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People lie, and they do it all the time. It’s such a cultural reflex that many people don’t even realize they’re lying while actively doing so.
Some people lie more than others, whether it’s because they’re pathological or because they’ve simply chosen a profession in which lying is an integral component. Fight promoters lie more than most folks as a matter of vocation. Fight promoting is still fundamentally selling a product, and as a promoter, you’re most successful when you can convince consumers who are lukewarm or indifferent to said product that it’s worth consuming. Every fighter is the best; every fight is the one we’ve waited for our whole lives; every season of “The Ultimate Fighter” is the craziest; and your vacuum doesn’t lose suction and it does the dishes.
In many ways, UFC President Dana White is a professional liar, a successful and practiced one. This is why it’s surprising to watch him do such a transparent, laughable, rotten job of lying when it comes to Conor McGregor’s “retirement.”
White lies, and I don’t have to “prove it” to you. In 2016, this may be accepted as common fact and not require citation. Instead of enumerating a laundry list of past lies, just consider this headline. Long story short: White OK’d Renan Barao to replace Dominick Cruz at UFC 148 without telling Urijah Faber, so it could be announced live on air during the live-to-air season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” He then basically said, “I lied to Urijah. We didn’t want to get scooped by some Internet dork. We wanted to break some news on the show.”
This man is a duplicitous crazy person. He repeatedly acts ignorant to or deliberately misrepresents things as serious as UFC fighters’ histories with domestic violence despite him famously saying, “You don’t bounce back from putting your hands on a woman.”
However, White is a carnival barker in a pair of Converse, so people expect him to be less than genuine. Typically, though, White’s lies are dumb, common promoter lies, which is why people normally make fun of him for being hyperbolic (“Fighter X is the best pound-for-pound fighter now!”) rather than being petty and political (His re-telling of Georges St. Pierre’s career) or outright sleazy (Mr. “Fighters Get All the Reebok Money!”).
Again, White is experienced and practiced as a flim-flam man, and he’s bombastic, profane and often even witty. Even his relationship with the truth is indicted by his very job; he usually can either put on a brave face and ably deflect hard questions and criticisms or say something wild and shift the narrative. During Wednesday’s damage control media car wash, which included TV appearances with Colin Cowherd and Jim Rome, instead of coming off like a capable con artist, White sounded more like a jilted lover in regards to the Conor McGregor situation.
There was some classic Dana deflection. Without mentioning her by name -- a White staple unless he’s saying awful things about Loretta Hunt -- the UFC president refuted Charly Arnolt’s tweet that McGregor wanted $10 million for UFC 200 and called her a “hack” guilty of click baiting. It was not unlike the stance he took in January, when Jeremy Botter reported that there was a growing rift between White and McGregor. White responded by calling Botter a “weirdo” and a “scumbag.”
Of course, the nature of Botter’s reporting brings us to the heart of White’s awful Wednesday exhibition in dishonesty. There were lots of doozies, but I want to focus on three of them in particular.
“It’s not a money issue ... Never, ever was this about money. It was never about money.”
Oh, you mean it’s never about money for the sudden millionaire fighter who talks constantly about how poor he used to be, how much money he wants and how he’s going to quit as soon as he has made stacks? The guy whose most famous pantomimes are making it rain and rubbing his thumb against his index and middle fingers? McGregor is the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s biggest star and White is out here acting like we’ve never heard the man speak before. McGregor released a statement via Facebook on Thursday saying he wasn’t retired and that he needed to focus on revenge, not doing hordes of media and hype.
MMA is prizefighting, with an emphasis on the “prize.” Fighter pay remains the largest political problem in the sport, and it’s one that informs all other issues, from unionization and the Reebok deal being the worst thing ever to PED use and so on. Imagine for a second that the recent death of fighter Joao Carvalho had a profound impact on McGregor. Let’s say McGregor suddenly thought, “Wow, MMA is dangerous and I’ve still got my health.” Do you really think the UFC wouldn’t try to seduce him back with money? Even when it’s apparently not a money issue, it very much is.
Look at Randy Couture. Look at B.J. Penn. Look at St. Pierre right now: Precedent says Zuffa would be hurling bricks of cash at him regardless of how McGregor felt about his own health and mortality. Of course it’s a money issue when every issue is a money issue. In this clarifying post, McGregor mentions money repeatedly: the money he makes media by speaking to them, the money he makes fighters by fighting them, the money he makes the UFC, the money he’ll save the company by not flying him all over the world. It’s still about money.
Even if more purse money isn’t the primary motivating factor, this is the equivalent of training camp holdout in stick-and-ball sports, and it’s not a new tactic. Once upon a time, Tito Ortiz was the UFC’s biggest star and would pull this stunt constantly, often just weeks before fights. White hated it, but the UFC needed Ortiz then and it needs McGregor now. Instead of being forthright and saying it was about money, White would simply skewer his former managerial client, calling Ortiz a coward or some such variation and hoping to wound his pride and make him sign. McGregor wants less media obligations and it's not a new request, but it’s still entangled in questions of money, what it takes to promote an event to make it successful and if that money can be better spent elsewhere. It's hard to believe more money couldn't sway him to soften his stance, or that the UFC wouldn't try.
