Fight promoters by unofficial definition are greedy, money hungry, and ruthless individuals. Their goal is to make money by any means necessary. In the end, personal relationships, friendships, and lasting memories are disposable bi-products of their business success. If they need to be sacrificed, they will be.
It takes someone with a ruthless and driven one track mind to make decisions involving humans as if they are animals. In a strange way it also takes strength and confidence. Here at the start of 2018, Dana White is one of the most powerful and influential promoters in the world. He built his reputation on the old school traits of fight promotion. He’s beyond ruthless. Or so we thought. In the last week, we’ve seen a different side of him. A side in which Conor McGregor is actually more ruthless than he is. Or, more powerful. Either way, White has shown tremendous weakness in his handling of Conor McGregor and its hurt the UFC.
To this point, White has played the Conor McGregor cards he was dealt perfectly. At times, he’d go all in with the strongest hand and win. Other times, he’d be on the draw with one card left to go and hit. Either way, with Conor McGregor, he’s played a flawless game. That’s what makes his decisions over the weekend when discussing McGregor and the UFC lightweight world championship so peculiar. At the UFC 223 press conference, White was dismissive and vague when discussing whether or not Conor McGregor had been stripped of his lightweight world championship. At the same time, he didn’t reveal a McGregor return date or whether or not Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov would be fighting for Ferguson’s interim title or McGregor’s undisputed title at UFC 223. White’s trying to play the Conor McGregor card game without Conor McGregor. He’s representing aces in a game where all involved know that aces weren’t in the deck. That amounts to a very weak hand.
White doesn’t appear to understand that Conor McGregor cannot make the UFC obscene amounts of money if he doesn’t fight. His other fighters can and the biggest prop in them doing so is the undisputed championship title. Guys like Ferguson and Nurmagomedov are on the cusp of becoming huge stars, but are held back due to White’s weakness in dealing with McGregor. In order to make the UFC the most money possible, the stars need an opportunity to become major stars. White has taken that opportunity away for the lightweight division because he’s protecting his invisible champion. It’s a weak move that’s hurting the UFC’s quest for new stars. Imagine him holding the featherweight division up in 2015 because Jose Aldo was undecided on his future. Mind numbing to think about right? Of course it is, because had he done that, a guy like Conor McGregor wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity that he deserved and needed to become the major star that he is. There’s no way to know whether or not White is sitting on a gold mine with Ferguson or Nurmagomedov. The only way he’ll find out for sure is if those guys have the tools and opportunities to take the next step forward. That means being able to fight for the real championship.
Dana White would argue that acting the way he has with McGregor is protecting the investment that the UFC has in him. I don’t buy that, but fine. Own that decision. If Conor McGregor means so much to the UFC that an entire division needs to be sacrificed, be clear about that and proceed forward. That clarity includes realigning the lightweight division so fighters within it understand that McGregor comes first. It includes announcing that the only lightweight championship that will be defended until McGregor returns or retires is the interim title and it also includes the admission that Conor McGregor’s fame and notoriety has surpassed the UFC in every way.
Trying to play both sides of the coin like White has done is ineffective and misguided. From a promoter standpoint, he appears to have lost all control when it comes to dealing with his major star and at the same time, he’s delivered a confusing and inconsistent message regarding a major event for his company. Playing coy about it has weakened himself and the UFC on all levels. Its weakened Conor McGregor as well. McGregor built his reputation and wealth by being the rogue fighter that would stand up to the company. He regularly held out for what he was worth and was rewarded when he did because he backed it up with results both in the octagon and on the balance sheet. Having Dana White and the UFC protect him now goes against that personality. With White’s protective bubble, he’s more of a company guy than ever and as this saga labors on he becomes more unlikable which devalues his stock when he returns. If Dana White continues to move forward in this manner, he risks hurting his current product and his current crop of stars while simultaneously ruining Conor McGregor. All in the name of protecting his favorite asset? Remember, there is no guarantee that Conor McGregor will ever fight again.
White needs to get his ruthless backbone back in place and act like the promoter he is. That means either standing up to McGregor or publicly accepting that McGregor wields the true power within the UFC. Friendships and loyalty be damned. Both avenues show strength and both benefit the UFC in the short and long term.
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