ufc cancels, dana white

UFC 249: Dana White and the Covid risk – Will it pay off?

Dana White made a big announcement just before this past weekend. UFC 249 is on. Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje will be the main event on the card. Not only is UFC 249 going to air on May 9, but two more events of the UFC would be on the air back to back.

White’s decision to move ahead has been the subject of much debate. There has been plenty of support for the UFC President. There has been an equal amount of criticism as well. Perhaps this is best summed up by White himself. 

“You take any issue and there’s going to be people on both sides of it” says White. When I first heard that, I assumed that it was Dana’s way of dismissing the issue. The COVID issue is a touchy one. The smartest people in the world are divided on this. And yes, of course there have been plenty of spats on social media. 

A debate on risk

While most polarising debates in the world revolve around facts, the COVID debate feels a little different. Most people agree that the COVID pandemic is very serious and we must throw all resources we have at our disposal towards solving it. Most people also agree that this pandemic has serious economic implications and that the ones who are the most affected are the lower class. 

The divide then comes on an assessment of risk. Not on facts. That’s just one of the things that makes this pandemic such an interesting time. Is it riskier to stay in lockdown or is it riskier to reopen the economy? And the truth is that simply no one knows which is the best way forward. The Twitter mob doesn’t know. The media doesn’t know.  The experts don’t know. The politicians don’t know.

Mixed reactions

So when White announces that he intends to go ahead with UFC 249 despite the COVID situation, it is natural to expect mixed reactions.

There are some negative reactions. Some people think it’s motivated by money. Others think it is motivated by White’s ego – his desire to stick it in the face of his critics who say he could not pull this off. And some just say that it is his apathy towards the fighters.

There are plenty of positive reactions too. Several fighters and fans have come forward expressing their gratitude. The media has also had its fair share of people cheering Dana on. They point out that fighters only get paid when an event takes place. 

 Risk management

Perhaps the most important skill that a leader can exhibit in a time of crisis is risk management. Just like every other leader, White has two risks to manage at this point.

The first is the UFCs financial risks. These include cash-flows for the company, its brand value, meeting quarterly targets, appeasing its investors and a myriad of other things.

The second is the health, safety and well-being of its employees and fans.

While I’m not a seasoned management professional, it seems to me that White has done a fantastic job on both fronts. Look at the health and safety front first.  The UFC closed its doors to fans. Dana White has made it clear that any fighters who don’t want to fight need not compete and that there will be no consequences to that. While he has been silent on the topic to the media, there have been reports that extensive COVID testing will be made available.

On the financial side, it looks like he may have set-up a win-win situation for himself. One of the best ways to get free publicity is to have the press do a story on you. Even if they’re saying negative things. Just ask Colby Covington. If those negative things can be rebutted, that’s even better. White’s reluctance to divulge certain information may be a way to avoid controversy, but at the same time, it may also be a way to court controversy. It’s hard to tell.

Should the UFC return to action sooner than its competitors, it will further solidify its position as the biggest name in MMA. And who knows how many more fans the UFC will create when it’s the first sport back on TV?

Dana White is the person most responsible for making the sport into the global phenomenon that it is. At the beginning of 2020, the UFC looked poised for a great year. So did the economy. COVID-19 was a setback to that, but not a permanent one. 

Don’t be too surprised. Dana White seems to have a great talent for risk-taking and risk management. There is a tale about him playing cards. The story goes that he was banned from a casino for winning too much. Then the casino’s management changed and he was allowed in, only to win another big pot. The second management even awarded him a shiny gold belt akin to a fighting belt for it. He also built the UFC by taking risks that at the time no one else was willing to take.  This may be one of the biggest cases we have seen him handle yet. 


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