In the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), it’s kill or be killed, win at all costs, and do not let your opponent take an inch from you.
What these fighters showcase in the cage is incredible and the same can be said about a man who can usually be found sitting a few rows outside the octagon.
Dana White, the UFC president, who could have laid down and quit in 2020 but got back up off the canvas and kept fighting.
On March 11, the NBA announced the suspension of the 2019–20 season following Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert testing positive for coronavirus. Shortly after, many other major sporting leagues in the USA followed suit.
Anxiety set in with players not knowing how long the suspension would last and how their salaries would be affected.
The difference between these major sporting leagues and the UFC is that fighters are not guaranteed money in the latter. Their contracts are usually for a few fights and do not provide the same long-term security that basketball, hockey or baseball players receive. You show up to fight or you do not get paid.
Now trying to get fighters to fight during a pandemic may sound like the stupidest idea in the world, but for a sport that advocates punching and kicking your opponent in the head, maybe it is a good idea.
When the rest of the sports world was shutting down, White was just getting started.
On April 7, Dana let the mixed martial arts world know that he was working to secure an international venue to host fights. With the United States sporting landscape shut down, it was important for Dana to not only look after his American fighters but also his international fighters, who make up a large portion of the UFC roster.
The USA made it near impossible for the UFC to host events due to strict travel restrictions for fighters entering the country, so on June 9, the fight game changed as Dana and the UFC revealed it had secured Yas Island in Abu Dhabi to host events for the remainder of the year.
This was not your usual ‘arrive at the airport, get on the plane and see you in Abu Dhabi’. Dana organised for all fighters to arrive in Las Vegas, where the company is situated, to undergo COVID-19 tests and then isolate in a hotel specifically for fighters and staff who were heading to Abu Dhabi.
Dana had organised Etihad, the national airline for Abu Dhabi, to be the carrier for the company, flying 16 hours across the world. This flight was direct and for UFC fighters, staff and families who had all undergone pre-flight tests.
This is the part where Dana went for the knockout blow on his critics, who suggested he does not look after the health and wellbeing of his fighters. Certain media outlets would have you believe Dana was dropping these guys off in the Middle East and letting them fight in the desert. In reality, once the fighters arrived, they were met with one of the safest yet strictest quarantine and safety protocols in the world.
Fighters and staff arrived at the W Hotel on Yas Island, where all personnel underwent health checks followed by another COVID test. Only then would fighters and their teams be shown to their rooms, where they served a further quarantine period until the tests returned negative results.
The W Hotel had a 16km-radius ‘safety zone’ strictly for UFC personnel, which allowed them to move freely around the island without interaction from the general public.
Once the fighters returned a negative test, they were free to move around the island which provided access to beaches, gyms, pools, restaurants, and a UFC octagon on the beach.
Come fight night, the fighters were safely transported down the road to the Flash Forum Arena where all fighters and staff would enter through mist tunnels, which acted as sanitizing stations to disinfect them from surface bacteria.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that you must adapt to the ever-changing situations around us and that in the UFC’s case, the show must go on!
Love him or hate him, White is one of the most unique characters in sport. You can agree or disagree with how he acts or what he says but there is no denying that White is a fighter and a winner.
In 2016, Dana and his business partners sold a majority stake in UFC to WME for $US4 billion, with Dana reportedly pocketing $US360 million and the buyers demanded he remain UFC president to finalise the sale.
Profits like these do not come from shutting down operations. They come from persevering through difficult times.
Winners do not quit and Dana White has shown the sporting world in 2020 how to keep the wheels rolling in a global pandemic.