UFC President Dana White has to be grinning from ear to ear. UFC 100 this past July garnered an estimated 1.72 million buys, exceeding his loftiest expectations. Expectations were shattered again with the premiere of this season of The Ultimate Fighter, which drew a series record of 4.1 million viewers.
“We knew it was going to be big, we just didn’t know how big it was going to be,” White admitted in an interview with Ariel Helwani of Fanhouse. “We did 5.1 million viewers the first week, 4.1 last week, and this Wednesday we think that we’re going to do more than both of those.”
White had been reported to have predicting 7 million viewers for tonight’s episode, which features Kimbo Slice’s debut inside the Octagon. White decided to bring his prediction down a tad to 6 million viewers, after having to eat crow for saying that he would base jump off the Mandalay Bay if UFC 100 generated over 1.5 million buys, which he still plans to do.
“Dude, if we do 7 million … I’m not going to say anything,” White stated. “I already put my foot in my mouth at UFC 100.”
White had been verbally assaulting Kimbo Slice for the better part of the last three years. However, White admits that his opinion of the internet sensation has changed.
“When I woke up one Saturday morning and was watching ESPN, and they were comparing this guy to Muhammad Ali, that was what was killing me,” White admitted. “People would ask me if he was going to get into the UFC, and I said the only way this guy will get in the UFC is if he went on The Ultimate Fighter and won it. I respect him very much that he took the challenge and is going to do it.”
When White was asked if he now liked Slice, White went on to admit that he did, stating, “He is not who I expected him to be. When I first met him, I was thinking thug, and he’s anything but. Yeah, I like him very much.”
Many people had speculated that this season of the show would be setup to avoid having Slice fight until the middle of the season. White has no reservations about Slice fighting in only the third episode of the season.
“One of the things that has made The Ultimate Fighter so successful is that it’s real,” White explained. “You know, I don’t get involved, tell them what to do, who to pick, or all this other stuff. The show isn’t manipulated in any way to keep Kimbo on until episode 8 to pull higher ratings. It’s a real show with real fighters and whatever happens, happens. The most staged thing on that entire show is when I come out and say, ‘Welcome to the UFC training center,’ and I give them the rules and how it’s all going to work. After that happens, whatever happens, happens. You never know what is going to happen, and I truly believe that’s what’s made it so successful.”
Tonight’s fight between Kimbo Slice and Roy Nelson is Slice’s first fight since last October, when he took on former TUF contender Seth Petruzelli. Petruzelli was the underdog in the fight, but walked away the winner, defeating Slice via TKO in 14 seconds of the first round. Petruzelli has since stated that Kimbo has been ducking him for a rematch.
“If Seth signed with the UFC, and if Dana [White] and them want to match it up, damn right I’ll run it again with him,” Slice stated earlier this week. “We don’t even need to do it in a ring. We can do it bare-knuckle style because I don’t like liars. I’ve never turned down a rematch with anybody. Anyone I fought, I’ll fight them again.”
White, however, doesn’t think that the fight will happen in the UFC.
“Obviously, at the time that it happened it was great for me,” White admitted. “But anyone who has ever watched The Ultimate Fighter sees that when they come off the show, they’re completely different fighters. If Kimbo comes off, I would like to see him fight some stiffer competition.”
When asked if that would be in the UFC, White smiled and stated, “You’ll have to watch and see.”
Kimbo’s first – and possibly only – fight on The Ultimate Fighter takes place tonight on Spike TV beginning at 10PM ET/PT.