A fight without fists: McGregor vs. White for UFC 200


Photo Courtesy of Andrius Petrucenia/Flickr

Kali Persall,
Managing Editor

Even in the world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), the old adage is true: “the show must go on.” On July 9, thousands of people will be flooding to Las Vegas — or at least busting out the credit card to watch UFC 200 on pay-per-view. Predicted to be the biggest draw since UFC 100 in 2009, which pulled in 1.6 million pay-per-view buys, an attendance of over 10,000 and over $5 million at the gate, according to the MMA Manifesto. UFC 200 is sure to eclipse that.

However, Conor McGregor, “The notorious” quick-witted powerhouse and featherweight   champion, will not be fighting.

That’s right: The fight everyone’s been talking about for months — McGregor vs. Nate Diaz rematch, aka the main card — has completely fallen apart, and this time it’s not due to an injury.

Thanks to a shocking decision by UFC President Dana White, not only won’t McGregor fight in the main event, he won’t fight in 200 at all. And because of this, his opponent Nate Diaz has dipped out too, leaving two huge, glaring question marks in the blank silhouettes where the profiles of the fighters once stood in the event lineup.

Last week, McGregor tweeted a cryptic message announcing that he would retire young, much to the shock and bewilderment of fans, myself included. After two days with no explanation, McGregor released a Facebook statement that gave his followers a clue that there was more to the story, namely a conflict between him and UFC President Dana White. Providing peace of mind to thousands, his statement simultaneously confirmed that his earlier retirement threats were false:

“I am just trying to do my job and fight here,” McGregor wrote. “I am paid to fight. I am not yet paid to promote. I have become lost in the game of promotion and forgot about the art of fighting. There comes a time when you need to stop handing out flyers and get back to the damn shop…I AM NOT RETIRED.”

A sigh of relief was heard around the world.

However, much to fan’s dismay, White hasn’t wavered in his decision to rip the fighter off the main card, a short-sighted move on his part, considering that McGregor is the current cash cow of the industry and the golden ticket to making UFC 200 monumental.

On Monday, McGregor tweeted that he was back on the card and even tagged and thanked White in the post. Later that day, White told the media that the announcement wasn’t true. So what is the truth? We fans are dying to know, and we’re getting whiplash by the exhausting back-and-forth argument.

You could say that the whole fiasco really began with a one-punch-knockout in UFC 194 last December. In one of the biggest upsets of the year, McGregor defeated Jose Aldo, ten-year Brazilian featherweight champion of the world in the fastest title fight KO in UFC history; a record 14 seconds.

From that point on, McGregor developed a taste for blood, and he wasn’t going to give up until he secured not one, but two title belts in two different weight classes.

Fast forward to 196 in March: McGregor bumped up from his featherweight class of 145 to take on lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos at 170, a risky move that landed him paired with Diaz after dos Anjos backed out last-minute due to an injury.

Two ruthless bad-mouthers adored for their unfiltered, quick-witted comebacks, the McGregor/Diaz pairing turned out to be a match made in heaven for the media. However it didn’t end well for McGregor. Diaz, who only had three weeks to train prior to the fight, submitted to McGregor in an impressive rear-naked choke. Fans have been screaming for a rematch ever since.

From what followers have pieced together about the White/McGregor conflict, McGregor refused to fly to Las Vegas last Friday for obligatory fight promotion, something all fighters are required to do, which White wasn’t going to tolerate.  According to White, ten million dollars has been allocated for fight promotion for this event.

Admittedly, it appears that the UFC isn’t unreasonable about the press obligations it demands of fighters. As White pointed out on Friday, the promotional events are scheduled months before fights so as not to encroach on crucial practice time. White “didn’t want to go there” when asked on Friday whether McGregor’s refusal to promote was in violation of his contract, but it’s definitely clear that officially or unofficially, McGregor overestimated his amount of wiggle room.

“We try to give as much leeway as we can on things, but you have to show up and promote the fight,” said White on Friday. “Is it too much to ask to try to shoot a commercial or do the promotion for the fight? A lot of these guys came here from different parts of the world. But you know, these guys all came. They have better things to do, and they’re here. It’s part of the job.”

Clearly watching the press conference on TV, McGregor promptly tweeted, “Everyone flew in. Respect. But not everyone up there made the company 400 million in 8 months.”

There’s truth to McGregor’s statement. The fact that this conflict took the main slot over a title fight speaks to McGregor’s true drawing power. In 196, McGregor became the first fighter in history to earn a million dollar purse for one fight, even though it ended in his defeat. That event pulled in 1.5 million pay-per-view buys and $8.1 million at the live gate, White boasted in an interview on ESPN radio.

Why didn’t McGregor just bite the bullet? The brash Irish fighter is far from camera shy. In fact, his aggressive, crap-talking persona has cast quite a spotlight on the UFC. Whether or not you’ve ever seen a McGregor fight, chances are you’ve heard plenty about him just from media hype alone; he’s just as notorious for his crude mouth as he is his potent, unpredictable stand-up style.

It’s no secret that favoritism has been a major force at play in the UFC, especially when it comes to McGregor, and he’s no doubt used to the rules being bent for him.

For example, when Aldo asked to bump up to 170 for a chance at the lightweight belt, he was told by White that he would have to give up his featherweight title. For McGregor however, not only did White agree to let him hold both titles, but he gave him a boost up the golden ladder.

But you’d never be able to tell by the way White has suddenly brought down the hammer. McGregor even attempted a compromise in his Facebook statement by promising to attend the big press conference in New York on April 27, but White has held a firm “no.” Ironically, the one time where flexibility is actually justified, White refuses to give it; his refusal cloaked under a guise of fairness. For his misplaced false righteousness, he’s shooting himself in the foot.

Love or hate his brash, cocky attitude and unconventional, aggressive fighting style, there can be no doubt that “the notorious” McGregor has finally lived up to his nickname and has secured himself as one of the greats, along with the likes of Ronda Rousey and Jon Jones.

The popular consensus: McGregor’s a phenomenal fighter and an effective entertainer; we’re eating what he’s serving up and we want a plate at UFC 200.