During an interview with ESPN’s Brett Okamoto prior to UFC 238, UFC President Dana White refuted reports the UFC’s ESPN+ pay-per-view deal played a role in Brock Lesnar not returning to the promotion, and he addressed Conor McGregor’s future.
Ever since he appeared in the Octagon and shoved Daniel Cormier after the latter won the UFC Heavyweight Title at UFC 226, many anticipated the pair facing off with the title on the line in Lesnar’s MMA return. The former WWE and UFC champion was reportedly ready to return as early as the start of this year with all USADA measures (including part of his 2016 suspension) taken care of, but the fight never came to fruition.
When White announced Lesnar would not return to the UFC, speculation began that the UFC’s pay-per-view deal under ESPN and ESPN+, which started earlier this year, meant the financial incentives for Lesnar to return were not as strong as they were when the UFC was under traditional pay-per-view. But White says Lesnar not returning isn’t about the ESPN+ deal, but simply that WWE Chairman Vince McMahon simply offered Lesnar a better deal to remain with the sports-entertainment promotion.
“If you really look when we were on pay-per-view, we were on traditional pay-per-view, everybody was talking about how the pay-per-view business was dying,” White said. “It’s dying and nobody can pull numbers anymore. Really? We were still pulling five to seven million pay-per-view buys a year when we were on the dying, traditional pay-per-view. You can’t listen to any of this noise.
Brock Lesnar got a better deal is basically what happened for Brock.
As for addressing if the ESPN+ deal affected McGregor, arguably the UFC’s biggest star of the modern era, White says that McGregor has the popularity and brand few to none UFC fighters before have ever reached both inside and outside of the Octagon. As a result, McGregor has put himself in a position where he’s more than financially sound and can pick and choose what he wants to do when it comes to fighting — if he ever wants to again.
“What did I say leading up to the Mayweather-McGregor fight? Did I not say [he may never fight again]? How many times has he fought since then? Once. Conor is in a very unique position as a fighter. He has tons of money. His whiskey business is off the charts. Conor now has the ability to be very calculated, sit back and play the game the way he wants to.”