
During the early years in western MMA competition, UFC fights were the world's ultimate proving ground. Then Japan's PRIDE competition seemed to challenge UFC for this international number one spot. Today, UFC has ground'n'pound its way back to being king of the MMA castle. In UFC 43: Meltdown, the bill featured such topnotch names as Tank Abbott, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Kimo and Vitor Belfort.
"I'm pretty happy with the way everything has worked out with UFC. We're the originals, and we've come a long way in a couple of years. I think UFC lost a lot of lustre there for a little while, but we're back. And I'd definitely say we're the top mixed martial arts organization in the world."
Dana White believes the Ultimate Fighting Championship's tag 'As Real As It Gets' to be an accurate description. He agrees it's as close to a one-on-one street situation as you can get within the law. "No doubt about it. The reality is, there's nothing fake, obviously, like pro wrestling, and it is the most hard-core, full-contact event in the world."
UFC 40 – Liddell vs Babalu
In 1993, many people had the misconception that fighters were going to be maimed and killed in the Octagon, due to the 'caged combat' idea, and because it was billed as 'No Rules Fighting'. However, there were some essential rules and the Octagon fence is a safety fence design. There have been fights where a competitor has lost a bout from a submission hold or from leg kicks, and they have never been struck in the head, whereas in boxing, most strikes are to the head. Admittedly, there are body shots in boxing, but the majority of strikes go straight to the head.
"UFC is also safer than boxing because of the tap-out rule. I'll give you an example: when Roberto Duran said, 'No mas' (meaning 'no more' in Spanish) because he couldn't continue and knew he was hurt, he was ridiculed the rest of his career. In UFC, a fighter can tap out if he's in a dangerous position or believes he's going to be seriously injured.
"And one of the big misconceptions is the big gloves in boxing (16 oz). We use little, tiny gloves (4 oz), and people think, 'Oh my God, those tiny gloves: boxing is safer'. That's not true. The reality is, boxing gloves were created to protect the hands, not the head. They were created so a guy can punch another guy in the head, more times and harder, without breaking his hand. In UFC you have the combination of grappling, so a fighter isn't just taking repeated blows to the head, round after round. And most of the injuries in boxing are brain injuries."
UFC PR Manager Jack Taylor recalls the heavyweight boxing match between Lennox Lewis and Russian Klitchko, where the left side of Klitchko's face was cut wide open, and the fight was allowed to proceed a number of rounds before being stopped. In contrast, this brings to mind the bout between Vitor Belfort and Marvin Eastman (UFC 43), where Eastman sustained a gash to the forehead, and the fight was stopped instantly.
"That's a valid comparison. That cut wasn't as bad as the Klitchko cut, but the UFC fight was stopped immediately. If such an injury does occur, we halt the fight instantly and it's declared a TKO: the ringside doctors treat the competitor straight away and he fights another day," says Jack Taylor.
Dana White can see a day when the UFC will be bigger than pro wrestling and world boxing events. He believes because the youth of today are growing up with mixed martial arts, rather than boxing alone, they will not be satisfied with watching a fighter employing just his fists, when he has so many other weapons and skills at his disposal.
UFC is definitely a younger guy's sport. Our target audience is anywhere from age 17 to 35. And our fighters will be household names. Where I'd like to see it is like it is in Japan right now. We were just over there (10 Aug. 2003) with Chuck Liddell, who was representing UFC in a UFC versus PRIDE fight. And he knocked out Alistair Overeem in the first round (3:09) of the PRIDE Grand Prix Elimination tournament. That was awesome, man. Chuck couldn't leave the place on Monday morning. He went to go shopping, to buy some things for his family, and he was swarmed for forty-five minutes. The mall security had to pull him out of there and throw him in a car. There were thirty seven thousand people at the event, and it was the first time the tournament was shown on free TV. So millions of people saw him fight that night ' not only in Japan, but in the US," says Dana.
And UFC 44: Undisputed promises to be every bit as big as UFC 43: Meltdown was. Heavyweights Tim Sylvia and Gan McGee are both looking to begin with a stand-up fight because of their size, and because they both have such tremendous punching power. (For more on this bout check out The Official Site Of The Ultimate Fighting Championship!).
To be held at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Friday, September 26, 2003 (Las Vegas time), the bout is being billed the "Battle of Giants". In this co-main event, Tim Sylvia (6'8", 265 lbs) will be defending his Heavyweight title for the first time against Gan McGee (6'10, 265 lbs). However, the bout of most concern on the card appears to be the decider for World Light Heavyweight Title between Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz. (Interviews with Ortiz and Couture at Knucklepit.com)
Whilst it wouldn't be fair for Dana White to give his prediction for the fights' outcomes, he does have one prediction: "The main event and co-main event are going to be awesome. They're going to be great fights."
And there will be another, now renowned, Post Fight Party after UFC: 44. Revelers are still raving about the UFC:43 Post Fight bash held at Hard Rock, which featured Beastie Boy DJ Hurricane as the disc jockey.
Many fight fans are wondering if there will be a rematch between Frank Mir and Wes Sims, after Wes was disqualified for kicking a downed opponent and holding the fence in UFC 43. "Yeah, you know that's very interesting too. We thought about doing that, but the way Sims blatantly disregarded the rules kinda makes us a little worried. But we're definitely thinking about doing that rematch."
So Dana, will we be seeing more of those lovely ring card girls?
"I hear you. I'll see what I can do about that."