Dana White is publicly butting heads with one of his champions. Stop the presses!
One couldn’t be blamed for reading that first sentence and not knowing who, what, or when it pertains to. After all, the UFC president has frequently feuded with some of his promotion’s biggest stars over the years. Aljamain Sterling is only the latest, but is he the greatest?
Sterling has stiff competition for baddest boss beef as some of MMA’s best and most famous fighters have publicly had words with White, with some of that bad blood still lingering to this day. There’s no way to know how long this dispute will fester, but by looking back at White’s previous champion clashes perhaps we can get a clue as to where it’s headed?
Join the MMA Fighting roundtable of Shaheen Al-Shatti, Alexander K. Lee, Damon Martin, and Jed Meshew as we make our picks for the most memorable fighter feuds of White’s tenure, and make sure to check out our expanded thoughts in our roundtable podcast.
Martin: When it comes to all-time feuds between Dana White and UFC champions, the conversation must always start with the volatile relationship he shared with Tito Ortiz, because it truly was the first time he ever went to war with one of his athletes.
A little history lesson about these two: Before he convinced his boyhood friends Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta to plunk down $2 million to buy the UFC, White was a boxing enthusiast and fitness instructor who fell backwards into fight management when he started working with Ortiz and Chuck Liddell. This was long before anyone made significant money in the UFC, but White took over contract negotiations for two of the promotion’s fastest rising stars and apparently got both of them paid better than they had ever been before.
Then in 2001, White and the Fertitta brothers closed the sale to purchase the UFC, and suddenly the manager became a promoter and his client list shrunk down to zero.
The adversarial relationship between White and Ortiz starts there. They were no longer manager and client, but instead promoter and fighter, with the fighter now having to work harder to get a healthier payday. While Ortiz remained one of the UFC’s biggest stars, he was deeply combative towards White and they clashed publicly and privately. Their growing disdain reached a point in 2006 that when it came time for a contract renegotiation, Ortiz included a provision to pit himself against White in the ring in an actual boxing match.
What started as a behind-the-scenes stunt to settle their grudges in the ring turned into a full-blown circus, with plans to actually televise the match on Spike TV. White put himself through an entire training camp to get ready and Spike TV produced a one-hour documentary called Bad Blood that detailed the feud between boss and fighter.
Sadly, the fight never happened — Ortiz backed out and later stated that he wasn’t getting paid for the boxing match, which led to his withdrawal. White claims it was because Ortiz knew what would happen after White allegedly “beat the living s***” out of him during previous sparring sessions.
Even after that stunt fizzled, Ortiz kept taking shots at White in interviews, calling the UFC boss a “wannabe gangster” and even went as far as to wear a shirt to the UFC 84 weigh-ins that read “Dana White is my b****.” In return, White has called Ortiz an “idiot,” a “liar,” “a f****** moron,” and even revealed they got into a full-blown fist-fight on a flight to Japan once upon a time.
White may get into a war of words with a lot of other fighters, but Ortiz remains the only one he’s ever punched, which is why this feud stands the test of time as not only the first but by far the most memorable.
Lee: This may seem like a strange choice given that Jon Jones and Dana White are muy simpatico these days, but there was a time when it felt like Jones left White with a deeper wound than any fighter before, to the point that White deemed Jones’ then-coach Greg Jackson a “sport killer.”
Of course, we’re talking about the darkest days of September 2012, when White and company cancelled UFC 151 due to an injury forcing Dan Henderson out of a fight with Jones and Jones declining to face short-notice replacement Chael Sonnen. This was the first time ever that the UFC cancelled an event and White was none too pleased, to put it lightly.
White blasted Jones and Jackson in a press release, stating that he was “disgusted” with them for having “murdered” UFC 151 (again, this is language from a press release that still exists on UFC.com). He accused Jones of not only costing the promotion money, but depriving the other 20 scheduled fighters on the card of a paycheck. He even went on to flat-out say that Jones, three defenses into his first title reign, was an unpopular champion.
“Jon Jones is a guy a lot of fans don’t like, and I don’t think this is going to make him any more popular,” White said.
Great promotion, right?
Sure Dana, let’s just forget the fact that champions should have the right to decline replacement opponents, and that it’s you and your team responsible for not putting together a lineup strong enough to sell UFC 151 without its main event — other main card fights included Jake Ellenberger vs. Jay Heiron and Dennis Siver vs. Eddie Yagin, so … yeah — and that Sonnen was not only coming off of a loss to Anderson Silva, he had never competed at light heavyweight in the UFC.
But this was all Jones and Jackson’s fault, right?
To say that Jones and White have had a strained relationship since would be an understatement — in no small part to Jones’ transgressions, of course. Over the past decade, Jones has made headlines for failed drug tests, a hit-and-run, and domestic violence, among other embarrassing incidents, which has tarnished his reputation and created all kinds of headaches for White and the UFC.
Keep in mind, as recently as 2020, White and Jones were publicly calling one another out over fighter pay, to the point that Jones challenged White to release him from his UFC contract.
