White Unexpectedly Brought U.F.C. Back in a Pandemic

White Unexpectedly Brought U.F.C. Back in a Pandemic

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White, the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, has positioned U.F.C. 249 for a prime spotlight — as the first major U.S. sporting event since the coronavirus shutdown.

When Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje step into the octagon Saturday night in Jacksonville, Fla., their interim lightweight title bout will be the climax of U.F.C. 249, the biggest sporting event to take place in the United States in almost two months.

It will also be a triumph for Dana White, the bellicose president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. If it were up to White, he never would have stopped staging mixed martial arts fights, coronavirus pandemic be damned.

For two decades, White has insisted that his sport would become the world’s biggest. This weekend, he will get a spotlight commensurate with his ambitions, for one night, at least, and perhaps longer if the U.F.C.’s plans for at least three more events in May proceed without significant setbacks.

But if U.F.C. 249 demonstrates White’s unquenchable desire to rule the sports world, it has also emphasized some of the liabilities of his hard-charging style and a few possible cracks in the U.F.C.’s business model.

White’s attempts to keep fights going during the pandemic have drawn rebukes from powerful politicians and from his most important corporate partners, Disney and ESPN. The scrutiny, in part, reflected higher expectations of respectability from an organization that was long regarded as a lowbrow curiosity.

The U.F.C.’s new primary owner, Endeavor, is a live-events conglomerate that has aimed to become a public company but has seen its business devastated by the pandemic. Endeavor executives have made it clear that they consider White one of the U.F.C.’s leading assets, but the president’s unyielding control over fighters has been challenged in a long-running lawsuit that could shift substantial revenue to the athletes and undermine some of White’s grand plans. Source : https://www.nytimes.com/