VANCOUVER - I guess it’s appropriate that a guy who overrules a sport that includes kicks to the face can’t help but put his own foot in his mouth sometimes.
A few months back, UFC president Dana White incurred the ire of some Canadians when he said that mixed martial arts star Georges St. Pierre is a more popular athlete — worldwide — than hockey icon Wayne Gretzky.
Non-mixed martial arts-loving Canuckskies were outraged, even though White was essentially right on.
Outside of North America and parts of Europe, UFC welterweight champion GSP is more popular than No. 99 ever was. Gretzky has always been huge in Canada, but the Montreal-based GSP is big in parts of the world where people have never even heard of ice hockey. For instance, GSP was mobbed and couldn’t leave his hotel during a visit to Manila some months back.
That tells you of the growing popularity of the UFC brand of mixed martial arts. It is growing in leaps and bounds and, as White often says, it’s a sport that transcends all boundaries, classes and races, which is something you can’t say about all other sports.
Still, the outspoken White has to realize sometimes that if he is peddling a product in a certain area, he has to play nice on occasion.
White generally tries to say the right thing, but he’s a neighbourhood guy from Boston and can’t help but speak his mind. And sometimes he gets in trouble for that — which he did again on Saturday night after his UFC 131 wrapped up at here Vancouver’s Rogers Arena.
While had said a few times the week leading up to UFC 131 that he loves hockey and he was impressed with the passion the fans have on the west coast for their Canucks, he mocked a suggestion by a reporter that UFC could never generate the passion in a city the way hockey has in Vancouver, with the celebrations in the streets and the banners and flags and cars honking all over the city.
White’s grand plan is to make the UFC the most popular spectator sport in the world and, if that means steamrolling anyone who has the temerity to suggest that his sport isn’t going to be the biggest sport ever, so be it.
“You’re talking about one city,” scoffed White, when asked about the passion for hockey in Vancouver. “People weren’t dancing in the streets anywhere else but here.
“Hockey is extremely popular up here, it’s like a religion to these guys,” he added. “But when you get out of (Canada), they’re not going that crazy over it. Even in Boston, the Bruins are in the playoffs, but there’s not a lot of hockey fans there. You put them up against the Patriots, the Celtics and the Red Sox, it’s not even close.”
So much for all those stories in the Canadian newspapers that Boston is going gaga over the Bruins.
White insists that he isn’t “ragging on hockey,” pointing out that he would say the same thing about baseball and football.
His mantra is that it is in a man’s DNA to fight and, therefore, MMA is the most basic of all sports, more so than sports involving balls or sticks or pucks. And that’s why, he says, that UFC mixed martial arts will one day take over the world.
White is an interesting dude. He doesn’t necessarily want to eliminate the competition. He just wants to put it soundly in its place.
On the other side, he’ll often roll into a city for a UFC show and wear the sweater of that town’s sports team, or attend a game, as he did on Friday night when the Canucks hosted the Bruins in Game 5, and then say nice things about the team and the fans.
“It’s interesting to come up here and see how fired-up people are about hockey, like (Friday) night,” he said. “I went to the game and, after the game was over, I thought the series was over and that they had won, the way the people were acting. It was pretty crazy.”
But dare to suggest that another sport is somehow superior to his, particularly in terms of fan passion, he’ll shoot you down like a dog,
White insisted that he wasn’t disappointed that his show on Saturday seemed to get lost in the shuffle with everyone in Vancouver going Canucks crazy. True to his reputation as a marketing genius, White encouraged Boston area fighter Kenny Florian to wear a Bruins jersey at the weigh-ins on Friday. Florian was roundly booed after that, and White took great delight in that.
“People asked me: ‘Aren’t you from Boston too?’ And I said: ‘I’ve never even been to Boston. What are you talking about?’” White said, with a laugh.