For Dana White, UFC 264 will be welcome respite from two gruelling battles that have polarised the MMA community.
White, 51, has been engrossed in public spats for the duration of his tenure as UFC president. The Connecticut-born mogul thrives on battles with all-manner of rivals, from boxing promoters to journalists and even his own fighters.
The UFC supremo has taken aim at the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Bob Arum and Jake Paul, while fan-favourite Nate Diaz warned welterweight contender Leon Edwards ‘don’t let these motherf*****s tell you ain’t s*** name your price or they will name it for you’, having endured his fair share of battles with White.
Dana White will welcome UFC 264 as respite amid a gruelling battle with two of his stars
Yet White’s latest feuds only appear to harm the UFC, the fans and its two biggest stars: Jon Jones and Francis Ngannou.
Of all the UFC fighters in the promotion’s history, no fighter has been better protected by White than Jones.
The UFC chief has resolutely stood by the troubled star throughout his run-ins with the law and his failed drugs tests.
White even took unprecedented action in moving Jones’ fight with Dominick Reyes from Las Vegas to California just one week before fight night after Jones failed a Nevada drugs test, a move that had angered some fans.
White has stood his ground in disputes with Jon Jones (left) and Francis Ngannou (right)
The UFC chief has endured his battles over the years and will hope to emerge victorious again
However, battle lines have now been drawn between fighter and promoter over Jones’ pay.
The 33-year-old is preparing to move up to heavyweight having conquered the light heavyweight division, and has spent over a year bulking up ahead of his debut in the glamour division.
Fans are excited at the prospect of seeing Jones, widely regarded as the greatest UFC star of all time, test his hand against physically superior rivals, with a mega-fight against Ngannou predicted to be the biggest UFC fight of all time. Yet the American appears some way off setting foot in the octagon.
Jones has made clear his price for facing Ngannou, but White is steadfastly refusing to budge, leaving the pair at a standstill.
‘I’m not asking for anything outrageous, and I know we’re in a pandemic and I know when you’re a multi-millionaire and you’re asking for more it makes you seem like this greedy person and I’m aware of all of this,’ Jones explained in April.
White and Jones are at loggerheads over his pay ahead of his move up to heavyweight
Ngannou is disappointed that the UFC has scheduled an interim title fight for next month
‘But I’m also aware that I have the voice and the platform to make change.
‘If I have to have a bad relationship with Dana (White), sit out for two years, three years to bring light to what’s happening, then these are the things people remember you for more than winning belts.’
‘Yeah, I’ve absolutely moved on (from the idea of Jones vs Ngannou),’ White fired back.
‘Listen, I put on fights every Saturday. We have a window where we try to build some fights and make some things happen. If the fights don’t happen within that window, we move on.
‘There’s nothing wrong with going out on top either – Jon Jones is undefeated, he’s never been beaten. So, it wouldn’t be a bad thing for him to go out on top.’
While Jones and White have tried, and failed, to come to terms over a return to the octagon, Ngannou has watched from afar at the heavyweight puzzle.
Ngannou won the heavyweight title in March and was in ‘total shock’ at last week’s news
The two feuds have divided the MMA community who are now demanding a solution is found
The UFC’s inability to strike a deal with Jones appeared to pave the way for Ngannou to take on Derrick Lewis in the Cameroonian’s first title defence.
Yet the UFC has surprisingly opted to schedule an interim heavyweight title fight between Lewis and hotshot Ciryl Gane at UFC 265, just three months on from Ngannou capturing the heavyweight title from Stipe Miocic.
Given Jones’ chequered history, fans have been split over the American’s financial demands. However, Ngannou is widely popular among fans and the news of the interim title fight has been roundly opposed by the MMA community.
‘This comes as a complete shock. To make an interim title so soon, if you look at the history of the division, it comes as a surprise,’ Ngannou’s manager, Marquel Martin told ESPN.
White, then, will be thankful that UFC 264 is around the corner as a much-needed distraction
Reports have emerged that Lewis and Gane have been given the interim title fight because UFC 265 will be held in Houston, Texas – Lewis’ home state. As a result, an interim title shot would garner more interest in supporting the heavyweight veteran.
‘This dude is SO FULL OF S***!!!’ White fumed on Instagram in response to Martin’s remarks. ‘He knows EXACTLY what’s going on and isn’t ‘shocked’ at all.
‘Because we told him several times this was coming. His management is incompetent and hopefully Francis starts taking a look at new people to help his career.’
Either way, the interim title shot leaves a sour taste and the resounding feeling is that Ngannou, who was forced to patiently wait for a shot at the title while Miocic and Daniel Cormier undertook a trilogy of fights, has been hard done by.
Conor McGregor remains the UFC’s biggest star and White’s golden goose returns on July 10
The UFC has become renowned for making a legion of superstars, but with things becoming slightly heated, White will be relieved that he can turn to his golden goose as a welcome distraction from the behind-the-scenes politics.
No UFC star has reached the same dizzy heights of Conor McGregor. The Irishman’s star has arguably eclipsed that of the UFC and as a result the ‘Notorious’ is in an enviable position where he holds far more bargaining power than his counterparts.
The 32-year-old is the greatest success story of the UFC, having escaped his life as a plumber on the dole in Dublin to the promotion’s first ever double champion, before raking in millions in a mega-money boxing fight with Floyd Mayweather.
The Irishman’s inactivity has left the UFC searching for their next superstar, and although the likes of Israel Adesanya, Jorge Masvidal and Amanda Nunes have all become huge stars in their own right, McGregor remains White’s prized asset.
The result of UFC 264 could have huge ramifications on White’s plans for the rest of the year
But there remains an overwhelming sense of jeopardy heading into UFC 264 this weekend. McGregor has won just one of his last three UFC fights, and his defeat to Dustin Poirier on Fight Island has seen the Irishman’s hunger for the sport questioned.
McGregor needs a win, badly, and will know that revenge over Poirier will go a long way in booking a title fight against reigning lightweight king Charles Oliveira.
It would be a fairly fortunate sequence of events if McGregor does emerge victorious over Poirier, with some fans opining that the Irishman should not be given fights of this magnitude due to his indifferent record.
Although White has refused to confirm that victory for either fighter would result in a shot at De Bronx’s throne, the outcome of UFC 264’s main event could have a huge impact on the UFC’s, and White’s, plans for the latter half of 2021.