Deep ties for UFC execs, celebrated HS program
This is not a movie scene. But it feels like one. A very strange one.
A high school football game in a sold-out stadium on the edge of the Las Vegas suburbs, telecast in prime time on ESPN, delayed an hour by cloud-to-ground lightning and Old Testament rain.
Dana White, the ever-amped, cranked-up-to-10 front man from the UFC, settles into a seat three rows up on the 50-yard line. His bosses, UFC owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, stand down the row to the right. The iconic rapper Snoop Dogg sits spread-legged two rows back.
Up the steps comes a man who looks familiar, ballcap cocked, a clock dangling from a string around his neck.
“Is that …” the guy next to White asks, struggling to process what he has seen.
“Yup,” White says, nodding. “Flavor Flav. He’s friends with Snoop.”
|Fertitta Field, which seats roughly 5,000, opened in 2012 and this season has been home to the No. 1-ranked high school team in the country.
It’s so elaborately produced, it looks like it could be an Under Armour commercial. Or the reel that plays before player intros at an NBA game.
As the video ends, the Bishop Gorman football team — a high school football team — comes charging from the tunnel. Among them is Snoop Dogg’s son, Cordell Broadus, a wide receiver who moved from Los Angeles to play his senior season here. And Lorenzo Fertitta’s son, Nicco, a safety who has committed to Notre Dame.
Fertitta watches the game as many fathers would, standing the entire time, shifting between ecstasy and angst. His wife, Teresa, stands next to him. The Fertittas both went to Gorman, where they were high school sweethearts. So did White, who was in the same graduating class as Lorenzo.
So here they all are, earlier this fall, at the most important football game the school ever has played — Gorman, ranked No. 2 in the nation, vs. No. 1-ranked St. John Bosco from Los Angeles — at a campus stadium that would be the envy of most small colleges.
It’s the sort of program that
The rise of Gorman into the national rankings is relatively recent. The football program won state titles in the ’70s and early ’80s, but went dry for the next 20 years until, in 2007, it relocated to a new, $96 million campus in the suburbs. The Fertittas spearheaded the fundraising.
“He was passionate about
|Fertitta Field, named after family patriarch Frank Fertitta Sr., and its accompanying facilities have played a major part in Bishop Gorman’s ascendancy among the nation’s elite high school football programs.
Gorman has won six state football titles in seven seasons since moving to the new campus. Two years in, it hired a firebrand of a coach, Tony Sanchez, who suggested Gorman set its sights beyond state championships, building out a schedule that would give it a chance to rise in the national rankings.
“I wasn’t aware that you did that in high school,” Lorenzo Fertitta said. “But I said, if you think you can do that, go do it.
“I remember people telling me, ‘You’re crazy. You’ll never fill that stadium. You’ll never get people to come out there.’ Even my dad said we were thinking too big. But we had a dream.”
White was making his way through afternoon traffic in Las Vegas, navigating from the UFC 178 weigh-ins at the MGM Grand to Fertitta Field, when his phone vibrated.
“Hey, what’s up, man?” White said, looking concerned. “Where am I? On my way, that’s where I am. Yeah. There’s three of us. Right. We’re on our way, OK?”
Clicking off the call, White shook his head.
“They’ve got seats for us, but they’re worried because it’s getting late,” White said, on his way to an eruption. “Getting late! It’s 5:20! The game doesn’t start until 6! Can you believe it? It’s like we’re going to U2 and they’re never going to tour again! They’re driving me crazy with this thing! Blowing up my phone! Where are you, he says! It’s 5:20!”
White rants. That’s what he does. Who he is, even. But this time it is particularly amusing, because it has nothing to do with the UFC, even though he is coming from a UFC weigh-in, on the eve of a UFC pay-per-view event.
“Gorman has always been a great school, and a very tight-knit school, but the football — it was nothing like it is now,” said White, who graduated from Gorman with Lorenzo Fertitta in 1987. “Me and Lorenzo and Frank went to a different Gorman.”
|UFC Chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta is one of several UFC executives with ties to Bishop Gorman.
