Discover how Dana White’s courage saved the UFC and Endeavor during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read about their bold move and the creation of “Fight Island”.
When the world largely shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, the UFC forged ahead, defying common perception and governmental entities to continue holding mixed martial arts events. Ari Emanuel, the CEO of UFC parent company Endeavor, credits the courage of UFC president Dana White for "slapping him across the face" and saving his empire.
Endeavor paid $4 billion for the UFC and then the world shut down
Endeavor (then known as WME-IMG) paid around $4 billion for the UFC in July 2016. It was Emanuel’s huge gamble on the belief that live events and sports was an area that was still primed for future growth.
But just a few short years into owning the UFC and betting on numerous live event content and platforms, the world came to a screeching halt when the pandemic ravaged across the globe.
When everyone was saying the answer was to shut everything down and essentially put life on hold, White was one of the first to say no way. He immediately determined that the UFC was going to find a way to move forward instead of pulling back and shutting down, contrary to Emanuel’s instincts.
Dana White defied common belief, refusing to take the UFC into lockdown
"I thought we had to shut everything down and Dana White at the UFC said to me and said, ‘Uh-uh, we’re not shutting down.’ I got scared and he slapped me across the face. ‘We’re going.’ And then he said ‘Get me an island.’ And I was like, my brother’s a doctor. He’s telling me the world’s closing. He was like ‘Uh-uh.’ And he was just driving that train," Emanuel said on a recent edition of the Jay Shetty Podcast.
"So we got him an island and he did everything else. And it kind of just reminded me, yeah, it’s nerve wracking, but don’t be scared. And he was amazing. And I was on the other side of that fence. And that’s why he’s a great partner, he’s an incredible partner," Emanuel continued.
"But I for the first time got very scared. And he just said ‘No, we just have to go. And we’re going to take all the heat for it.’ And there was a lot of heat against him. But, we did it."
White and the UFC moved forward, creating bubble zones in the U.S. and on an island, later dubbed "Fight Island" in Abu Dhabi. They essentially created a blueprint that many other sports and businesses later followed to one degree or another.
And with that bold move, Emanuel says White saved not only the UFC, but Endeavor, Emanuel’s entire business.