Dana White’s Last Great White Hope by Cam Archer
The UFC is perhaps the only major sports organization where the company's president is one of the most visible figures.
On July 10th, the UFC will return to Las Vegas with what many have billed as one of the biggest fights in company history (at least that's what they told Joe Rogan to say in the ad campaign). The card itself is not packed with massive names throughout, but the face atop the marquee towers above many others in combat sports. Conor McGregor will face off with Dustin Poirier for the third time, in just over a year after the Diamond shocked the world and knocked out McGregor in Abu Dhabi. There will be no traditional championships defended, but a title most definitely hangs in the balance.
The UFC is perhaps the only major sports organization where the company's president is one of the most visible figures. If someone were to ask what name and or face comes to mind in association with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Dana White would not be very far down the line. This can be attributed to the youth of the brand in itself. While many have been MMA fans since UFC was taboo, being banned from Pay Per View and called "human cockfighting" by posturing politicians, most are still becoming used to the sport. So much so that many people still refer to the practice of Mixed Martial Arts itself as UFC.
Being the first company to break through to the mainstream made UFC the standard for the sport in the American consciousness. This product is the best of the best, period. White has done his best to present a "company above ego" model with his roster on the surface level. When Tito Ortiz was essentially holding out for bigger paydays, White dug in and opposed. Sure, the company had a better fighter to bank on in Chuck Lidell, but that's beside the point. The UFC doesn't buckle to the whim of its most prominent names!
Well, there are always some exceptions to the rule. None more significant than the aforementioned, McGregor has put the UFC in limbo on numerous occasions for his own goals and gain. Criminal acts during and outside of UFC events? Check. Is he chasing the bag in another combat avenue? Check. Conor McGregor walked what he talked about and got the perks that come with that accomplishment. He was and is a golden goose for the company. A loss on July 10th, however, could change that entirely.
You may think it doesn't matter if Conor finally falls from grace. The company still has guys like Kamaru Usman, Francis Ngannou, and Israel Adesanya holding down what are usually some of the most prominent divisions in the sport. But those names, while talented, charismatic, and in Ngannou's case, downright menacing, do not hit the core audience the UFC targets regularly.
The UFC is in the game of Patriotism. Americans love violent sports and shun those that frown upon excessive contact. It is no coincidence that both the UFC and NFL are always at the forefront of supporting the troops and almost begrudgingly paying attention to race matters within the country. Fair or not, their market is here to love their country and watch the bloodshed. There's a reason a fighter the caliber of Coby Covington had to adopt the Heel like the persona of a far-right Trump supporter to save himself from being cut from the company altogether. He was smart enough to see that while a small portion of the UFC audience would deplore him, a large amount of the United States would adore him.
Yes, I know McGregor is not American. But most America can look in the mirror and see a bit of the Notorious One in it. He's charismatic; he's a good but not a great fighter. But most importantly, he's not what the Champions listed above him are. Why is McGregor given the world at his whim by Dana and the UFC but Jon Jones, the closest thing combat sports has seen to Mike Tyson on a talent and volatility level, has to posture for a huge payday to face off with Heavyweight Champion Francis Ngannou. The matchup between Ngannnou and Jones would easily be the biggest fight in the promotion's history (we don't need Joe Rogan to confirm that).
Jones is the superior fighter, arguably the best to ever grace the cage. Is he a headcase? Sure. But so is McGregor. Their jackets both contain less than flattering marks. But only one is never genuinely reprimanded by his employer for them. That is what makes July 10th so important for Dana and the UFC.
If Conor isn't the White Knight carrying the shield, who is?