Dana White said there was no conspiracy behind his disappearing act after Francis Ngannou defeated Ciryl Gane to defend his title in the UFC 270 main event.
UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard was the person to put the belt around Ngannou’s waist on Saturday night following the heavyweight champion’s unanimous decision win — a duty that has generally fallen to the UFC president. White then skipped out on the post-fight press conference as well as his usual post-fight interviews with the UFC’s broadcast partners.
During a fan Q&A session on ESPN+ on Wednesday, White offered an explanation for why he wasn’t there to congratulate Ngannou on his victory.
“I wasn’t out there for the main event — I actually walked out of the arena right after the co-main event because there was stuff going on backstage that I was dealing with,” White said.
“For anybody to think that I was showing any type of disrespect towards Francis — I saw Francis all week, you idiots. I shook his hand, I said hi to him, I was out there for the staredowns, the whole thing.”
White’s absence was particularly notable due to Ngannou’s contentious status with the UFC after failing to come to terms with the promotion on a new deal.
A champion’s clause is expected to keep Ngannou tied to the UFC through December, but at that point, Ngannou’s team believes the champ will become an unrestricted free agent.
In addition, Ngannou’s manager Marquel Martin was sent a letter by the UFC just hours before UFC 270, which threatened a potential lawsuit over alleged contact with Jake Paul’s business partner, Nikisa Bidarian.
Still, White said it was incorrect to suggest that he was leaving the arena simply to ignore Ngannou.
“For anybody to think there was some type of disrespect shown towards Francis, I wasn’t out there for Michael Bisping [vs. Luke] Rockhold either because I was dealing with some stuff,” White said. “I sprinted from the back, I didn’t even have my jacket on. I only had my shirt on to go out there and put the belt on Bisping. But I couldn’t make it out there to put the belt on Francis.
“There’s only been one time that I’ve walked out on a fight and made it very clear, showed up to the press conference and said this is exactly why I left. It was in Abu Dhabi with Anderson Silva [at UFC 112], it was the Demian Maia fight. So there’s the answer. I don’t know if somebody asked that, but somebody wanted to. There you go.”
For his part, Ngannou didn’t seem to care all that much that White wasn’t there to present him with the heavyweight title.
“It was was an absolute honor receiving the belt from Mick Maynard,” Ngannou wrote on Instagram. “Couldn’t be a better person. Love this man.”
Because White wasn’t at the press conference, he also didn’t address Ngannou’s performance in the aftermath of UFC 270 — a performance which saw Ngannou rely heavily on his wrestling to take Gane down numerous times in order to secure the unanimous decision.
White praised Ngannou for the surprise attack, which he’s sure Gane never saw coming.
“I think the heavyweight main event was a shocker,” White said. “I don’t think anybody expected to see Francis come in and wrestle. During the fight, I was very surprised [by Ngannou’s game plan]. After the fight, it was genius.
“It was genius for him to go work on his wrestling. I guarantee you — I don’t know this for a fact — but I would guarantee you that Ciryl Gane did almost no wrestling to prepare for that fight. So to come in and implement the game plan that he had, it was brilliant.”
White didn’t address the UFC’s future plans for Ngannou, although the reigning heavyweight champion will likely be out for the rest of 2022 — with or without a new contract — as he plans to have surgery on his badly damaged knee later this year. The injury is expected to keep him sidelined nine or 10 months.
If Ngannou does end up coming to terms with the UFC on a new deal, White said a possible superfight against former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones would appeal to fans.
“I think another big fight if it’s possible to get it done would be Jon Jones and Francis,” White said when addressing matchups fans most want to see.
Jones has been teasing a move to heavyweight for almost two years, but if he’s waiting for Ngannou, he’ll likely be sitting out until at least 2023 while the champion recovers from knee surgery.