clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

‘Scared’ Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel celebrates ‘courageous’ Dana White: ‘He slapped me across the face’

Emanuel admits Endeavor wouldn’t have survived if White wasn’t willing to ‘take the heat’ on holding UFC events during the COVID-19 pandemic.

UFC Fight Night: VanZant v Ostovich Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Endeavor Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Ari Emanuel, is once again crediting Dana White with saving his entire billion-dollar empire during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even if it’s an awful choice of words.

At a time where seemingly every other major sport shut down, White forged ahead with a ballsy plan to keep staging mixed martial arts (MMA) events. His first attempt to do that on tribal lands in California was shut down, but a second move to create “bubble zone” events in Florida, Nevada and, of course, “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi allowed UFC to keep holding fights during the summer of 2020.

In a new interview with Jay Shetty, Emanuel credited White with “slapping him across the face” and forcing him to agree to the audacious plan.

“I thought we had [to] shut everything down and Dana White talked to me and said, ‘Uh-uh, we’re not shutting down,’” Emanuel said. “I got scared and he, like, slapped me across the face. ‘We’re going.’ And then he said ‘Get me an island.’ And I was like ... you know, my brother’s a doctor, he’s telling me the world’s closing. But [White’s] like ‘Nuh-uh.’ And he was just driving that train.

“So, we got him an island and he did everything else,” he continued. “And it kind of just reminded me that, yeah, it’s nerve-wracking, but don’t be scared. And he was like amazing. And I was like on the other side of that fence. And that’s why he’s a great partner, he’s an incredible partner. But I for the first time got very scared. And he just said ‘No, we just have to go. And we’re going to take all the heat for it.’ And there was a lot of heat against him. But, we did it.”

“If we didn’t have that, the whole company would have tanked,” Emanuel concluded. “Because we needed the ESPN deal, we needed to go and put on fights. His courage, dragging me along, it’s incredible.”

Indeed, Endeavor was in a very tough spot during the pandemic. It had just spent billions on acquiring UFC, and a huge chunk of their portfolio was focused on live sports and entertainment, two industries that largely shut down during the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic. In past interviews, Emanuel revealed UFC made up 70 percent of Endeavor’s revenue through the crisis, dragging the company through a period that would have otherwise sunk them.

Sure, a ton of fighters caught COVID-19 training for these events and some of them suffered serious side effects for many months afterward. But, the bubbles built by UFC and Endeavor largely held and no one directly died on account of these events. White has promised a documentary will come out soon on how he defied the wimpy media and everyone else to ensure fights flowed during the pandemic.

Until that comes out, he’ll have to just enjoy more kind words from his billionaire business partner.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Mania Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Mania