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Former NBA commissioner David Stern is largely credited with helping the once struggling basketball league explode into a global phenomenon. Just a few years before he took over in 1984, 16 of the NBA’s 23 teams were losing money, attendance was down, and the league was taking a beating in the court of public opinion.

Under Stern’s leadership, the NBA not only corrected course but the league transformed into a multi-billion business with stars like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson flourishing into household names. The Ringer called Stern “the most consequential off-court figure” in NBA history in a profile after his passing in 2020.

It’s impossible to argue about the influence Stern had on the game of basketball and the same could be said for Dana White in the UFC.

That’s according to TKO Group Holdings president Mark Shapiro, who compared White to Stern when addressing the UFC CEO’s innate ability to identify talent and then transforming in-cage success into superstardom.

“In my years being in sports, I started with ESPN in 1993, so I’ve seen it all,” Shapiro said during the JP Morgan Technology, Media and Communications conference. “Don’t want to date myself here but the only other person I can equate him to in terms of star building is David Stern.

“Stern was as good as it gets when it comes to star building. [Larry] Bird and Magic [Johnson] and Michael Jordan and Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) and Kobe Bryant. He would see the star before anybody else. He would seize upon it. He would bring his marketing prowess to the table. He would get behind that star and there would be a new following. So he would love having Anthony Edwards today, I’ll tell you that. Dana White is that.”

Shapiro credits White as the driving force behind not only the UFC’s exponential growth in recent years but the emergence of stars fighting there.

Of course there’s none bigger than Conor McGregor, who finally makes his long awaited return to the octagon at UFC 303 in June, but there’s also names like Israel Adesanya, Sean O’Malley and Ilia Topuria who have emerged as legitimate draws in recent years.

Shapiro says White has been instrumental in not only recognizing fighters worth signing and developing but he then puts his marketing muscle behind them.

“He sees men and women. He sees these potential stars,” Shapiro said. “He gets behind them. They have to win on their own but he puts them in a position if they win, to really explode. That works to our benefit.”

Since the UFC became part of a publicly traded company, financial disclosures are readily available and it’s tough to argue with Shapiro’s logic, at least based on the revenue the promotion has generated over the past few years.

The UFC has produced record revenue year over years with more growth expected now that the promotion has started hitting the road more often for events with site fees reaching astronomical proportions.

Shapiro teased on Monday that the UFC just recently inked a new pact with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia “for almost double the rights fee” for the original event scheduled on June 22.Saudi Arabia reportedly paid $20 million for that card.

The entire team working at UFC deserves credit for the massive gains but Shapiro says none of that happens without White captaining the ship.

“By in large, the biggest reason for our success is Dana White himself,” Shapiro said. “I mean we have a great team behind him in management, Lawrence Epstein, who runs UFC day-to-day and Craig Borsari, who does the production and Pete Dropick, who oversees the live events. But Dana White is all that and then some.

“He’s a marketer, he’s a star all by himself. He’s an unbelievable leader. He’s an incredible matchmaker. His social is growing arguably faster than the UFC itself. But the best thing he is, he’s a star builder.”

Author: Staff

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