Don’t worry, though, White never took it personally. He didn’t try to have a televised boxing match with Ortiz about it and produce an hour-long Spike TV documentary detailing the process, only to have Ortiz pull out of it because, poetically, he wanted more money. That never happened, because White is remarkably chill about everything, which brings us to our next lie.
“I’m not mad at Conor ... Our relationship isn’t damaged at all ... I’m not even mad a little bit ... No, I’m not mad at all.”
It looks like I added the last two parts for satirical comedy, but no, he actually said all those things over a matter of seconds. He’s definitely not mad, guys. Not even mad a little bit.
If you’ve ever dated someone longer than two months or if you’ve ever argued on the Internet, you know that “I’m not mad” is modern parlance for “I am definitely mad.” If you’ve been exposed to Dana White over the past 15 years, you know that Dana White is definitely mad.
As previously referenced, Botter reporting on the very real relationship strains between White and McGregor resulted in a classic Dana freakout, from which you can draw evidence if you like. For argument’s sake, let’s imagine that White and McGregor were the chummiest of chums and that the featherweight champion’s proclamation of retirement caught him completely off-guard. Even if you assume this is the case, thinking White isn’t mad is completely mad in a different sense of the word.
White’s nonsensical, grade-school explanation that McGregor simply didn’t want to do a media tour and so the UFC “pulled him” from the card only undermines the idea that he’s not mad. White says they were going to spend $10 million promoting UFC 200 -- a card around which Zuffa has wilfully manufactured monumental significance. Your biggest star and main event draw of said card up and retires because, out of the blue, he doesn’t want to do a media tour, and you’re OK with that? The media tour is the only way UFC 200 can be a success? Really, you’re fine with that? You, Dana White, he who is so definitely not mad about it that he spends enormous amounts of time attempting to roast fans and unabashed trolls on Twitter despite being the figurehead of a major sports promotion?
There’s many ways to respond to accusations of being mad. Usually, White is the “I’m not mad, actually, it’s kind of funny” variety, with tinges of “I’m not mad, my life is the best and you’re in your mom’s basement!” In this case, he offers none of that. He is simply see-through. What’s notable in his explanation of not being even a little bit mad is that he doesn’t really explain why he’s not mad, which is crucial in this case since McGregor did something that would make any employer angry, especially given the stakes of UFC 200 and given White’s B.S. explanation.
“A person I was relying on to help me and my company make tens of millions of dollars just up and left us. I’m not mad about it.” Read that to yourself. Does it make any worldly sense to you? No, of course not. That sentence only makes sense to a victim spiralling deep into mad-itude. Yet maybe there’s another lie that can help explain why MMA’s vulgar, froth-mouthed mascot is totally OK with his biggest drawing card bowing out over the hassle of frequent flyer miles.
“Conor made a decision and made a choice to not want to fight on this card ... That’s on him, man. That’s not on me.”
This statement makes some sense if you pretend that White is actually a different human being and not UFC president. Otherwise, it’s a preposterously dumb lie because it doubles down on the two others I’ve highlighted. The phrasing of “That’s on him, man” just screams “hurt feelings.” Again, White is the promoter and this is a money issue, so how is that not on him?
Even if you’re a hardline Zuffa apologist who wants to tout the idea that no fighter is bigger than the company, you must at least concede that the nature of big-money negotiations between an athlete and an organization is a two-way street and that McGregor is uniquely valuable to the UFC. McGregor hype creates a tide that lifts all boats, both the UFC brand and the fighters he steps into the cage against; and he’s in a weight range long desperate for his sort of superstardom. The notion that McGregor says “I think a media tour is dumb and unproductive for me” and that the UFC’s response should be “Cool, fair enough, we’ll cancel it all” is preposterous and puts the cart miles ahead of the horse.
Even if you believe that McGregor is being outright greedy in this case and it’s entirely a money play, it’s still on White and the UFC. Fighter pay is a complex issue, but in a purely economic sense, it’s not undercarders making ten-and-ten who are undercompensated; it’s stars like McGregor and Ronda Rousey, and St. Pierre and Brock Lesnar before them. MMA’s mega-stars are the ones who create Zuffa’s revenue, furbish and fortify the UFC brand and, in turn, get the hundreds of other fighters on the roster paid.
These fighters are the Ayn Randian atlases in an extreme way, and without them, the UFC is just some fighting league that does 250,000 units on pay-per-view. It’d be great if all fighters made more, but realistically, it’s not Artem Lobov who’s underpaid; it’s McGregor. That’s an organizational, structural issue and thus, very, very much on White and the UFC.
White spoke first and forced McGregor’s hand as a result, basically necessitating that he explain himself more fully. McGregor did a good job painting himself as a righteous businessman and athlete who knows his worth and not an arrogant or delusional megalomaniac. However, in future disputes, it must be re-assuring to know that he can count on some help from his pal Dana to look silly in public, even though he’s definitely not mad about it, not mad even a little bit.