December 8, 2011
UFC wants its Ali-Frazier
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Dana White looks forward to the day when he’s not the voice, the face and the biggest name of the UFC.
He just doesn’t know when that time will come.
White was talking after the press conference to promote UFC 140, the only polite truculence anyone might see these days at the Air Canada Centre, when the subject, as it always does, turned to the mainstream fight the UFC forever faces: How and when this rather young sport will be watched, followed and appreciated by more than a niche audience?
How big, right now, is Jon (Bones) Jones, maybe the brightest light in the UFC world, or Lyoto Machida, his opponent Saturday night, who together will do the main event dance for the world light-heavyweight championship? How big are they outside of their own passionately followed world? Would you be able to pick either out of a lineup?
And how far away are either of them from crossing over — that rare spectre that happens when athletes become larger than their games and the main events become main events all over the world.
What White has managed, without mainstream media, with limited television exposure, is truly from the theatre of the hard to believe. To be able to walk into Toronto twice in the same year and generate insane sums of money for two lives shows in sometimes cynical Toronto is truly astounding. But what he wants to be do — world wide — is just beginning.
He is starting with the The Ultimate Fighter competition, taking the reality show around the globe. There will soon be Ultimate Fighter competitions in the U.K. and Brazil and Australia and Canada and the U.S. and that’s just the beginning. White then plans to have the winners from each country face off against each other, coming up with a winner for the entire world. It’s the same as taking Dancing With The Stars around the world and coming up with one pair of champions.
Except in dancing, nobody gets punched in the face.
“It’s going to happen in the next couple of years,” White talks about the breakthrough, not for the reality show, but for UFC itself. Then he was asked if there was an Ali-Frazier of any kind on his horizon, or if that is even possible anymore. When Muhammad Ali fought Joe Frazier, each of the three times, it wasn’t just an event for sport or boxing. It was a cultural event. It was the nightly news. It was everybody talk.
“When you talk about crossing over, you have to understand that’s what we’re working on now,” said White. “You have to understand, those Ali-Fraizer fights, and all those big ones, they began on broadcast television, they were fighting on ABC’s Wide World Of Sports and millions and millions of people were watching so when the big fights happened, the world was aware of it. That’s what’s going to happen with us in the next couple of years.
“If you look at what we’ve been able to accomplish in a short period of time, with very limited distribution, yes it is pretty amazing.”
Bones Jones is supposed to be the man of the future, this being his fourth fight of 2011. He is young, intelligent, gifted, and without edge, which makes the selling of him all the more difficult. Love it or loathe it, if the UFC lacks anything right now, it is personality aside from the man in charge.
There are all kinds of athletes here in need of a good Vince McMahon script. There are good guys and more good guys. There isn’t a whole lot of public animosity. There may be a reason for everyone to watch Jones and Machida, but I can’t come up with an angle. Which is probably why this card in Toronto has been successful but probably won’t sell out. It’s all so damn nice: Until Saturday night.
“Listen,” said White, “I believe that everybody is a fight fan. As a human being it’s inside of us. It’s in our DNA.” Maybe it is. Boxing can’t find a way to get the only fight the public wants, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, in the ring. That’s the advantage White has: He controls the UFC game. He determines who fights whom. If he can find a Mayweather-Pacquiao from his roster, he may find his way to cross over. Until then ... he runs the largest niche company in sports, which on its own, is doing just fine.