U.F.C. and Partners Reluctant to Speak On Dana White Slapping His Wife
Three days after TMZ published a video of Dana White, the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, slapping his wife at a nightclub, neither the U.F.C. nor its most important partners is signaling that any meaningful consequences are coming for White.
Not even TBS, which is set to debut an inauspiciously timed “competitive open-handed striking” show that White created called “Power Slap: Road to the Title,” later this month. TBS, which is owned by Warner Bros. Discovery, is pushing back the show’s release by a week, the most any White or U.F.C. partner is reacting to White hitting his wife.
The U.F.C. and its parent company, Endeavor, have remained silent and declined to comment to The New York Times on Thursday. In a statement, a spokeswoman for ESPN, the U.F.C.’s main broadcaster, said, “We have been covering the story on our platforms since it broke and will continue to do so.”
On Monday, TMZ published video of an altercation between White and his wife, Anne, that it said was filmed on Jan. 1, shortly after midnight. In the video, the Whites can be seen arguing with each other above a dance floor in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, as loud music blares. Dana pushes Anne’s hand, and she slaps him in the face. Dana retaliates by slapping Anne twice, and the two grapple with each other for a few seconds.
Dana White declined to comment through the U.F.C., and Anne White was unable to be reached for comment. Dana White told TMZ that he and his wife, who he has been married to for more than 25 years, had been drinking heavily, though he added: “You’ve heard me say for years, ‘There’s never ever an excuse for a guy to put his hands on a woman,’ and now here I am on TMZ talking about it.”
Anne White said in a statement to TMZ that “nothing like this has ever happened before” and that she and White apologized to each other.
The U.F.C. has never fully articulated a policy on domestic violence, and over the years has handled such situations unevenly. “There’s one thing that you never bounce back from and that’s putting your hands on a woman,” White said in 2014, in response to publication of the video of the former N.F.L. running back Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée. “Been that way in the U.F.C. since we started here. You don’t bounce back from putting your hands on a woman.”
The U.F.C. has terminated the contracts of some fighters, like Luis Peña, who have been arrested and charged with hitting their partners. But it also for years promoted Greg Hardy, a former N.F.L. player who was found guilty of domestic assault before he appealed and the charges were dropped.
Besides the comments to TMZ, the usually outspoken White has remained silent, as have many of the people and organizations he makes money for. The U.F.C. declined to comment on the incident or on whether White would face any discipline. Endeavor, the sports and entertainment conglomerate that is the U.F.C.’s parent company, did the same.
ESPN, which pays the U.F.C. hundreds of millions of dollars annually to show its fights and is its most important corporate partner, provided a statement but did not say anything more about White.
“Endeavor, the parent company, no comment. ESPN, the broadcast partner, no comment. U.F.C., no comment,” Dan Le Batard, the former longtime ESPN host, said on his podcast on Wednesday. He added: “Like, no you’re not going to get change that way. You’re going to be OK with a video of a very powerful man slapping his wife a couple of times, if it is no comment, no comment, no comment from the powerful people in charge of policing this stuff.”
Shares of Endeavor, a publicly traded company, fell Tuesday after the video was released, but they were up on Wednesday and Thursday. According to the company’s financial filings, “owned sports properties,” which is largely made up of the U.F.C., accounted for a third of Endeavor’s revenue in the third quarter of 2022.
The relationship between ESPN and the U.F.C. is unique. In 2018, ESPN agreed to pay the U.F.C. $1.5 billion over five years to show 30 events annually. A year later, ESPN and the U.F.C. reached an agreement for ESPN’s streaming service to exclusively distribute the U.F.C.’s pay-per-view fights. The value of the deal was not disclosed.
That makes ESPN the biggest single source of revenue for the U.F.C., but crucially, unlike in most of its other agreements with sports leagues, ESPN does not control the content on U.F.C. broadcasts. The U.F.C. produces its own events, hiring its own camera people, producers and commentators, and ESPN distributes the feed. ESPN has used that more distant relationship to sidestep a number of U.F.C. controversies, including this one, telling some reporters that it only distributes the U.F.C.
But that also means ESPN, which prides itself on its large newsroom of independent journalists, won’t control what its viewers hear and see about White during the next U.F.C. broadcast, on Jan. 14. Instead those viewers will hear and see what the U.F.C. decides to broadcast.
In the days since the video was released, ESPN has come under heavy criticism for its coverage.
Stephen A. Smith, ESPN’s biggest star, addressed the slap Wednesday morning on the broadcaster’s biggest debate show, “First Take.” He said there were never any circumstances under which a man should put his hands on a woman — but then Smith seemingly began doing damage control for White.
“Dana White is not just somebody I know in sports, he’s a friend,” Smith said. “I love him. He knows how wrong he was to do this and he knows we’re on-air, he knew ahead of time because I reached out to him to let him know I would be talking about this, this morning. He knows he crossed a line that he has never crossed before.”
Smith, who is represented by WME, which like the U.F.C. is owned by Endeavor, did not respond to requests to comment made through both ESPN and Endeavor.
“We’ve been told to not write anything incendiary on social media about the Dana White situation,” Jeff Wagenheim, who covers combat sports for ESPN, said on Twitter, adding about Smith: “Some of us at ESPN do not have as soft a take as this on domestic violence.”
Wagenheim later clarified that he did not receive any edict not to speak about White, but that “with a business partner things are sensitive.”
While ESPN and Endeavor have usually taken a hands-off approach to the U.F.C.’s many controversies — such as the extremely close relationship many U.F.C. fighters have with Ramzan Kadyrov, a brutal strongman who is allied with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — they have not always done so.
In April 2020, when White tried to host U.F.C. events on Native American tribal land as a way to evade pandemic-related restrictions against large gatherings, his plan was widely panned. Those events were canceled when California state officials expressed concerns about the plans to Disney, which controls ESPN, The Times has previously reported.
“We got a call from the highest level you can go at Disney, and the highest level at ESPN,” White said at the time.
It is unclear what calls ESPN executives have made, if any, to White this time.