Ari Emanuel credits Dana White for 'slapping him across the face' during COVID shutdown

Ari Emanuel says 'the whole company would have been tanked' without Dana White pushing through the pandemic.
Ari Emanuel
Ari Emanuel / Amy Sussman/GettyImages

Ariel Emanuel has some high praise for UFC president Dana White, particularly due to his persistence in keeping the UFC up and running when the world was shutting down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CEO of Endeavor Talent Agency was a recent guest on the Jay Shetty podcast and says it was White who kept the positive attitue during a trying time.

“I thought we had to shut everything down and Dana White at the UFC said to me and said, ‘Uh-uh, we’re not shutting down.’ I got scared and he slapped me across the face. ‘We’re going.’ And then he said ‘Get me an island.’ And I was like, my brother’s a doctor. He’s telling me the world’s closing. He was like ‘Uh-uh.’ And he was just driving that train."

Ari Emanuel says 'the whole company would have been tanked' without Dana White

White and the UFC was heavily criticized several times during the early days of the pandemic. When all sporting events were shutting down around the world White was holding events in empty arenas and on a private island in the Middle East.

“So we got him an island and he did everything else. And it kind of just reminded me, yeah, it’s nerve-wracking, but don’t be scared. And he was amazing. And I was on the other side of that fence. And that’s why he’s a great partner, he’s an incredible partner," Emanuel said.

The UFC built Fight Island to host fights in Abu Dhabi as well as held events in its own private studio, the UFC APEX. The fighters, staff and media were tested regularly and quarantined to remain as safe as possible. But even with all the precautions, Emanuel was still uneasy.

"But I for the first time got very scared. And he just said ‘No, we just have to go. And we’re going to take all the heat for it.’ And there was a lot of heat against him. But, we did it.”

And the events thrived, despite the backlash from the media, and Emanuel now knows what would have happened if he'd gone against White and shut down the UFC.

“If we didn’t have that, the whole company would have been tanked. Because we needed the ESPN deal to go. We needed to continue to put on fights. His courage, dragging me along, it’s incredible.”

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