Fresh off a vacation in Tahiti with his family, Ultimate Fight Championship president Dana White was still answering questions about UFC champion Sean Sherk and challenger Hermes Franca allegedly flunking their postfight drug tests July 7. Each has been suspended for one year, although Sherk has filed an appeal. It should come as no surprise that White bristles at the criticism of how he runs UFC -- and is firing back.
ESPN The Magazine: Overall, what is your reaction to the [alleged] failed tests?
Dana White: Everybody knows our position on steroids. We invest a lot of money in these guys, then they get caught doing something stupid. It's going to happen. It's so hard to deal with. Should I call everybody every day and say, 'Don't snort cocaine, don't smoke heroin, don't kill anybody, don't drink and drive, don't do steroids'? It's common sense. Steroids are illegal. If you get caught by the athletic commission, you're getting suspended and fined and you'll never be looked at the same way again.
ESPN The Magazine: What changes do you plan to make?
White: Moving forward, I am putting the b---- slap on guys who get caught using steroids from here on out. The fighters make a lot of money. I have all these nickel-and-dimers starting up leagues, and they don't steal fighters from me. There are a lot of morons out there throwing money around, and nobody's leaving me. When what you're selling is human beings competing against each other, there are always going to be issues, man. Personal problems. Contract issues. There are always problems.
ESPN The Magazine: But what is the punishment? What are you going to do?
White: They're not going to get paid. I take care of all of my guys. If you fight your ass off for me, you'll get paid. But what I'm going to do is: I'm going to wait and see if they pass their drug tests. If they don't, you're going to get paid what's in your contract and that's it.
ESPN The Magazine: So you're going to pay the guaranteed money but any fight bonuses would be withheld? That's not a slap on the wrist.
White: No, that's a kick in the nuts, and they know that.
ESPN The Magazine: How did you feel personally when Sherk [allegedly] flunked his test?
White: I've known Sean Sherk for a long time. He's a really good man. He trains hard and has worked hard to get where he's at. You and me probably have six nanograms [of the steroid Nandrolone] in our system; he had 12. Other guys who've been busted for the same steroid have had over 50 nanograms in their system. What my experts tell me is, there's no way that he would only have 12 in his system. I'm not his father. If he did it, he'll have to face the consequences. People make mistakes. If your life was over every time you make a mistake, that's pretty f---ing harsh. How many times do I have to tell people not to use steroids? It's to the point where it's just stupid.
ESPN The Magazine: But don't you see why fans are frustrated?
White: The fans are frustrated? How do they think I feel? You build these guys up, you tell them over and over again not to do this stuff, and they do it anyway.
ESPN The Magazine: What are you going to do with the 155-pound weight class?
White: I don't know. Like I said, I trust when Sean Sherk tells me something, and I believe him. I'm not just saying this because I'm president of this league. He's my friend, and if he tells me he didn't do this, I believe him. He's innocent until proven guilty. He's not a liar, he's not a cheater. We'll see what happens. If at the end of the day the commission says he took steroids, then that's what the ruling is and he'll get whatever they put on him. That division will live on. This is a speed bump, and it hurts us bad. But we're going to move on.
ESPN The Magazine: One of the things Hermes Franca hinted at was that he was forced to take steroids because he had an injury but he had to fight.
White: That's one of the dumbest things ever said. He said he twisted his ankle. It happens all the time. He called us and said he was hurt. Two days later, he said he could fight. Nobody is ever forced to fight. I can go down the list and tell you 50 guys who've pulled out of fights because of an injury.
ESPN The Magazine: Do you think this could hurt you with sanctioning bodies?
White: No, it happens. These guys are human beings. We're talking about people here. And people have problems. When these guys have problems, I'm the first f---ing guy they call and we get it taken care of. I do the best I can to take care of these guys.
ESPN The Magazine: The prevailing sentiment on message boards is that this is Dana White's problem and that you need to fix it.
White: This thing is on my lap. People think if you get caught in the UFC, nothing happens, but that's wrong. Your life is ruined. You disappear for a year and you don't make any money. And now we're going to make it even worse if you cheat. And I'm not just talking about steroids -- drugs, period. If you get caught with anything, you're f---ed.
ESPN The Magazine: And the biggest thing the UFC plans to do is withhold any extra contract money?
White: What else am I going to do? Kick these guys' asses? You want to drag these guys and their families into the center of town and stone them? What else can you do? Their lives are f---ed. They lose their ability to make a living for a year. At the end of the day, these guys are stupid for doing steroids.
ESPN The Magazine: Another issue that's been brought up is the lack of drug testing at the overseas events.
White: There was only one event that didn't have drug testing. There was one event in the U.K. where things were moving too fast and we were trying to figure out how to do it. But we did drug test in Ireland, we just never made it public and nobody ever asked.
ESPN The Magazine: Did anybody test positive?
White: No, nobody tested positive. I'm not lying or B.S.-ing. Nobody tested positive. If they did, I would tell you. The reason it's never been out there is because nobody ever asked me or Marc Ratner.
ESPN The Magazine: Who did the overseas testing?
White: We have an independent company that comes in and drug-tests the guys. We do it the same way the commission does it. Plus, when we went over there, we flew a lot of the Nevada commission inspectors over there to stand there and make sure the right guy was pissing in the cup.
ESPN The Magazine: How would you rate the UFC's steroid testing?
White: Combat sports -- MMA and boxing -- really have the best steroids testing in sports. Every time we compete, we're tested by the government. You can't get more serious about it than that.
ESPN The Magazine: Who have you talked to about this? Have you had a conference call with trainers, fighters, etc.?
White: That's coming. When we get a break after the Sept. 22 card, I'm putting on a two-day seminar. It's not going to be just about drugs, but that'll be a big part of it. It's going to be all of our top-level guys and all of our midtier guys. It'll easily be 50 fighters, maybe over 100.
Ryan Hockensmith is an associate editor at ESPN The Magazine.