The UFC pulled a rabbit out of a hat to make sure there was a lightweight title fight for Saturday’s main event in Brooklyn, and company president Dana White isn’t going to take any criticism of the situation lying down.
Especially when those words come from someone he despises.
UFC 223’s headliner saw Al Iaquinta step in on less than 24 hours’ notice to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov for the UFC lightweight championship. Nurmagomedov had originally been scheduled to fight two different opponents: First, interim titleholder Tony Ferguson, and then later UFC featherweight king Max Holloway after Ferguson was forced out with an injury. But it was Iaquinta who would eventually get the call Friday afternoon after Holloway was deemed medically unfit by the New York State Athletic Commission as a result of his having to cut down to the 155-pound weight limit with only one week to prepare.
Even after Iaquinta had been selected, it initially looked like only Nurmagomedov would be eligible to claim the title because Iaquinta had weighed in at 155.2 pounds, .2 pounds over the championship limit. Iaquinta was actually scheduled to fight Paul Felder on Saturday’s card and thus did not need to hit 155 on the dot, as non-title fights typically allow fighters an additional pound to work with.
It was the NYSAC who insisted that regulations would not allow Iaquinta to win the belt, but White announced that the promotion would consider Iaquinta to be the champion, even after acknowledging the commission’s ruling. White explained that the NYSAC had later weighed Iaquinta’s shorts separately and that clothing made up for the .2-pound difference, so theoretically Iaquinta could simply have stripped down to make 155 pounds.
Thus, without the NYSAC’s compliance, the UFC 223 main event was promoted as a traditional title fight and Nurmagomedov would go on to defeat Iaquinta by five-round unanimous decision.
Showtime vice president and general manager Stephen Espinoza, who last year worked with White and the UFC to coordinate the blockbuster boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor, chimed in on Twitter with a scathing critique of how the UFC handled the situation.
And they claim boxing is lawless.— Stephen Espinoza (@StephenEspinoza) April 7, 2018
Never heard a boxing match declared a title fight for both fighters even though one fighter failed to make weight.
Congrats, UFC. You've far outdone boxing in terms of shadiness. But why bother adhering to rules when you don't feel like it? https://t.co/w5JeUoDNKI
I have no issue with the fighters. None at all.— Stephen Espinoza (@StephenEspinoza) April 7, 2018
My issue is with the organization declaring that almost is good enough on a weigh-in.
Hand grenades, horseshoes and UFC title fights...when almost is good enough. https://t.co/4C3mxlGU5l
The comments did not go unnoticed by White and he had a harsh reply for Espinoza at the UFC 223 post-fight press conference.
“I don’t want to give this guy any publicity because he loves it, but that greasy, slimy rat Espinoza talking about how, ‘Oh, we break the rules and all this other s**t,’” White said. “What the — what’s that guy — Oh my god. Just keep trying to be HBO and don’t worry about what the f**k we’re doing. You slimy little rat.”
This isn’t the first time White has expressed disdain for the Showtime executive. In regards to a dispute over just how successful the Mayweather-McGregor matchup was, White said that he “despises” Showtime and swore he wouldn’t work with them again.
Following Saturday’s comments, Espinoza appeared to fire back at White.
Today I went shopping...and talk is still cheap.— Stephen Espinoza (@StephenEspinoza) April 8, 2018