Cocaine Is A Helluva Drug | Dana White Explains How UFC Deal With ESPN Was Due To Cocaine

Dana White cocaine ESPN
LAS VEGAS, NV- AUGUST 16: Dana White speaks to the media following week 4 of the Dana White Contender Series on August 16, 2022, at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, NV. (Photo by Amy Kaplan/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“The Chappelle Show” once had Rick James on the show, where he said, “cocaine is a hell of a drug,” and UFC president Dana White knows that to be true. The effect the narcotic had on a former ESPN executive’s career helped give the MMA organization its current $1.5 billion deal.

White gave an interview to businessman Grant Cardone for Cardone’s YouTube show, where White revealed that he timing of a scandal erupting within the upper levels of ESPN ushered in the UFC era for the broadcast network.

White on “White”

“I’ll tell you a crazy story,” White said to Cardone during their sit-down that aired this week. “You ever hear of John Skipper? John Skipper ran ESPN. Now, I think he runs DAZN. Runs ESPN, beloved, looks like the squarest dude on the planet. Older guy. Hates UFC. Hates it. Hates UFC. Big soccer guy. For whatever reason, people like different things. And I’m not sh*****g on John Skipper. But this is a fact, this happened, and this is a true story.

“John Skipper, beloved at ESPN; ESPN’s at the top of their game,” White continued. “These guys are killing it in revenue, they’re getting $5 per subscriber when cable was the biggest it’s ever been. So, our Fox deal is up and we’re probably not gonna do another deal with Fox. They’re selling off cable networks and re-structuring. So they’re not the same company when we signed with them. And John Skipper’s never, ever gonna take the UFC. So, we’re in a real tough place.”

During this time, the then-president of ESPN, John Skipper, got into a cocaine scandal; his supplier was extorting him.

“John Skipper’s cocaine dealer is gonna rat him out,” White continued. “So he has to tell Disney, ‘My cocaine dealer is gonna go public’ or whatever, so he has to step down from ESPN, right at the time we’re trying to make a new TV deal. Who do they make president? Jimmy Pitaro, who ran Yahoo! Sports for years. I’ve known him a long time. He’s a great dude, and he loves the UFC. Now you got him, you got a guy named Kevin Mayer, who is really close to [Endeavor CEO] Ari [Emanuel], and we ended up doing the ESPN deal when our deal was up.”

Timing Is Everything

White couldn’t believe the circumstances. The UFC and ESPN eventually agreed to a five-year, $1.5 billion broadcast deal that began on Jan. 1, 2019.

“So you want to talk about timing,” White finished “And, you know, what!?”

Back in 2018, Skipper’s resignation from ESPN was relatively quiet, probably because The Walt Disney Company, which owns ESPN, didn’t want any dirt on the brand. The Hollywood Reporter interviewed Skipper in 2018.

“They threatened me, and I understood immediately that threat put me and my family at risk, and this exposure would put my professional life at risk as well,” Skipper said to the publication. “I foreclosed that possibility by disclosing the details to my family, and then when I discussed it with Bob [Iger, then-Disney head], he and I agreed that I had placed the company in an untenable position and as a result I should resign.

“At ESPN I did not use at work, nor with anyone at work, or with anyone I did business with,” Skipper continued. “I never allowed it to interfere with my work, other than a missed plane and a few canceled morning appointments. I’ve never been a daily user. My use over the past two decades has, in fact, been quite infrequent. I judge that I did a very good job and that it did not get in the way of my work. I worked hard, I worked smart. I worked all the time.”

In the book, “Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside The World of ESPN,” author James Andrew Miller wrote how a cocaine dealer extorted Skipper.

The scandal had little effect on his Skipper’s post-ESPN career. He became the executive chairman of DAZN after ESPN before departing early last year to start his own company. Meanwhile, Dana White is still counting the blessings of Skipper’s misfortune.

Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. Rhett hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.