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Dana White reveals blowing up potential HBO, CBS deals over ‘stale and old’ production issues

Dana White has been a part of many broadcast deals that brought UFC to where it is today, from the Spike TV breakthrough to the dalliance with FOX to the modern era with ESPN.

Those deals have all helped shape UFC into a multi-billion dollar behemoth poised to capitalize once the promotion’s current ESPN contract expires in 2025. But look through the graveyards of any big business and there’s plenty of failed deals that never got off the ground for one reason or another. It’s no different for the MMA leader. In a recent interview with FOX News, UFC CEO White recounted two big-money deals, in particular, that blew up at the eleventh hour because of White’s unwillingness to compromise his goals.

“I don’t know if you know that, we did a deal with HBO,” White told One Nation. “We were going to put fights on HBO. HBO came in and started going, ‘Yeah, we’re going to have to turn this music down, this is going to have to’ — and I said, ‘No, no. You guys are not running our production and telling us what to do.’

“We had already signed the deal. We were done. So I literally called [former UFC CEO] Lorenzo [Fertitta] and said, ‘Yeah, we can’t do this deal.’ He’s like, ‘What do you mean we can’t do this deal? The deal is done. We have a deal.’ [I said,] ‘We’ve got to get out of this deal.’ And Ari [Emanuel] got us out of the HBO deal.”

“I believe that if we had let HBO do what they wanted to do, it would’ve hurt us and hurt our brand,” White added. “Yeah, it would’ve made it stale and old and like boxing was.”

White further elaborated that some of his problems with HBO stemmed from his distaste for its production for the network’s famed boxing coverage. For a time, HBO Boxing was considered the pinnacle platform for the sweet science, but White’s grievances extended even to some of the longtime commentators and analysts employed on the broadcasts.

“All of those guys were terrible. They were terrible. At that time, HBO Boxing was the gold standard of the sport,” White said. “But nothing had really changed, except [high-definition broadcasting]. You know what I mean? They put on a good event, they put money into it, but I would have to mute the commentators all the time.

“I’m not buying this event to listen to you idiots, OK, who think you know all this stuff about boxing? And Larry Merchant jumping up and telling Floyd Mayweather if he was 30 years younger, he’d kick his ass. Yeah, no, you wouldn’t. And the amount of disrespect to even think that you could, and the disrespect to say that, and [Jim] Lampley and all those other guys, they were clowns to me. And I use them as [an example of] what not to do when we [stage our events]. They’re buying this thing because of the athletes. They’re buying those fights because of Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, and all the other greats that fought, not because of the commentators. We don’t want to hear their opinions.”

White then recounted how a potential deal with CBS he described as “a billion dollar offer to possibly buy the company” blew up because of similar grievances. UFC ultimately sold to talent agency Endeavor in 2016 for a sum of more than $4 billion, a record price tag at the time as the most expensive transaction for an organization in sports history. But according to White, history may have played out differently if not for a messy conference call.

“So CBS tried to come in and make us an offer to buy us at one point, right? And I was in Hawaii on vacation,” White said. “And ironically, I’m usually late to everything. I was on the call early and the Showtime guys were on the call early because they — I didn’t know they were going to be on. I thought we were talking to [former chairman and CEO of CBS Corporation] Les Moonves.

“So by the time Les Moonves and Lorenzo got on the phone, me and Showtime were fighting, going at it, literally, ‘Eff you, eff you,’ back and forth. And those guys got on and heard us going back and forth, and the call, literally, that was the end of it.

“So Lorenzo calls me right back immediately and goes, ‘I guess we’re not doing a deal with CBS.’ I said, ‘Yeah, sorry.’ We got into it a little bit. I hated the guys at Showtime. A bunch of those guys worked for the UFC when we first started out. I thought their production sucked, I thought they were terrible at what they did, and I was very vocal about it. And then it just so happens, we’re talking about CBS making us a billion dollar offer to possibly buy the company. And by the time Lorenzo and Les Moonves get on, full-blown war on the phone.”

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