“Dana White, without him none of this would be possible!”
But recently, he seems to have taken his finger off the public pulse. Recognising the importance of monetary success, in the wake of WME-IMG’s gargantuan $4 billion outlay on the UFC only 2 years ago, White seems perfectly happy to bankrupt himself morally in the pursuit of PPV success. His words, while always leaning towards ambiguous, have spiralled closer to outright fallacy over the past few years. His latest action is another prime example in a growing repertoire of his ability to row back on statements, regardless of how steadfast.
Greg Hardy is a former NFL defensive lineman. On May 13, 2014, Hardy was arrested for assault and communicating threats, after he was alleged to have assaulted an ex-girlfriend by grabbing her, throwing her into furniture, strangling her, and threatening to kill her. He received a 10 game ban from the NFL, an organisation with a penchant for entertaining nefarious characters, and eventually bounced out of the league in 2016.
There’s one thing that you never bounce back from, and that’s putting your hands on a woman. It’s been that way in UFC since we started here. You don’t bounce back from putting your hands on a woman.”
This desperate effort to make a veritable “Juicer-weight” division a reality screams of some sort of primal lusting for PPV buys, on the UFC’s behalf. How must it feel for the likes of Mark Hunt, Daniel Cormier and the entire heavyweight division to see Dana White so publicly courting two notorious rule benders, once more? These are two fighters who White made such a fuss of washing his hands of, remember. Following the UFC 200 debacle, a card Jones was meant to headline, The UFC president vented his frustrations.
“I don’t (trust him), no. I don’t. In my opinion, I would never take the risk of headlining a show with Jon Jones again. I’d put him on the card, but I wouldn’t headline with him until he consistently gets back on track. Millions of dollars are spent on this. For a card to fall apart, and how many cards have fallen apart because Jon Jones gets in trouble for something? So no, I’m not at that place with him.”
In the MMA world, Jon Jones will garner interest and more importantly buys. White’s only failing in this case was being as unanimous as he was, in his dismissal of Jones as a box office star, following UFC 200. With his experience in the business and in his role as a promoter, he should have realised draws like Jones don’t come around every turn. And perhaps even more importantly, rivalries like Jones and DC are very, very difficult to cultivate, unless natural. White’s handling of Jones of late reeks of ‘needs must’ more so than the actions of a promotional mastermind, in total control of his business.
While this is damning in its own right, such incidents are far from the first blots on Dana’s hypocrisy copybook. For further examples of rowing back on definitive statements, look no further than White’s fractious, albeit profitable, relationship with Conor McGregor. From allowing the Irishman free reign to run roughshod over 2 weight classes, to standing idly by while his prized cash cow was clearly becoming drunk on fame, White has never been one to stick to a definitive stance where McGregor is concerned.
Back in 2014, Jason High was pitted against Rafael Dos Anjos in a lightweight showdown at UFC Fight Night 42. The referee on the occasion, Kevin Mulhall, stopped the fight in the second round, declaring RDA the winner by TKO. High was incensed with what he felt was an early stoppage and shoved Mulhall. Cue an instant bashing from White and a P45 to go along with it. Fast forward 3 years, and look at Conor McGregor’s actions in a Bellator cage.
Was this because it was in a rival promotion? Was White loath to give Bellator any sniff of publicity? Or was it because deep down he knew he needed the Irish PPV juggernaut back sooner, rather than later? Word trickled out from various media sources that McGregor was pulled from December’s UFC 219 as a result of his actions. Given that the incident took place in November, with very little talk of McGregor preparing for a fight beforehand, this ‘punishment’ was merely fluff to placate the outraged masses.
But the righteous path is rarely adhered to in a business-infused world. Conor McGregor holds 3 of the top 5 selling PPVs of all time in the UFC. Jason High was a Fight Night/prelim level fighter who wasn’t going to cost Dana White millions of dollars. Subsequently, High wasn’t going to cost him a thought to cut either. But the ambiguity of White’s actions can only lead to discontent among other fighters.
He had earned a break and a chance to rest on his swelling laurels. Besides, beneath him, there was a stacked queue of contenders that needed some sorting out. So, he could rest easy atop of the crop of the UFC’s hottest talent bed, safe in the knowledge that he was the undisputed king. That’s what interim titles are for now, right?
This, despite the fact the heaving cauldron of 155lb talent was growing discontent. An interim title had been put up for grabs between Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee at UFC 216, following a shit-storm at UFC 209, caused by a last minute Khabib Nurmagomedov pull-out. Ferguson prevailed and immediately began an intense social media witch hunt of McGregor, punctuated at every turn by the hashtag #DefendOrVacate.
White was still pandering to the belief that he would back to headline another stellar card, maybe at MSG again, maybe the New Year’s Eve card, maybe an intergalactic Space Jam-like challenge. Despite the lack of clarity, there was zero talk of the ‘real’ belt being stripped. Tony Ferguson was the interim champion, until McGregor decided to return to his less profitable stomping grounds.
“This is the most disgusting thing that has ever happened in the history of the company, and there is a warrant out for Conor McGregor’s arrest…And they’re looking for him right now. His plane cannot take off, he cannot leave the state of New York with this warrant. He’ll be grounded, and I’m assuming eventually if they don’t catch him, he’ll turn himself in. You can imagine he’s going to be sued beyond belief and this was a real bad career move for him.”
Yes he has really suffered since. Barring his 43 seconds in court, McGregor has been banned, released, humiliated, publicly bludgeoned, discussed as the no. 1 contender for the lightweight title, now in the hands of Khabib. That seems like an apt punishment for the “most disgusting thing that has ever happened in the history of the company”.