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UFC president Dana White is unconcerned about the sport despite the apparent departures of Jon Jones, Conor McGregor and Jorge Masvidal in a week’s span.
White said he believes the coronavirus pandemic is playing a large part in the concerns and potential departures of his stars, per Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports:
“So I’ll remind everybody that we’re in a pandemic and the world is a crazy place right now with everything that’s going on. I think that everybody feels this. There are no fans. We can’t travel to fights around. Everybody is pissed off and fuming. We’ve been locked up in the house for three-and-a-half months. There’s protests. There’s riots. The list goes on and on. Listen, if you don’t think that what I’m doing right now is probably the hardest thing that I’ve ever done.
“If you don’t think that three times a day that I’m ready to say, ‘[Expletive] this [expletive].’ Believe me. And the amount of people I have gunning at me now is insane. One of the beautiful things about this sport is, you don’t have to fight. This isn’t the NBA or the NFL where you’d better be at practice and you better show up and do this and do that. If these guys want to sit down and retire right now or if anybody feels uncomfortable with COVID or in any way, shape or form with what’s going on, you don’t have to fight. It’s all good.”
McGregor announced his retirement early Sunday morning, just minutes after UFC 250 concluded. While some will quickly assume the retirement is posturing—it’s his third in four years, after all—McGregor told Ariel Helwani of ESPN he’s grown “tired” of the sport.
“The game just does not excite me, and that’s that. All this waiting around. There’s nothing happening. I’m going through opponent options, and there’s nothing really there at the minute. There’s nothing that’s exciting me.
“They should have just kept the ball rolling. I mean, why are they pushing [Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje] back to September? You know what’s going to happen in September, something else is going to happen in September, and that’s not going to happen. I laid out a plan and a method that was the right move, the right methods to go with. And they always want to balk at that and not make it happen or just drag it on. Whatever I say, they want to go against it to show some kind of power. They should have just done the fight—me and Justin for the interim title—and just kept the ball rolling.”
McGregor’s retirement was the latest blow in a week that saw Jones relinquish his light heavyweight championship and BMF champion Jorge Masvidal also threaten to walk away. Both fighters are engaged in a war of words with White over their contracts.
UFC is also dealing with the unexpected retirement of Henry Cejudo, who walked away after retaining his bantamweight championship at UFC 249.
While retirements rarely stick for long in combat sports and contract disputes are a regular part of doing business, a mass exodus of stars would hurt White and the sport a lot more than he’s letting on.