First up: five of White's best boardroom knockouts."
Retaining Royce (2006)
Nostalgia pays off: Fans indoctrinated via "The Ultimate Fighter" series in 2005 may have known him only as the guy in the pajamas, but fans on board from day one still had residual affection for Royce Gracie, the skinny foreigner who made slaying giants look effortless. Better, they had residual curiosity about how the once-dominant champion would fare 10 years after his departure.
Somehow, White convinced Gracie to answer the question, signing him to return for one last bout, against Matt Hughes. The result was predictable, but the torch-passing was worth a $3 million gate and 600,000-plus pay-per-view buys.
Considering Gracie's infamous evasiveness when it came to fighting under unified rules and without his gi, White should have that contract framed and mounted as a symbol of his tenacity. I'm still not sure it even happened.
"TUF" uncensored (2005)
At the time of its debut in 2005, "The Ultimate Fighter" was considered a lurid knockoff of NBC's glossy "The Contender," which featured no less a personality than Rocky Balboa himself (OK, Sylvester Stallone) and the promotional push of a major network.
As it turns out, it was White -- and producer Craig Piligian -- who had the combat/reality formula all figured out. "The Contender" pureed its boxing bouts with slick editing and absurd sound effects: By trying to manufacture drama, producers sucked the real stuff right out of the program.
"TUF" went in the opposite direction. Realizing that fight fans want unfiltered action, White and company presented bouts in their entirety. "The Contender" was bounced from the network after one season; "Fighter" has become Spike's flagship series.
Branding the WEC (2006)
Problem: Wean a growing combat sports audience on the hummingbird-paced lower weight classes without diluting the product in the process.
Solution: Gather the assets of well-structured West Coast promotion World Extreme Cagefighting and use a cable network (Versus) to kill any potential competitor's deals for airtime while simultaneously advancing the notion that 145-pound-and-under athletes are just as worthy of the spotlight as the gorillas. White at his most cheerfully machiavellian.
Securing Brock Lesnar (2007)
Despite the contempt some combat fans feel about professional wrestling, it's clear mixed-style prizefighting shares a lot of visual attributes (submissions, heel/face personas) as its theatrical cousin. Given sufficient incentive, that fan base can be tapped.
Wisely, White didn't indulge in any sideshow barkering with an ill-equipped grappler. He waited until a real fighter came along in the form of Lesnar, a former WWE star attraction who also happened to be a legitimate athlete. Some scoffed -- especially after Lesnar looked technically inept in his debut -- but his three appearances in '08 were business blockbusters, the first bout allegedly drawing close to half its revenue from viewers who previously had never purchased a UFC event.
Lesnar is now the heavyweight champion; White has a legion of new consumers throwing money at his product. And he did it without resorting to any cheap stunt work.
Global expansion (2007-present)
Promotions are often preoccupied with gate receipts on an event-by-event basis, ignoring what today's decisions mean for tomorrow's account balance. White is nothing if not a long-term thinker: Treks to England, Ireland and now Germany (on June 13) may cost the company on its 2009 ledgers, but establishing the brand in foreign markets should offer invaluable levels of security five, 10 and possibly 20 years down the line.
For countries with no existing MMA landscape, the trips also mean that the UFC will become the sport, not simply a variation on it.
Shrewd -- and more than a little scary.