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Dana White not keen on losing potential $18 million gate with Conor McGregor in empty arena

Dana White isn’t ready to give up on making the most of his biggest star’s drawing power.

The UFC president and his promotion have already made financial concessions to go forward with this weekend’s UFC 249 card in Jacksonville, Fla. No fans will be in attendance at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena due to coronavirus precautions. The venue will only be populated by a limited number of staff and media, as well as the fighters and their coaches.

That means zero dollars in ticket sales for the UFC, which already held a show with no fans in March when UFC Brasilia underwent changes at the last minute in reaction to the COVID-19 outbreak. Adopting a “the show must go on” mentality, White is willing to take the hit this weekend. But asked if he’d consider doing the same for a main event featuring a fighter of the magnitude of Conor McGregor, he sounded reluctant.

“It’s tough to give up a Conor McGregor gate,” White said at a media scrum Friday. “It’s tough to do. I talked to him yesterday and he wants to fight. He’s excited about tomorrow too, he was like, ‘This is so awesome. Good luck tomorrow, I hope this goes off well.’ He doesn’t like the idea of fighting without a crowd either, but he wants to fight. So I don’t know, we’ll have to see how this thing plays out.

“You do a Conor McGregor fight in the right place, you can do an $18 million gate. That’s a big number to give up. Even giving up five million, I mean this [UFC 249 main event] was supposed to be [Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson], sold out in minutes, and was like a five-and-a-half million dollar gate.”

McGregor has been vocal about the government and citizens of his native Ireland observing COVID-19 safety protocols. Other than trading barbs with rivals over social media, he has not made any overtures about when he’s likely to compete again. “The Notorious” most recently fought at UFC 246 in January, defeating Donald Cerrone by 40-second TKO.

White was asked about McGregor accepting a recent challenge from retired boxing great and one-time MMA promoter Oscar De La Hoya, who claimed in an interview with CBS that he could put McGregor away within two rounds if they met in a boxing match. The 47-year-old’s boast drew a withered response from White.

Much of White’s plans for the rest of the year are dependent on how this upcoming trio of Jacksonville shows go – currently, Fight Night events at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena are scheduled to take place on May 13 and May 16) – and if the UFC can get permission from the powers-that-be in Nevada to host events at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas.

“I don’t know, we’re gonna see how this thing goes this weekend and next week,” White said. “What date we go in Vegas, get back into the APEX. I just feel like we have to thank the governor of Florida and the mayor in Jacksonville and the commission for working with us. When you have the government working with you it makes everything so much safer and easier to do. You have to think that in Las Vegas we spent $100 million on that facility next door so we could use it. It would be safer for my employees, it would be safer for the media, safer for the fighters, safer for everybody.

“I want to get back there and start figuring out what we’re going to do and what the rest of our schedule looks like, and probably run as many fights out of there as I can. If you think about why the APEX was built, that was always the plan anyway. We were talking about doing so many fights that we would just be putting on fights without gates anyway.”

As confident as White is that he can keep putting on events both domestic and international in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, even he admitted that he doesn’t know when the UFC schedule could return to normal. Pressed on how long he’d be able to hold out on booking a McGregor fight even if it meant accepting a zero gate, White could only say that it’s a reality he hopes he won’t have to get used to regardless of who is fighting.

“I don’t know the answer to that yet,” White said. “It’s gonna depend on how long this thing goes. I don’t know. I don’t know if anybody understands this whole thing. Depending on what network you listen to, they tell you different things and Jesus Christ, you go on the internet, forget about it, it’s f*cking crazy. I don’t know how long this thing’s gonna last. Who knows?

“We’re gonna put on fights. That’s what we do, and it’s what we’re gonna keep doing, and hopefully I don’t have to do this for two years with no gates.”

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