“There’s one thing that you never bounce back from, and that’s putting your hands on a woman,” UFC president Dana White, who has helmed the MMA promoter since 2001, said back in 2014. “Been that way in the UFC since we started here. You don’t bounce back from putting your hands on a woman.”
That is, of course, unless you’re White, who has served as the face of UFC for more than two decades and looks likely to continue in that role even after a physical altercation with his wife, Anne, at a New Year’s Eve party in Mexico was captured on camera and shared by TMZ. In the video, White grabbed Anne’s hands, she then slapped him, and he, in turn, slapped her twice back.
The response from UFC owner Endeavor, UFC itself and the promoter’s corporate partners, all of whom presumably have the power to press for some sort of discipline if not White’s ouster, has been a deafening silence.
It’s unknown if there have been any internal punishments levied or even discussed among any of the parties, and none are talking. Endeavor, which owns 100% of UFC as of 2021, declined to comment, as did UFC. None of UFC’s biggest sponsors—which include DraftKings, Crypto.com, Timex, Monster Energy and Modelo, among others—responded to requests for comment.
In a statement to Sportico, a spokesperson for ESPN, which has been criticized for its soft coverage of the altercation—UFC is one of the networks’ main partners for its ESPN+ streaming offering—reiterated its only public statement so far: “We have been covering the story on our platforms since it broke and will continue to do so.”
White’s seeming immunity likely rises from his longevity and central role both internally and externally for UFC, a positioning unique in sports to the MMA promoter. “People who couldn’t name a single UFC fighter can name Dana White,” sports consultant Marc Ganis, co-founder and managing director of Sportscorp Ltd., said. “UFC fighters come and go. It’s a very difficult sport to stay in for many years, but Dana White remains.”
Where players like Tom Brady serve as the public faces of a league like the NFL, and commissioner Roger Goodell represents the business behind it, White fulfills both functions for UFC. As a result, he’s seen as the persona attached to UFC and pivotal to its success, which is significant. UFC is one of Endeavor’s biggest profit generators, playing an essential part in the sports and entertainment giant’s economic value.
Through TMZ, White issued an apology, making his the only voice addressing his actions.
“That’s where the statement needed to come from—was from him,” Ganis said. “And he issued that statement pretty quickly.”
If Endeavor shares had continued to slide in the aftermath of the video’s release, as they did last Tuesday, the incident may have carried different weight for UFC’s owner. But the stock has largely recovered.
It’s possible Endeavor and UFC’s other stakeholders are waiting for additional information or hoping the media storm and backlash will blow over. White may take a less visible role in the short term or agree to remedial actions designed to rebuild his public image, like seeking counseling, but even a temporary absence could impact UFC’s business. That downside may ultimately shelter him from more severe punishment.
“Whenever there’s so much emphasis on an individual person, rather than process or organization, that’s risk,” Ganis said. “Whether it’s in politics or a CEO of a company or in sports. [White’s] persona and his promotion of UFC is the most significant for that sport this side of Joe Rogan.”