Decked out in an official Team McGregor T-shirt, UFC President Dana White planned to spend Tuesday night using his promoter voice to shout about his most famous fighter’s chances in a boxing match Saturday night against Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Instead, he began addressing a media throng in his only scheduled public availability of Mayweather vs. McGregor fight week at “The Ultimate Fighter” gym in hushed tones. White had just heard the United States Anti-Doping Agency had flagged his second-most famous active fighter, Jon Jones, for a potential doping violation hours earlier, and was struggling to come up with words to describe his emotions.
“It’s brutal,” White practically whispered. “It’s unbelievable.”
Although White insisted news like Jones’ failed test would disappoint him greatly no matter when it came out, this timing must have felt particularly troublesome. The UFC is in the middle of a four-week hiatus from fight cards — an eternity for a company that staged 41 events in 2016 — intended for White and the promotion to fully ingratiate themselves into Mayweather vs. McGregor.
On the day of Mayweather’s and McGregor’s grand arrivals at T-Mobile Arena, White was left picking up the pieces of the latest Jones incident at UFC headquarters with the big event a few miles away informing a devastating perspective.
“Look at Conor McGregor right now,” White implored. “Imagine what Jon Jones could be right now — how big he could be, how many sponsors he could have. Who would he be signed with that has never signed a mixed martial artist before? The list goes on and on of what could have been with Jon Jones.”
White described Jones’ situation, which could lead to as much as a four-year suspension, as a distraction for only a couple hours. He couldn’t allow it to affect him any longer.
He might only be a co-promoter alongside Mayweather Promotions and Showtime for Mayweather vs. McGregor, but the pressure is getting to him.
“I’ve got to get through this weekend,” White said. “I haven’t been this nervous for a fight probably ever.”
That’s because White is enveloped in emotion regarding a fight’s outcome for once.
“I want Conor to knock him out,” White said, only then raising his voice after several minutes of discussing Jones. “Normally when we go into these fights, everyone is in the UFC. It’s our guy versus our guy. I’m not going to say I haven’t been in a special situation where I pulled against a Tito (Ortiz) or something, but it’s usually our guy versus our guy and whoever wins, wins. This is obviously a huge stake here on both sides.”
Although White hasn’t been the executive at the forefront of the promotion — both Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe and Showtime Executive Vice President Stephen Espinoza have been more visible — he’s still locked himself into the bout for the last several months.
When the possibility of an odd pairing between the world’s best boxer and a mixed martial artist who had never boxed before gained steam, many viewed White as an impediment. Speculation was White would never let his most financially successful fighter step into a boxing ring.
For someone who’s made a career out of staging fights fans have demanded, White took it all as an affront.
“When I think back to when Lorenzo (Fertitta) and I got into this, this is the type of fight we used to dream about,” White said. “You would never think it would be a boxing versus MMA fight but fights that don’t make sense always pop up and the ones you don’t see coming always happen in this sport.”
White initially praised Mayweather Promotions and Showtime, saying the negotiating to make the mega-fight went much easier than expected. The harmony between all the parties didn’t last long.
White and McGregor bashed Showtime specifically for its insistence on a tedious news conference format during a four-stop international media tour. Espinoza didn’t take kindly to the criticism.
Tempers flared again from the fallout of McGregor’s training session with retired former boxing champion Paulie Malignaggi. White said the UFC sent Showtime footage of the fighters’ sparring sessions and the network declined to use it in an effort to protect Malignaggi, one of its commentators.
Espinoza responded that White provided no such content. White appeared to want to get into his frustrations with Showtime on Tuesday, but stopped himself and declined comment.
“I’m trying not to get in a fight with all my partners before we make it to Saturday,” White laughed.
The relationship between Mayweather and the UFC has gone smoother, but White couldn’t resist getting in one dig against the undefeated boxer. He alluded to the pro-McGregor crowds that showed up in large numbers at every stop of the media tour.
“When we put this together, Floyd kept saying they were the A-side,” White said. “I think when we went out on the road, we saw who the A-side was and who wasn’t. It’s the same way: It takes two people to make a big fight. Floyd ain’t making this much money not fighting Conor McGregor.”
Although financial details are undisclosed, the UFC figures to draw in a big payday of its own. Perhaps it’s a big enough payday to ease the sting of the earnings potential lost with Jones’ most recent mishap.
But this is one fight where money doesn’t mean everything to White. He’s never rooted harder for one side in a fight.
“When the Patriots won the Super Bowl, I wore a Patriots’ shirt every day for a week so I’m wearing a Conor McGregor shirt every day this week,” White said. “I’m not superstitious but (expletive) it, I’ll give it a shot.”