As a social media intern for the UFC, I see the dedication of the fighters as they train and and heal firsthand. During a photo shoot at the UFC Performance Institute, I passed Francis Ngannou’s towering form as he pounded out miles on the treadmill, and glimpsed Henry Cejudo receiving a massage in the adjacent rehab facility. Upstairs, a Contender Series competitor was bouncing around with excitement while bragging about his jiu-jitsu mastery to the production team. He settled down once the cameras flickered on, striking the bags with all his might, and emitting a loud “HAARRAHH” with each blow.
“This has been such an ego trip for him,” another DWCS hopeful quipped from his seat on the apron of the Octagon. Behind him, more hopefuls were practicing their grappling.
They made their debut the next day at the new UFC APEX facility. The building had been kept under wraps for months, and not even my boss could enter until the day before the Season Three premiere. We now have to wear our clearance badges at all times, but during our tour, my fellow interns and I were able to slip beneath notice. We wandered upstairs to the VIP section, passing desolate offices to the small bar. Conor McGregor’s Proper No. 12 whiskey huddled next to other liquors, but we picked at the bowl of candy perched atop the counter. Interestingly, though VIPs overlook the Octagon, they sit on the same simple chairs as the rest of us.
UFC President Dana White, however, reigns from his judges’ table, surveying the fights with a visible intensity. I perch behind him and operate the “Dana Cam,” capturing anything of interest to fight fans.
The first time I met Dana was during a tour of his office, which includes a rare complete sabertooth tiger skull. His office opens into a series of elegant neutral-colored rooms — a private gym, kitchen, formal dining room and bar, and viewing room. From the latter, he live streams the fights, directing the production team to focus on different anglespre-fight content.
But the real magic happens in the “War Room.” This is where the matches are made, the bouts are planned, and each and every fight is conceived — by hand. White boards stretch from floor to ceiling, with names and locations scattered throughout in miniscule writing. Only a handful of people are permitted access, and even fewer determine the cards.