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Is Dana White Bad for Mixed Martial Arts?

Imagine if, in October of 1993, Michael Jordan had said he was retiring from the NBA not just because he had nothing left to prove in basketball, but because he was sick of the lack of respect that Commissioner David Stern had shown him. And then imagine if Stern had responded by saying Jordan was retiring because of his "scumbag agent," whom Stern claimed he had "bitch slapped."

If that had happened, there would have been a whole lot of people saying it was time for Stern to go. Sports leagues are big businesses. The heads of big businesses aren't supposed to drive valued employees away, and they're supposed to conduct themselves with some decorum.

But that's exactly what has happened in the UFC this week. Its best and most popular fighter, Randy Couture, has retired, and he cited his belief that UFC President Dana White takes advantage of him. White responded by calling Couture's agent a "scumbag" and saying he had "bitch-slapped" him.

White has been great for UFC and the sport of mixed martial arts. In fact, the sport of mixed martial arts literally might not even exist in the United States if it weren't for White, who saved it when legislators were calling it "human cockfighting" and threatening to make it illegal. But just as the kid who launches an internet start-up out of his parents' basement eventually needs to bring in an MBA if he really wants to turn it into a legitimate business, the sport of mixed martial arts might now need to push White aside.


That's not to say UFC can push White aside, because in many respects White is UFC. I guess it's technically possible that the Fertitta brothers, the co-owners of UFC, could force White out, but that's not going to happen.

But maybe another mixed martial arts organization needs to hire a commissioner in the David Stern / Roger Goodell mode, someone who's a businessman and a marketer, someone who understands how the head of a sports league needs to conduct himself. Someone who can attract the best mixed martial arts talent, pay the fighters a fair wage while still running a profitable enterprise, and not infuriate the talent.

Randy Couture is the best thing going in the sport of mixed martial arts, a guy who's smart, articulate, great at what he does and doing something absolutely extraordinary, stepping into the Octagon at the age of 44 and beating guys who are 20 years younger than him. If Dana White has driven Couture out of the sport, then Dana White is bad for the sport.