PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Anyone driving by the Irish Setter Pub in Presque Isle on Friday likely did a double take at the red Ferrari in the yard.
But word travels fast, and when more and more people found out the sports car belonged to none other than Ultimate Fight Championship President Dana White, the restaurant quickly filled with hopefuls wanting a photo or a glimpse of the sports franchise celebrity.
Mixed martial arts is a full-contact sport in which athletes use a variety of fighting skills and techniques from a mixture of other combat sports. White’s success with the worldwide organization helped heighten the popularity of the sport in Maine, with state competitors seeing action here and at other venues.
White, a 1987 Hermon High School graduate who has a home in Levant, has led the mixed martial arts UFC organization since 2001. The sport got a boost in 2016 when White brought his internet reality show “Dana White: Lookin’ for a Fight” to Bangor, and five local fighters performed.
White, who visited Presque Isle with a group of about 12, took time to pose for photos and greet people. He even ventured into the kitchen (after asking permission) to thank staff for his meal, according to pub owner Debbie Gustin.
Gustin, who wasn’t aware of White’s presence in the busy restaurant until her grandson excitedly told her, said White and his group were in Aroostook County for an impromptu visit.
“He said he had not been to The County and thought it was about time,” Gustin said Tuesday. “He said he would be back because it was so beautiful and the people were so friendly.”
Employee Spring Kearney waited on White’s group. All of them were polite and kind as they enjoyed their meal, and White was happy to join in photos and chat with people.
“He was very generous, very gracious. People were coming in off the street just to get their picture taken with him,” Kearney said. “He came right out back into the kitchen and got a picture with the kitchen staff.”
White had sirloin tips, she remembered.
White’s efforts helped the UFC go from a cash-strapped company in the early 2000s to a multibillion-dollar MMA organization in 2020, according to Sportskeeda.
Gustin is normally not given to celebrity furor, she said, but is just happy to see people enjoying each other and sharing food and conversation. But White’s visit was a bright point for the pub, which after being closed for three out of seven days over the winter, will resume its regular Monday through Saturday schedule next week.
“He complimented everything here, which was really nice of him to do,” she said.