Dana White does the UFC no favors while dancing around Conor McGregor's absence
The UFC president made a simple question an impossible dance on Friday during a press conference
We are at a point in the long, tumultuous, entertaining and often controversial career of Dana White as UFC president where a few things can be expected each time he steps in front of a microphone.
White, 48, has never been immune to angrily dodging a question while chastising a reporter for having the nerve to ask it. He's also no stranger to stretching the truth when it makes the most strategic sense.
But the circus White served as the ringleader for on Friday was unforgivable as the negative road UFC has embarked upon since a much-publicized 2016 ownership change reached an altogether new low.
One day before UFC 220 in Boston, White took to the dais at TD Garden to announce the April 7 lightweight title bout at UFC 223 in Brooklyn, New York, between interim champion Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov. The cryptic nature in which the promotion worded the press release for the news conference led most to believe we would learn answers as to whether champion Conor McGregor would finally be stripped for inactivity.
We never did.
In nothing more than an insult to the intelligence of fans and media in attendance, White instead led the UFC through a clown show of misdirection and transparent dodging.
Reporter: Can we get an update on McGregor?
"I have no update," White said. "The winner of [Ferguson-Nurmagomedov] will be the champion."
Reporter: Will McGregor be stripped by the time of the fight?
"We'll see what happens."
Reporter: Just to be clear here, is McGregor being stripped?
"Did you just get here? Did you hear what I said earlier? No, it's undisputed. I said it would be. I said the guy who wins [Ferguson-Nurmagomedov] would be the champion. This thing was at 5 p.m., when did you get here? You will see what happens, just relax. Calm down.
Reporter: Are Ferguson and Nurmagomedov privy to the plan for this division?
"I answered the question already and now you are asking these guys? They are going to fight for the title. This is the real title. I said that Conor can't hold up the title for two years. [It looks like] I'm going to bring him back to start answering some questions again. Start some new questions."
Reporter: Is there a reason why you won't answer whether McGregor is stripped?
"No, there is no reason."
Reporter: Has McGregor been stripped?
"Did I say he has been stripped of the title? Next question please. Anyone else have a question? Go ahead."
To recap what we learned from this 30 minutes of bizarre theater: McGregor has not been stripped of his lightweight championship despite not having appeared in the Octagon since 2016 and not having a date confirmed for his return. Ferguson-Nurmagomedov, meanwhile, will be for the undisputed lightweight championship.
Confused? You should be. So why won't UFC simply come clean? That's where it gets a bit dicey.
It's likely UFC doesn't want to annoy or alienate McGregor, 29, who currently holds more leverage than any fighter in company history after taking home a reported $100 million from his pro boxing debut against Floyd Mayweather last August.
For all of White's comical elusiveness, he did submit one reasonable response regarding the impact of McGregor's absence on the division, which remains one of the deepest in UFC, after being asked whether it bothers him to have to make these kind of decisions.
"When you make an obscene amount of money like that, who knows if they will ever come back," White said. "And right now, the position we are in, Conor is saying, 'Maybe I'll come back in August or maybe I'll come back in September.' But that's almost two years. That's not fair to the rest of the guys in the division. The division has to go on.
"These guys have been fighting their whole career. Everybody wants to get to that pinnacle and it's the fair thing to do. Listen, I take so much shit for how much I like Conor and everything else but the division has to go on."
But despite the sound nature of his words and the refreshing result of not forcing Ferguson and Nurmagomedov to wait any longer for a real title shot, White never followed through on his responsibility to the promotion's reputation.
While it's bad enough that UFC hasn't outright stripped McGregor, the devious way in which White dodged questions from media members (who were more than justified in pushing) was even more disappointing.
McGregor has a sordid history of placing his pursuit of big-money fights ahead of his own responsibility to the UFC's divisional rankings system. The fact that he has won championships in two UFC weight divisions yet has never once defended either one is the perfect illustration.
It's clear that McGregor gets a pass because of how valuable he is to the promotion, fresh off a calendar year in which pay-per-view sales plummeted. But tell that to Germaine de Randamie, who was stripped of her women's featherweight title last June, four months after winning it, for her refusal to face current champion Cris "Cyborg" Justino in her first defense.
If White's decision has more to do with UFC needing McGregor more than he needs them, that would be one thing. Not even Brock Lesnar has produced the kind of PPV numbers as "The Notorious." But instead, the ambiguous way in which things were handled Friday reeks far too much of UFC hoping to double dip with bait-and-switch promoting.
Presenting Ferguson-Nurmagomedov as a full championship fight likely will boost PPV sales. And should McGregor return to face the winner this fall, it could be presented as a unification fight without the need to strip him in between.
Sound familiar? It's part and parcel from the boxing playbook, where the sport is so oversaturated with meaningless titles simply designed to collect large sanctioning fees from fighters and give the appearance that every televised fight is meaningful.
The sad reality here is that boxing's system is broken because of its lack of central governing, where promoters navigate a "wild west" landscape to fight for a piece of the larger pie. UFC is much different, with a single promotion able to establish and implement its own rules.
But ever since the promotion's $4 billion sale to WME-IMG, UFC continues to cut off its nose to save its face by gratuitously floating interim titles and moving away from its own foundational creed of the best and most deserving fighting the best.
Some of that has been due to fighters taking a stand and having more say in the handling of their careers than ever before, which is refreshing. But the rest has been due to one short-sighted decision after another for the purpose of financial gain which continues to threaten the fans' trust.
Friday wasn't just UFC enforcing a different set of rules for its most elite by not stripping McGregor, it was the promotion hoping to have its cake and eat it too. It was also White taking the spotlight away from Ferguson and Nurmagomedov (along with UFC 222 headliners Max Holloway and Frankie Edgar) by attempting to, at best, ignore -- and, at worst, deceive -- the media and buying public.
UFC is better than that. At the very least, it should be.
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