When White took the stage at the UFC weigh-ins that afternoon, he wore a dark blue and orange Gorman T-shirt with an oval “G” similar to the “G” of the Green Bay Packers or the University of Georgia. Even his sneakers were orange and blue.
It’s no secret that White once was kicked out of Gorman. He was “a punk” back then, he says, but the story is more mischievous than delinquent. He had been regaling his friends for a few days by loudly kicking a classroom door shut, rattling the nun inside. One day, he tried to kick the door and his Top-Sider flew off.
“I’m standing there with no shoe, my shoe is on the ground, and she’s coming out to get it,” White said, recounting a story he has told many times. “I had to run. And they got me. She had my shoe. I went back to class without my shoe, and I was busted. They kicked me out.”
White went to public school for a semester before begging his way back into Gorman. His grades weren’t particularly good, but he managed to get through.
White and Fertitta are quick to say that the perception that the two were best friends since boyhood and that Fertitta hired White because of that is inaccurate. They knew each other at Gorman. But they ran in different circles. Fertitta was the son of a millionaire, White of a single mom.
Fertitta went off to college in San Diego, then to business school in New York. They hadn’t spoken in a decade when they reconnected while at a mutual friend’s wedding.
Yet when the Fertitta brothers were looking for someone to run the UFC for them while they focused on the day-to-day operations of the family’s larger casino enterprise, Fertitta immediately thought of White, who was running a gym and teaching box aerobics. He didn’t want another person with a traditional business background. He had that. He wanted a salesman who would put his heart into the business, who knew how to deal with fights and fighters.
“I think most of the qualities he has that make him successful at his job were probably negatives for him when he was in high school,” Fertitta said. “Not great at paying attention. Really. Even today, he can’t sit through a meeting. Which wouldn’t translate well in school. He says what’s on his mind. Great for us, because it makes him a great promoter. Not so great a thing when you’ve got nuns trying to teach you Spanish.
“He wasn’t a bad kid. But some kids are just kind of mischievous and get in trouble. Did he tell you the shoe story? That shoe story sums it up. That’s Dana. And a lot of those things that were weaknesses for him when we were in school, we benefit from now.”
|Dana White sports a Gorman T-shirt at the UFC 178 weigh-in before that night’s game.
“You gotta understand what a big night this has to be for [Lorenzo],” White said. “He got involved in this thing and invested to build the program up. … And now his youngest son is a senior, and they’re ranked No. 2 in the country, playing No. 1 in the country, ON ESPN AT FERTITTA FIELD!
“We got to experience so much together, building a business. And now we get to go watch the high school we both went to, with his son on the field, playing on ESPN. Wednesday night, my kid played football in the city league, and Lorenzo was there for the whole game. Now tonight, I’m going to his kid’s game.
“Tell me something that could be better than this? Life does not get any better than this.”
It’s easy to miss Lorenzo and Teresa Fertitta amid the glitz of some of the other Gorman parents and alumni. White is a magnet for selfie snappers. Snoop Dogg wears a “Nothin But a G Thang” T-shirt that he had made using the Gorman “G.”
You have to watch more closely, for a longer stretch, to see what makes them stand out.
They never sit down. Not for a play. Not for a moment.
If you watch their faces, you see something you don’t often see at a football game. There is joy, sure. And sometimes trepidation. Excitement. And anxiety. When their son comes to the sideline and they catch his eye, there is love. All that, you’d expect.
But every so often, there is a sadness. Smiles that are bittersweet.
“I went through this with my older son,” Fertitta said of Lorenzo Jr., who now plays for Villanova. “And now, I can’t tell you how much I miss him being here. I had to watch him play on TV today, which is just not the same. I’m trying to get every last minute of time with Nicco that I can, because I know this is it. There’s this season, and then we won’t have this again.
“I’m just trying to enjoy every moment.”