Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) continues to be the only major sport in the world that’s back up and running during the Coronavirus pandemic, but as the promotion passes its fifth event since May 9, 2020, there are real questions as to whether its can get any of its major stars back into the cage in the next several months.
Bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo abruptly retired over money issues. Light heavyweight champ and G.O.A.T. contender Jon Jones is threatening to do the same. BMF Jorge Masvidal is asking for his release. No one is even bothering to call Nate Diaz because they already know he wants to get paid. And last night Conor McGregor retired in frustration because he can’t get a fight put together.
Big fights are there for UFC to make, but the promotion has been so preoccupied with getting weekly Fight Nights with main events like Jessica Eye vs. Cynthia Calvillo going that it’s facing what looks like a full scale revolt at the top of the roster. It’s hard to blame them completely, what with the unprecedented situation. The Coronavirus has shut down the world and the economy looks like it’s about to completely collapse. The United States is literally on fire.
But the problems fighters are citing — a refusal from UFC to even negotiate big fights, a seeming inability to even attempt to get on the same page — have been around long before COVID-19. They’re just boiling over now. Following UFC 250, the press had a lot of questions for Dana White (watch it), and few of them were about the fights we just witnessed.
“So I’ll remind everyone that we’re in a pandemic,” White said when asked about McGregor announcing his retirement. “The world is a crazy place right now with everything going on, and I think everyone feels this right now. There are no fans, can’t travel the fights around. I think everybody is pissed off, confused, locked up in their houses for three and a half months. There’s protests, there’s riots. The list goes on and on. And if you don’t think that what I’m doing right now is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done? And if you don’t think that three times a day I throw my f**king hands up and I’m ready to say you know what, f**k this s**t? Believe me.”
“And the amount of people I have gunning at me right now is insane,” he added. “But here we are, this is our fifth fight, we pulled off our fifth fight. No other sports are going right now but us. And one of the beautiful things about this sport is: you don’t have to fight. This isn’t the NBA or NFL where you better be at practice, you better show up and do this, do that. You don’t have to do anything here. And if these guys want to sit out or retire right now or anyone feels uncomfortable in any shape or form with what’s going on, you don’t have to fight. It’s all good.”
“So if that’s what Conor’s feeling right now, Jon Jones, Jorge Masvidal? I feel you. It’s not like I’m going ‘Holy s**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 understand and I get it.”
White was unwilling to get into arguments about fighter pay, brushing off a question regarding the sub-20 percent amount of money fighters are earning on UFC’s revenue. But he did underscore the instability of the current situation and the fact that it’s only going downhill from here.
“I hate to be Mr. Negative, but the worst is still yet to come,” he said. “The worst is still yet to come. You’re going to see a lot more people in this country getting laid off. If you look at the financial situation, being off for 3.5 months. And you look at the stock market and you’re like ... how the f**k does that make sense? Right? There’s going to be a huge domino effect. It’s going to start with layoffs, bankruptcies, it’s going to hit the real estate and God knows what else. And this Covid s**t, who the hell knows what’s going to go on with that thing.”
“You see those commercials — ‘These are uncertain times’ ... yeah, you think? Who knows, man. I’m just digging in, I haven’t laid off any of my people, I’m trying to take care of all my people, including my fighters. Keep them working, and doing everything in my power to do what I can do. And you guys have known me for a long time. Anyone that doesn’t want to roll with me? Get the f**k off the bus. Get out of here. See you later. Do whatever you want to do. No one is making anyone do anything.”
“The priority is the guys who want to fight. They’re the priorities. So the guys who want to fight, we’ll keep them fighting. There are more eyeballs on these kids right now than ever in the history of the business, ever. We are at an all-time peaking high with numbers with people watching right now. And you guys have to feel it with the traffic.
“We’re at an all time high, so these kids that want to fight, I’ll make them money and I’ll keep them busy,” he concluded.