The president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) says he will never say anything negative about President Trump after the then-business mogul helped reestablish the mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion company in the early 2000s.
“I would never say anything negative about Donald Trump because he was there when other people weren’t,” Dana White told Hill.TV co-host Krystal Ball during an interview that aired on Thursday.
“Any good thing that happened to me in my career, Donald Trump was the first to pick up the phone and call and say ‘congratulations,’ ” he continued.
White said there was still a lot of stigma attached to professional MMA when he took over the franchise in 2001.
At the time, mixed martial arts fighting was banned in most parts of the U.S., thanks in part to the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
McCain once famously referred to MMA as “human cockfighting” before later becoming a fan of the sport and even, at one point, working with MMA promoters to fund brain injury research.
But White said there was a time that professional MMA was rejected in major venues and wasn’t covered by mainstream sports outlets like ESPN. During this time, Trump owned several Atlantic City venues where shows were held.
“Not only did he have us out there for the first one, he came to the second show too, then when we left the Taj Mahal and we went to the Meadowlands, he even showed up to the event at the Meadowlands. He saw something in it like we did, then a little while after that he started to compete with us,” White said.
The UFC chief, who supported Trump’s presidential bid from the beginning, also defended his decision to speak at the 2016 Republican National Convention, despite critics warning it might hurt the franchise.
“A company usually doesn’t want to get into politics and back one guy or another – I’m like let me tell you what – ‘this guy has been a stand up guy since the day I met him, I’m speaking at the Republican National Convention,’ ” he said, adding, “no matter who likes it or doesn’t like it, I care.”
White said he has become “even closer friends” with Trump since the former businessman took over the Oval Office.
“I think that he and I are built the same way – we’re pretty loyal to people who are good to us.”
— Tess Bonn