Dana White and the UFC are not in a great place. After the coronavirus pandemic shut down events for months, the company appeared to be ahead of the curve by returning to action quicker than other major sports leagues. But a sequence of events over the last few weeks has revealed serious cracks in the organization as top fighters from across the brand are threatening to leave or are retiring.
The veneer of UFC's invincibility in the mixed martial arts world began to crack at UFC 249. After beating Dominick Cruz in dominant fashion to retain the UFC bantamweight title that night, Henry Cejudo abruptly retired from the sport. The 33-year-old was on a six-fight win streak, had simultaneously held the flyweight and bantamweight titles and was considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. And, seemingly out of nowhere, he just walked away.
Many believed Cejudo was pushing for more pay from the UFC and that he wasn't truly done with MMA. White moved on quickly and has said a likely fight between Peter Yan and Jose Aldo would crown a new bantamweight champion.
Not long after Cejudo's retirement, White put the kibosh on a potential blockbuster fight between light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and heavyweight knockout artist Francis Ngannou. The UFC president claimed Jones was asking for too much money to face Ngannou. That didn't sit well with the champ, and he went off on White in a Twitter rant. Jones demanded his release if he wasn't paid more.
Another UFC champion followed Jones' lead a few days later. Jorge Masvidal, the organization's current "BMF champion," demanded his release on Friday if the company doesn't pay him more. Masvidal is one of the most exciting fighters on the planet and has become a fan favorite over the last few years. He'd be a huge loss for the organization.
Then, on Saturday night, the perpetually-retiring Conor McGregor did it again -- for the third time in four years. Obviously, McGregor wants White to rush after him and dump a boatload of cash in his lap. Given that he's the biggest star in MMA history, White might have to do just that.
That's three champions and the biggest draw in the sport all either walking or threatening to walk away in the span of a month. There's no way to spin that as a positive.
We've long been told UFC fighters are dramatically underpaid. Maybe the top fighters are finally realizing they are the big draw, not the sport itself. Maybe they're finally taking a shot at getting more equitable deals at a time when the UFC badly needs revenue-producing events. Maybe this is what will spur some change.
Whatever is going on, it isn't good for White or the UFC. The company badly needs stars to survive and four of them want out. We'll see what happens next, but the UFC might need to pony up some huge contracts to keep its biggest stars from leaving.