Everything is copacetic between the two these days, but if you ask me, this is one boss-fighter grudge that is just waiting to flare up again.
Al-Shatti: Staring at this list, a theme emerges.
Are you one of the greatest fighters of your era? If so, there’s a good chance Dana White said some terrible s*** about you in public, and an even better chance he intimated you were terrified to fight Random Contender No. 4 because you dared to question why the UFC gave you the short end of the stick, either in terms of financials or respect.
It rang true with Ortiz, it rang true with Jones, and it certainly rang true in the summer of 2017, when tensions grew so dire between White and another of MMA’s greats that the UFC nearly burned down an entire damn division simply to spite Demetrious Johnson. Of all the many sagas in the “Dana White vs.” compendium, this is the only feud to spawn a 2,000-word dissertation from the actual fighter himself. That’s how bad things got — Johnson was so aggrieved by the UFC’s treatment, he wrote an actual longform to defend himself, wherein the word “tyrannical” may or may not have been used twice. That’s impressive.
In case memory fails you, the Cliff Notes go something like this: Shortly after Johnson tied the UFC’s all-time record for consecutive title defenses at 10 and established himself as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the sport, UFC officials attempted to bully Johnson into accepting T.J. Dillashaw for his record-breaking next defense — this after already bullying Johnson into accepting 23-year-old prospect Ray Borg for said defense. Dillashaw was neither a flyweight nor a champion, so Johnson had some concerns. Understandable.
What followed was a mucky tale in which we discovered the most dominant champion in UFC history had never been paid pay-per-view points for any of his title bouts, had been denied an opportunity to receive pay-per-view points for future fights, had been denied any concessions in case Dillashaw failed to make weight for his flyweight debut, and had been told that if he refused the UFC’s take-it-or-leave-it offer for what was supposed to be the crowning moment of his career, the flyweights would be erased off the UFC’s map entirely.
So what happened? Johnson said, ‘Nah, enough’s enough.’
Over the course of a scathing and eye-opening hour-long interview on MMA Fighting’s The MMA Hour, Johnson peeled back the curtain to all of the mistreatment he’d received from the UFC in exhaustive detail. Six years later, it remains a remarkable watch.
Suffice to say, no one who’d been any paying attention was shocked when Johnson hightailed it out of the UFC at the first available chance once he dropped his title in 2018.
Plenty of Dana White feuds were wild in their own rights, but only one resulted in the UFC cutting a future championship-level star like Brandon Moreno out of spite simply because one of the greatest fighters of all-time dared to stand up for himself.
Meshew: I’m happy to admit that all of these other feuds are excellent examples of Dana White putting self-interest over promotional duty. I mean, yes, White did trade away the best fighter in the world for a fighter he routinely ran down, and who promptly washed out of the UFC. And yes, White did almost get into a fist fight with Tito Ortiz. And sure, he and Jon Jones have had more up and downs than a high-school football practice. But none of those feuds come close to his ongoing battle with Randy Couture.
For those who don’t remember, in 2007, Couture was the heavyweight champion of the world, one of the most popular fighters in the sport, and damn near universally beloved. The biggest fight that could be made in MMA was a Couture vs. Fedor Emelianenko superfight that the UFC was desperately working on. But when the UFC couldn’t get it done, when they wouldn’t make the concessions necessary to sign Fedor, and when Couture figured out that he was allegedly being paid far less than other fighters in the UFC, “The Natural” quit.
With two fights left on his UFC deal, Couture walked away from the promotion, believing (incorrectly) that he could wait out the time restriction of his contract to enter free agency.
That never ended up happening, because the UFC sued him. That’s right — this wasn’t just some whine-fest at a press conference, the UFC sued their sitting heavyweight champion.
By just about any definition, the entire situation was a fiasco. After Couture quit, the UFC called a press conference specifically to refute some of his statements about the company, and an ugly and protracted battle in both the media and the courts played out. In the end, after almost a year of battling and after Couture spent $500,000 on legal fees, he gave up, renegotiating a deal with the UFC and returning to the promotion. But the damage was done, and after Couture left his commentary gig with the UFC for a spot with Bellator, the two washed their hands of one another. That’s why you see Couture speaking out when White feuds with Georges St-Pierre or Francis Ngannou, because he’s knows what he’s talking about, and unlike with Jon Jones, the water isn’t really under the bridge.
Don’t believe me? Think about this: In 2013, two years after retiring from the sport, Couture was banned from cornering his own son, Ryan Couture, at UFC event in Sweden. Think about that. We’re talking about one of the five most important figures in UFC history. A Hall of Famer and a man who is partially responsible for some of the biggest moments in the company, at pivotal times. And the animus is so great that White can’t even allow him to stand by his son as he prepares to fight in a cage for White’s benefit! That’s an Eric Cartman level of petty and one that I really don’t think can be topped.
Which UFC champion had the baddest blood with Dana White?
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