Two years ago, Dana White sitting down in a New York boardroom and signing a deal with Showtime to promote mixed martial arts would have been unthinkable. Never shy about sharing his opinion, White was quick on the trigger to blast what he saw as a subpar operation.
"I dislike Showtime, that’s who I dislike. I think they’re di-ks, I don’t like them," White said at the UFC 102 prefight press conference. "I don’t like their attitude; they think they are better than they really are. They’ve been second-rate at boxing, they’ve been second-rate at programming and now they think they are great at mixed martial arts and my fight is with them, not with Strikeforce....The guy over at Showtime who I’m talking about knows who he is and I dislike him very much and my beef is with him, not really Strikeforce."
The "guy over at Showtime" was Ken Hershman, the architect of the network's combat sports programming. The relationship between the two men was so strained that White stayed out of negotiations with the network when Zuffa purchased Strikeforce early last year. It was bad enough that it looked like the promotion would close shop rather than the two alpha dogs come to a compromise.
In October, everything changed. Hershman, who had reinvigorated boxing on Showtime with the successful Super Six tournament and a raid on top star Manny Pacquiao, was snapped up by rival HBO. Suddenly White, who had been sitting on the sidelines, was spearheading a new round of negotiations with Showtime.
"The reality is that I did not have a good relationship with the old regime and I have a good relationship with the new regime," White told the media in a conference call yesterday. "I flew out there, we sat down, we talked, we worked this deal out and I love what we came up with. I would not be involved and I would not be this enthusiastic about it I wasn't happy with this deal"
For Showtime, the new deal allows executives to breathe a sigh of relief. MMA programming was a hit on the network, especially in younger demographics. Strikeforce fights would air several times in addition to the live broadcast and provide valuable programming hours and strong viewership.
"Showtime and Strikeforce have a long, mutually beneficial history and a supportive relationship," new combat sports kingpin Stephen Espinoza said. "And we are very happy that that continues and that we are able to build upon that foundation in this new structure."
Strikeforce will produce up to eight fight cards for Showtime next year, starting with a middleweight title match between Keith Jardine and Luke Rockhold on January 7. The event will be part of Showtime's Free Preview Weekend and open up the card to an expanded audience of fight fans. White is excited about what the future holds.
"I love getting involved with networks and getting in with Showtime and building it. We are going to create all this talent, bring these guys in and put on great exciting fights. I love to pull big numbers," the UFC President said. "Opening this thing up to 60 million people and letting them check it out (is awesome). I went to the Strikeforce fight in San Diego and it was awesome, so I want to get on Showtime and I want to blow this thing up and build big numbers. That's what I get excited about and that's what I love to do."