What's Dana White's role in Mayweather-McGregor?

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

LAS VEGAS – Leonard Ellerbe chuckled at the notion that is making the rounds on the internet that the Aug. 26 boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor is somehow struggling to get untracked.

It will, the CEO of Mayweather Promotions insisted, be among the top-three paid gates in sports history and will blow past the 2015 record for boxing that Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao set at $72.2 million.

“To say we’re not doing well is one of the silliest things I’ve heard,” Ellerbe said. “Not only is the event doing extremely well, we’ll blow past our previous record. This is going to be one of the biggest sporting events ever. When you start talking about being at the level of the Super Bowl, you know you have a major event.”

The Mayweather-McGregor fight is expected to break every financial record for a fight ever set, including most pay-per-view buys, largest paid gate and most gross revenue.

For the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, Mayweather Promotions and Top Rank were frequently at odds. In this event, Ellerbe said it is just the opposite working with the UFC.

UFC president Dana White is already a major mainstream star, and is probably more popular than any individual fighter in combat sports other than Mayweather and McGregor themselves.

Having White barnstorming and promoting the fight over the last couple months, Ellerbe said, makes a huge difference.

White, of course, built the UFC almost from scratch, from a company that was on the verge of going under into one that sold last year for in excess of $4 billion. What is playing out in the UFC is White’s vision for what mixed martial arts could be when he started in 2001.

Dana White looks on while Conor McGregor speaks during a Mayweather-McGregor news conference on Wednesday. (Getty)

But while boxing promoters are used to working together and co-promoting events, such is not the case with the UFC. It doesn’t co-promote with other promoters; it’s White’s way up and down the line. White has say over everything in the UFC, from the fighters’ walkout music to the advertising to the matches themselves to the tone and tenor of the broadcast. If it happens in the UFC, it has White’s fingerprints on it.

Ellerbe is the head of Mayweather Promotions and is the lead promoter for Mayweather-McGregor. Showtime will produce the broadcast. White isn’t the single up-or-down voice he is in the UFC.

“Obviously, this is new territory for me,” White said. “I’m not used to working with other people on doing this stuff.”

But his presence is desperately needed because of how difficult it is to sell 1 million pay-per-views, let alone 5 million or more. That number is a U.S. number only, and millions more will be sold around the world.

But for some perspective, consider that only three fights in boxing history, all involving Mayweather, have topped 2 million sales: Mayweather-Pacquiao did 4.6 million, Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya did 2.48 million in 2007 and Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez did 2.2 million in 2013.

Two others, Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield II (1.99 million) in 1997 and Tyson-Lennox Lewis (1.95 million) in 2002, surpassed 1.7 million.

White is a longtime boxing fan who was involved at the sport at just about every level. Mayweather actually wore White’s logo, Bullenbeiser Boxing, when he made his pro debut in 1996 after earning a bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympic Games.

Part of White’s success in building the UFC was keeping the things he loved about boxing and changing the things he felt didn’t work.

He’s become a mainstream celebrity who rivals Kim Kardashian for appearances on TMZ.

Unlike the tensions between the promoters that existed in the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, Ellerbe welcomes White’s assistance.

“There are no egos involved in this and we are all working toward the same goal, all of us,” Ellerbe said. “Being the lead promoter is what it is, but the UFC has been integral helping us to promote this event and they’re going to continue to do that. It’s been very good cooperation across the board and we appreciate their professionalism and willingness to do whatever they can to help this promotion.

“Dana is extremely good at what he does, and he brings a lot of passion and a lot of intensity to it. He loves the fights and he loves promoting them and he’s a tremendous asset to us in what we’re trying to do here.”

White’s primary contribution has been to sell McGregor’s chances. Though most experts believe Mayweather will win, it always makes selling a pay-per-view easier when the fan base believes it’s an even bout where either fighter could win.

Given that Mayweather is 49-0 and one of the greatest boxers of all-time and this bout will mark McGregor’s pro boxing debut, it seems a stretch that McGregor could win.

White, though, has already been beating that drum and he’ll sell it over the next three days to anyone who will listen.

“Listen, at the end of the day, this is a fight – a fight!” he said. “Anything is possible in a fight when two men get in there and start throwing punches. You have Floyd Mayweather, who is arguably the greatest of all time and defensively, the greatest fighter who ever lived, without a doubt. Conor McGregor is 28 years old, a southpaw and will go in there and try to knock him out. It’s a fight.”

What is strange about this promotion is the unity that exists among those putting it on. Mayweather and White have frequently been at odds over the years, as have White and Stephen Espinoza, the Showtime Sports executive vice president and general manager.

But the negotiations for the fight went smoothly and rapped up quickly, according to those involved, and it didn’t become the public joke that talks to make Mayweather-Pacquiao became.

“It just goes to show what an [expletive] [Top Rank chairman] Bob Arum is,” White said in trying to explain how easily the deal for Mayweather-McGregor came together. “I literally got in a room with these guys and it was one of the easiest deals I’ve ever done.”

Podcast: Mayweather-McGregor fight preview with Kevin Iole

The cooperation may be because it’s like the sides have found a license to print money. Each fighter is expected to make more than $100 million apiece, and revenues figure to soar past $600 million.

Espinoza said the success is because the audience isn’t a boxing crowd or an MMA crowd.

“If we look at this, we’re not only drawing fans from the universe of boxing and MMA, we’ve tapped into the audience that really doesn’t follow either sport,” he said. “This is such an unprecedented event, such a spectacle, that suddenly people who have never really been interested in either MMA or boxing are interested in this event due to the nature of the competition and the nature of these two personalities. That’s an untapped part of the market that not even Mayweather-Pacquiao touched.”

Adding White to an event that begins with the premise that the Mayweather-Pacquiao numbers are the starting point simply adds to the possibility of a new pay-per-view record.

The climb from 4.6 million buys to more than 5 million is steep, and having a guy with a great passion for a fight such as White out there pitching it makes landing a record more of a possibility.