The images went viral over social media: Dana White visiting the White House, where Colby Covington lived up to his promise of an audience with the President with his UFC belt in tow.
On the recent edition of the “Unfiltered” podcast, the UFC president gave his version of the story of his trip to Washington D.C., which included Covington’s Oval Office visit and a taping for an upcoming documentary.
“President Trump has always been great to me,” White said. “He’s always, he’s a big fan of the UFC. I brought him in and they talked, they took pictures, he signed his hat for him, and it was fun. Then from there, we’re doing, it’s the 25th anniversary of the UFC, and, we’re doing 25 documentaries with 25 badass directors for the 25th anniversary and one of them is the story of how President Trump let us come to the Taj for the first fight and he and I went to the residence after that, and he and I both shot for the documentary.”
White then said after the documentary shoot, he and his wife had dinner with Trump and got a tour of the facility.
“I went back to the hotel, picked up my wife, and we came back and had dinner with the President in the residence,” White said. “We had dinner for three hours, and then he personally toured my wife and I around the White House.”
Some have wondered why White, who spoke on Trump’s behalf at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, chose to be so visibly associated with a polarizing political figure, when he has to draw business from customers of all stripes.
But White’s relationship with Trump stems from far before Trump entertained political ambitions. When the Fertitta brothers purchased the UFC in 2000, they were all but banned from major facilities, as previous ownership had been reduced to running at casinos in Louisiana and Mississippi after the sport fell victim to a political witch hunt in the late 1990s.
Before the UFC was legalized in Nevada, the unified rules were adopted in New Jersey, paving the way for commission oversight in that state, and Trump offered the Trump Taj Mahal as a venue. UFC 30, the first event of the Zuffa era, as well as UFC 31, were both held in the Atlantic City location.
“At that time, what a lot of people don’t realize is, no venues wanted the UFC, they didn’t want it,” White said. “At the time, President Trump reached out and said ‘love to have you at the Taj,’ cut a great deal with me, and yeah that started our relationship. Then, he showed up at the first fight and stayed until the last fight, both fights we had at the Taj. Then we left there and went to the Meadowlands, and he showed up for those fights too.”
White still not sold on Ngannou
White’s made no mistake on where he stands on former heavyweight title challenger Francis Ngannou. The Cameroon native looked like a future world champion on his way up, but has been terrible in his last two fights, losses to then-champion Stipe Miocic and Derrick Lewis.
On Tuesday, White reiterated the idea that fast success went to Ngannou’s head.
“Francis Ngannou, at the time that he was coming up, I believed this guy was going to be the guy, was going to be the heavyweight champion,” White said. “And he lost his mind. This guy completely lost his mind and started to act in a way that you just don’t act. I completely saw it coming, that Stipe, obviously Francis Ngannou is a massive, strong, hard-hitting guy and anything can happen when he gets in there, but Stipe has this thing where he feels disrespected. This guy’s always on fire and pissed off at the world, pissed off at us and I saw that coming. I knew, Francis Ngannou left the training center here where had trained for previous fights, took off to France, was in France training or doing whatever he was doing leading up to the Stipe fight, because he absolutely, positively knew he was going to beat Stipe.”
Ngannou later put out a statement after the Lewis loss saying he was going to get things right, but the promoter doesn’t yet sound convinced.
“I don’t know,” White said. “Ngannou has a lot of things he needs to fix personally and professionally to see if he ever gets back on track again.”
Interested in Askren … when he becomes a free agent
The UFC and Ben Askren have always had a bumpy relationship. Last time Askren was a free agent, after fighting out his contract as Bellator champion, White questionably claimed Askren wasn’t a UFC-caliber competitor. Since then, Askren continued to find success in the Asian One FC promotion, where he holds the welterweight title and remains undefeated.
According to the UFC president, Askren reach out to him to see about getting into the UFC, and while White is interested, he can’t officially talk as long as Askren remains under contract to One.
“Ben Askren hit me up a few months ago and said ‘what are the odds that we can talk about me getting into the UFC?’ White said. “And I said we can absolutely talk about it. And we, I had him, I said you need to send me a letter, before I even talk with you or meet with you or do anything, I need a letter saying you’re a free agent and you’re able to whatever. And he’s not a free agent. He’s not a free agent, he’s under contract with One FC and he’s going to have to go fulfill his contract with them before I would even meet with him or talk to him.”
Gustafsson has ‘serious injury’ to hamstring
It was a curious turn of events heading into UFC 227: Volkan Oezdemir had to drop out of an anticipated light heavyweight matchup against longtime top contender Alexander Gustaffson. Anthony Smith offered to step in, and then shortly thereafter, Gustafsson withdrew with what was termed a “minor injury.”
The phrasing “minor injury” caused Gustafsson all sorts of grief on social media. But White says something got misinterpreted, and that Gustafsson actually has a serious hamstring injury which will keep him out for several more months.
“It wasn’t a minor injury,” White said. “He had a serious injury to his hamstring. He doesn’t have to do surgery, he’s doing physical therapy, and we’re then hoping he can come back before the end of the year. He was hurt, legitimate injury, and he’s working on it.”