Mixed martial arts (MMA) is something of a bubble. While people – namely men who are into the sport – tend to be obsessively interested, others know nothing about it. But this has changed a little in 2023, with MMA dominating the headlines since a video surfaced of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) president Dana White hitting his wife of 27 years twice in a nightclub in Mexico on New Year’s Eve.
In the video, White can be seen walking towards Anne, who then slaps him in the face. White, who has been president of the MMA promotion company for more than 20 years, responds by slapping her in the face multiple times – as well as restraining her. The incident is shocking to watch. Yet, since then, White has faced no repercussions other than some calls to step down from his role. This is troubling to say the least and you cannot help but wonder what message having White as president of the modern-day bloodsport’s largest promotion firm sends to MMA fans and the wider world?
White has said sorry for his behaviour, stating that there was alcohol involved but “that’s no excuse” for assaulting a woman. His wife, meanwhile, has stated his conduct was “out of character” and “nothing like this has ever happened before”. It is impossible to know whether these words have genuine weight behind them or are simply empty, disingenuous PR spin drafted by a publicist. All I will say is research has found domestic abuse has a higher rate of repeat victimisation than any other crime; take from that what you will.
That withstanding, I am not going to speculate on White’s relationship with his wife of almost three decades. I know nothing about it personally. All I can do – all any of us can do – is look at White’s track record more generally. It sure isn't pretty.
In a nutshell, the New Year’s Eve incident makes an already unlikeable character even less likeable – not to mention also making him look like a raging hypocrite, as well as a domestic abuser. Let’s take a moment to remember what White said in 2014 after footage emerged of ex-Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice ferociously assaulting his fiancée. White proclaimed: “There’s one thing that you never bounce back from and that’s putting your hands on a woman. Been that way in the UFC since we started here. You don’t bounce back from putting your hands on a woman.”
But it seems bounce back – literally and figuratively – is exactly what White has done since the incident, with the UFC president launching Power Slap League on Wednesday after the programme was delayed by a week, presumably a consequence of the New Year’s Eve incident. In recent days, White has been shamelessly promoting the unfortunately fittingly named league, with the UFC releasing a video called “Time to Learn the Rules of Power Slap” in which White details the sport's rules. “It's the ultimate test of toughness,” he says. It feels like a sick joke that a man who just went viral for hitting his wife is now fronting a show called Power Slap League.
The show, which will see men hitting each other in the face, was branded Dana White’s Power Slap League but his name appears to have been dropped from the title in the wake of him striking his wife. But if this is the worst punishment White faces then he really can't complain. After all, the UFC, as well as its parent firm Endeavor, and its chief broadcast partner ESPN, have all declined to comment on the New Year’s Eve incident. (Endeavour’s shares spoke for themselves when they plummeted by six per cent in the stock market in the wake of the incident.)
But alas, the question remains: Why has White faced so few repercussions for the incident? The fact MMA, which has often been claimed as the world’s fastest-growing sport, has long been afflicted by domestic abuse could have something to do with it. The number of domestic violence arrests of MMA fighters were not only substantially above NFL players, but it was also more than double the average national rate in the US, HBO’s Real Sports found back in 2015.
White also may be eschewing public scrutiny because of the sheer power and influence he appears to have in the UFC. It is worth bearing in mind White has faced criticism that MMA fighters are underpaid by the UFC but remains steadfast in his view they are adequately paid.
From what I have seen of White, this is a man – a Trump supporter, I might add – you don’t want to get on the wrong side of. It is no secret that White, who has millions of social media followers, has a downright aggressive demeanour and appears to have a passion for profanities.
And like Donald Trump, he too relishes in attacking journalists. Take the time White branded MMA reporter Loretta Hunt a “f****** dumb b****” and her sources “f***ots” in a video retaliation to an article on the UFC seeking to dodge managers and agents when liaising with fighters. If this wasn’t vitriolic enough, he also branded her story “absolutely f****** r*****ed”.
When you bear in mind that White campaigned for Trump, the former US president, in 2016 and 2020, these comments perhaps feel less surprising. After all, Trump has a history of making demeaning, misogynistic remarks about women, as well as racist and bigoted comments. Something which presumably White, who gave a speech at the Republican convention in both 2016 and 2020, as well as at a Trump rally in 2020, doesn’t have a problem with. But it is worth placing White’s affinity to Trump in the wider context of links between MMA fighters and right-wing and even far-right politics. Many MMA fighters publicly lent their backing to Trump.
Interestingly, the relationship between Trump and White is an enduring one which dates back to Trump’s time as a New Jersey casino and hotel owner. “Donald Trump is a visionary,” White says in footage celebrating the UFC’s 25th anniversary released in 2018. “This guy is a fighter, an entrepreneur. If he sees something and he gets it, he’s not going to be afraid of what anyone else thinks. He’s a guy you don’t want to be against.”
In fairness to White, I do agree. Trump, who has been accused of sexual assault or misconduct by a string of women, is not a guy you want to go up against, either. White describes Trump in such a way that you get the strong sense a ruthless, ultra-machismo, Machiavellian, winner-at-all-costs persona is something he admires – even glamorises.
The simple fact is: Dana White hit his wife. Why is he still the face of UFC and why has he faced no accountability for the incident?