The apparent retirement of the UFC’s biggest star is a mystery to Dana White, but not a shock.
“How the hell do I know? I’m not talking to him,” White said at the UFC 250 press conference moments after Conor McGregor retired on Twitter. “I have no idea why this is going on. You want me to tell you why this is going on right now? That is a really stupid question.”
McGregor’s announcement — one of three sudden withdrawals from competition after months of challenging star after star to fight — pulled focus from Saturday’s pay-per-view event. But White was in no mood to dissect the root causes of the top fighters’ discontent.
The UFC executive grew angry when pressed on why the promotion’s biggest stars all appear to be threatening departures at the same time, with two of them — Jorge Masvidal and UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones — complaining of mistreatment over pay.
“I am the only guy that is pulling off sporting events right now,” White said. “I don’t know. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in the next f*cking month with my business. I don’t know. I don’t give a f*ck.
“I’m doing what I can do to keep the bus on the highway, or the train on the tracks. If people don’t want to fight, you don’t have to fight. If you’re afraid of COVID-19, or whatever your deal is, you don’t have to do it. I couldn’t explain to you anything that’s going on on planet earth, and neither can anybody else.”
White again argued the UFC is a place of relative freedom compared to other major sports like the NFL, despite the fact that collective bargaining agreements guide many of the latter’s business decisions and the revenue between athletes and the league is split close to 50-50 rather than the reported 20 percent the UFC’s own projections have allotted to fighters, per an ongoing anti-trust suit against the promotion. He also reiterated a previous argument that all of his fighters don’t have to fight, even though Jones and Masvidal have indicated they would fight elsewhere and can’t because they’re tied to contracts with the UFC.
“The world is a crazy place right now with all these things that are going on,” he said. “I think that everybody feels this right now. There’s no fans, you can’t travel to fights, and I think everybody’s pissed off, confused, been locked up in their houses for three-and-a-half months, people are wearing masks, there’s protests, there’s riots — the list goes on and on. If you don’t think that what I’m doing right now is probably the hardest thing that I’ve ever done, and if you don’t think that three times a day I throw my hands up and I’m ready to say, ‘You know what, f*ck this sh*it,’ believe me... and the amount of people I have gunning at me right now is insane. But here we are. We pulled off our fifth fight. No other sports are going but us, and one of the beautiful things about this sport is, you don’t have to fight.
“If these guys want to sit out and retire right now, or anybody feels uncomfortable in any way, shape or form, with what’s going on, you don’t have to fight. It is all good. So if that’s what Conor McGregor is feeling right now, Jon Jones, Jorge Masvidal, I feel ya. It’s not like I’m going, ‘Holy sh*t, this is crazy, this is nuts.’ Nothing is crazy and nuts right now, because everything is crazy and nuts right now. So on a certain level, I totally understand it and get it.”
White was under the impression that McGregor wanted to get back into the octagon. The Irish star had called out a variety of opponents, some more realistic than others, since his triumphant return in January against Donald Cerrone. Bouts against Masvidal and Tony Ferguson were cited by White as a few of McGregor’s targets. But the promoter has been hesitant to book McGregor in an empty arena when a potential $18 million gate could be made when the world returns to normal.
“He’s been wanting to fight,” White said. “He’s frustrated because he wants to fight. I’m sure that’s a piece of it. ... Who do you fight, and where do you fight Conor McGregor right now. ‘Fight Island’ isn’t even up and running until July. So if you look at all the problems to run a business like this, multiply it by a f*cking million, and that’s where we are right now, and there’s a lot of other sh*t that goes on behind the scenes right now. It’s a wacky time to be the first guy to be putting on live sports when a lot of people, who are nutty as hell, didn’t want you to.”
White has vowed to continue on with the show, no matter what opposition lies in his path. He said the promotion’s gamble on being first has paid off, with a behind the scenes social video featuring Laura Sanko drawing seven million viewers.
There’s never been a better time for grabbing people’s attention, White declared, and the fighters that want to fight will take top priority. If McGregor has changed his mind about competition, the executive added, there won’t be any financial hardships.
“[McGregor’s] Proper 12 whisky has sold an obscene amount of liquor,” White said. “I don’t know what his financial situation is with that thing, but I would assume he owns a good piece of it. Conor McGregor’s not going to need any money any time soon. He loves to fight, and he’s passionate about it. He’s got an incredible fighter IQ. But whatever his reason is, you know my feelings on retirement. When you say you want to retire, don’t worry about it. Do your thing, and it’s all good.”