Dana White is one of the most passionate and aggressive businessmen in sport, but he owes a lot of his success to a notorious Boston gangster.
The UFC’s president helped establish the company as the biggest in MMA and one of the powerhouses of global sport. Thanks to his business savvy and love of a fight, the 51-year-old is also pretty well off.
White made his millions after leaving Boston for Las VegasGetty Images
But before White and the Fertitta brothers sold the UFC for $4.2billion to WWE-IMG in 2016, before the UFC was even created, he had to flee his native Boston.
Notorious gangster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger was an Irish-American organised crime boss who ran the Winter Hill Gang in south Boston who, at the height of his notoriety, was the second most wanted man on the FBI’s list behind Osama Bin Laden.
Before he was finally apprehended in 2011 in California, Bulger ran Boston with a series of rackets, including loan sharking, bookmaking, truck hijacking, arms trafficking and extortion.
In fact, it is that final arm of his criminal empire which meant he briefly crossed paths with White, which sparked a significant upturn in the youngster’s fortunes.
Gangster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger (L) and his associate Kevin Weeks (R) – both men’s stories were told in the film ‘Black Mass’ starring Johnny DeppGetty Images – Getty
“Well, the way that it worked was that yes, I got involved in boxing,” White told Graham Bensinger.
“There’s a guy named Peter Welsh in Boston that I was partners with, a local fighter there, and what we did was started this ‘Get Kids off the Street’ programme.
“Basically, it was called the ‘Muny’, which was the Municipal Courthouse in Southie [South Boston] . Peter and I did a deal with the city where we got the space underneath the courthouse, which was all this concrete area, we put a ring in there and bags.
“What we used to do was to bring kids off the streets and Boston is very segregated. Especially back then; you’re talking back in the late 80’s.
The 51-year-old was born and bred in Southie, BostonGetty Images – Getty
“We used to bring kids in from all different areas to come in and box and we wanted these kids to meet each other and respect each other through boxing.
“It was great and a great thing to do for the kids, but you don’t make much money doing it – it was a charity thing we were doing. So, to pay the bills, we used to bring in businessmen, housewives, whoever it was and train them to box and we were basically like personal trainers, but you did boxing.
“Through that, we started going out into the health clubs and teaching in the health clubs and our classes became huge all throughout Boston. I was teaching in the Boston Athletic Club, which is in south Boston, and one day I am in there teaching a class and these guys literally walk right into the middle of the class.
“They said, ‘we need to talk to you’. I was teaching a class here! I’m thinking, ‘do these guys own the club or something?’
White booked a Delta airlines ticket and head for Sin City and the bright lights of the UFCGetty Images – Getty
“I leave the class, I go out and start talking to them and they start asking me if I know who they are. I didn’t, but it wasn’t Whitey – it was Kevin Weeks.
“That was it; they wanted some money and they walked away that day and I was thinking, ‘I don’t even want to know these guys’. Listen, you would have to be brain dead to pick a fight with these guys.
“Back in those days, when I lived in Southie, the whole Whitey Bulger thing was huge. But I lived in Southie and there were a lot of people I am sure who dealt with Whitey, but I wasn’t one of those people.
“I lived there, but I never saw any of that stuff. I heard about stuff, but I had never seen that. This was the first time that any of that had been anywhere close to me.”
White and the Fertitta brothers sold the UFC for $4.2billion in 2016 to WWE-IMGGetty Images – Getty
As of August 2019, White has amassed a net worth close to £500million since buying the UFC for just $2m in 2001.
But it is highly unlikely any of his success would have ever taken place if he then did not receive an anonymous phone call telling him to pay up.
“I ignored him,” he continued. “I didn’t do anything, I wasn’t going out of my way to bump into him again or to do anything else and then one day, I was sitting in my apartment and I got a phone call.
“They basically told me, ‘we want the money.’ I told them I didn’t have the money, it was $2,500. That was like $25,000 to me in those days!
“They said, ‘get it from your girlfriend or get it from somebody.’ I had until tomorrow, which was a Sunday, I thought nothing good was going to happen!
“So literally, that day, I bought a plane ticket and came back to Vegas.”