With several of the UFC’s biggest draws facing uncertain futures, the door is wide open for a young talent to kick in the door and establish themselves.
Dana White is betting that the man to do it is current bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt.
The UFC president made an appearance on The Dan Le Batard Show on Friday, where he talked about the massive success of Conor McGregor, while also answering questions about who could be next in line for superstardom and how he feels about the missteps of Jon Jones, the man who many consider to be a shoo-in for the “greatest fighter of all time” label were it not for outside-of-the-cage issues and a pair of failed drug tests.
While McGregor remains a major asset to the UFC, the 29-year-old has been reluctant to lay down any concrete plans following his blockbuster boxing match with Floyd Mayweather this past August. The same can be said of proven pay-per-view attractions Ronda Rousey, who may be done with fighting for good after suffering two brutal losses, and Brock Lesnar, who was rumored to be returning for a bout with Jones before the latter was busted by the USADA on Aug. 22.
Even Georges St-Pierre, arguably the UFC’s most popular fighter when he took a break from competition back in 2013, isn’t guaranteed to stick around when he makes his comeback fight against middleweight champion Michael Bisping at UFC 217. “GSP” is on record as saying that he plans to retire after his next loss.
There are several promising, under-30 fighters that the UFC could see fit to market as the next big thing, including UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway (25), interim middleweight champion Robert Whittaker (26), and boisterous interim lightweight title contender Kevin Lee (25), but White picked Cody “No Love” as the one that stands out to him at the moment.
“Our most bankable (future) star?” White said, “November 4 at Madison Square Garden, this kid who’s the world champion, he’s gonna fight. His name is Cody No Love. Very marketable guy. I think Cody No Love could be the next big star.”
Garbrandt, 26, fights rival T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 217 and though he’ll be sharing headlining duties with St-Pierre, Bisping, and strawweight queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk, that show will provide some idea of where he stands in the promotion’s pecking order.
Sticking with the topic of star power, White was also asked how frustrated he was with Jones, who at the moment should be the UFC’s most popular fighter next to McGregor. Instead, “Bones” is potentially facing a multi-year suspension from the sport following his most recent drug test failure. Prior to that news breaking, Jones was coming off of a career highlight when he defeated Daniel Cormier by third-round head kick knockout at UFC 214.
That win has since been overturned to a no-contest and the light heavyweight title Jones captured in that fight has been returned to Cormier.
The situation has cast a dark shadow on Jones’s sterling resume, one that saw him join the UFC at 21 and embark on a dominant nine-year run in which he won the light heavyweight championship and successfully defended it eight consecutive times.
He only lost the belt when it was stripped from him following his involvement in a hit-and-run, and his career has been a series of missed opportunities ever since. His latest infraction not only cost him another belt, but the potential suspension could prevent him from making an oft-discussed move up to heavyweight, which is just one more disappointment in White’s view.
“He’d also go down in history as probably the greatest ever and if nothing ever happened he’d probably be fighting at heavyweight right now and who knows what could have happened?” White said. “I’m in a business where when the fame happens and the money - you have to understand the crazy type of money that comes into the fight business instantly. Even in the NFL, they come in at a certain level and if they become great, they have the opportunity to make millions.
“Jon Jones came in and just started making millions of dollars immediately and he was, like, 24 years old. And you can go back to interviews of me saying, ‘That’s great, he’s talented enough to win the belt. Can he handle the pressure and all the stuff that goes along with being a world champion? With being famous? With being rich?’ And that question got answered.”