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Dana White’s fight to the top

How Dana White’s vision guided him and the UFC to massive success

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In this episode of the Tony Robbins Podcast, we are bringing you to Business Mastery – where Tony interviews the business leaders behind some of today’s fastest growing companies. You’re going to have a front-row seat as Tony sits down with Dana White, the current president of The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and the man that took the once-fledgling organization from near bankruptcy to a globally popular multi-billion dollar enterprise.

Outspoken, charismatic and unabashedly unapologetic, it’s fair to say that there are not many leaders of major sporting organizations quite like Dana White. Coming from humble beginnings in the Northeast, his fight to the top was an unlikely one – and nothing short of a roller coaster ride.

Dana talks to Tony about the serendipitous mix of events that catapulted him from the bottom, all the way to the top of the UFC – and the risky decisions he made along the way that led the UFC to its ultimate comeback. Like the decision to embrace regulation instead of run from it, to move away from Pay-Per-View and broadcast fights on free TV and, perhaps the biggest decision of all, the one that changed the face of the sport – to allow female fighters into the organization.

Dana has achieved success on a massive scale – he sold UFC for a whopping $4 billion back in 2017. But his fight isn’t over – and as he tells Tony in this special interview, he feels he hasn’t even scratched the surface of his total impact.

dana white interview

Dana White Interview Show Notes

[02:55] Episode introduction
[03:10] Dana growing up
[03:51] Always knew he wanted to be in fight business
[04:20] Believed he could change the fight business
[04:35] Dana’s job as a bellman at a hotel
[04:59] Dana quits his job to be in fight business
[05:30] Awaken the Giant Within and Personal Power
[06:15] Dana seeks out Peter Welch
[06:45] Learning the business from the ground up
[07:17] What Dana learned from Peter Welch
[07:43] Mob tries to extract money from Dana
[08:31] Dana didn’t have the money
[09:10] Dana buys a one-way ticket to Las Vegas
[09:57] Dana reconnects with Lorenzo Fertitta
[10:30] Dana and Lorenzo become partners
[11:00] Dana learns the UFC was in trouble
[11:27] The battle over Tito Ortiz’s contract
[11:58] Dana, Frank and Lorenzo buy the UFC
[12:25] Burns through $40 million
[12:50] Dana tries to sell the UFC
[13:45] The decision to keep going
[14:25] Why timing is everything in life
[15:00] The decision to broadcast fights on free TV
[15:28] Dana’s philosophy on the UFC
[16:20] Why people everywhere like fighting
[16:50] Our fascination with tough guys
[17:35] Why we’re attracted to fighting
[17:59] Bringing superstars and women into the sport
[18:36] The difference between boxing and UFC
[19:06] The misperception of UFC fighters
[19:33] Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz and Randy Couture
[19:50] Dana decides to embrace regulation
[20:11] Structural changes that changed the game
[20:46] The run towards regulation
[21:10] Government looks at UFC as a monolopy
[21:50] Meeting with CA, NV, NY and NJ
[22:22] Dana meets with sports reporters
[22:56] The two things Dana always knew
[23:20] Rule changes in the UFC
[23:50] Comparison to Olympic sports
[24:17] Decision to bring women into the sport
[24:45] Dana meets Ronda Rousey
[25:26] The one thing Dana never saw coming
[25:50] Women can do anything – including fight
[26:10] Dana moves forward with Ronda Rousey
[26:28] Why women’s fights out-rate men’s fights
[27:00] What was different about Ronda Rousey
[27:42] How Dana thinks about sports marketing
[28:20] What makes fighting so popular
[29:00] How Dana sells out fights
[29:30] The Holly Holm / Ronda Rousey fight
[30:14] Dana White’s bulletproof mindset
[30:38] Negativity never goes away
[31:11] How Dana separates himself from negativity
[32:08] Dealing with negativity
[32:38] Why Dana stayed in the UFC
[33:10] Why Dana hates 3-day weekends
[33:40] The $1.5 billion deal with ESPN
[34:30] Why Dana didn’t want to sell the UFC
[35:04] Growing up broke and getting rich
[35:25] Why it’s all about the journey
[36:06] Why Dana liked having insomnia
[36:43] Dana’s core strategy in business
[37:05] Life is ready to get you
[37:36] Fighting through what life throws at you
[38:20] Why Dana loves competition and adversity
[38:44] Dana’s two biggest victories with the UFC
[39:06] Dana’s two biggest challenges with the UFC
[39:26] Converting ESPN’s culture
[39:52] The power shift to younger generations
[40:20] Getting the UFC on Spike TV
[40:50] UFC culture today
[41:35] The growth of the UFC today
[41:57] UFC in Russia and Korea
[42:15] Dana’s experience with Conor McGregor
[42:53] Dana meets Conor McGregor in Las Vegas
[43:22] Conor McGregor’s “it factor”
[43:50] Conor McGregor’s mishap in NY
[44:17] When egos and money get involved
[44:45] The mistake of thinking you’re set financially
[45:23] How Dana deals with large personalities
[46:04] The importance of leadership
[46:30] The qualities of a great leader
[47:03] Why you need a mix of personalities in business
[47:40] Other effective qualities of leadership
[48:05] What Dana admires about the Fertitta brothers

An enduring vision

Dana White’s rise to success in the UFC and in life began with a vision. At 19 years old he knew two things: that he was not happy in his present circumstances, and that he wanted to be in the fight business. By knowing exactly what he wanted and how he wanted his life to look, he effectively took control of his situation. 

“Every day when I woke up,” Dana says, “I would work toward that goal.” 

By having his endpoint – working in the fight business – in mind, everything he did pointed toward it. A vision is a powerful tool; by understanding what you want, you can more effectively create plans and take actions that will bring you to it.

Forging a path

This particular Dana White interview reveals something he’s never shared before: Every day he would walk to work, listening to Tony Robbins’ Awaken the Giant Within on his Walkman to help him power up. 

As he moved through the fight industry, he practiced Tony’s modeling technique, learning every detail of the field from the legendary Peter Welsh. “This guy was my sensei in the fight game,” Dana says, recalling the three years of education he received. 

Perseverance

Success doesn’t free you from limiting beliefs. Dana learned that the more successful you become, the louder the detractors will be; it’s up to you to recognize negative thoughts that could slow you down or stop you. 

For Dana, hearing the naysayers only pushed his core values closer to the front of his mind. He wanted to be in the fight business, and he made it to the fight business. From there, it was just a matter of how much success he could achieve. “Get to a point where you don’t doubt yourself,” he advises. That means trusting in your vision – from there, you can create an extraordinary life. 

dana white interview

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Team Tony cultivates, curates and shares Tony Robbins’ stories and core principles, to help others achieve an extraordinary life.

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