Dana White: Negotiating in Public

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Dana White has a lot on his plate to handle at the moment. The UFC was the first sport to resume action following the shut downs across the board as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The pressure from the media is often directed at him. White is accountable to Disney and ESPN too. Add to that, the UFC is not getting any revenue from ticket sales, merchandise and probably a whole set of other revenue sources. 

Dana White Against the World

UFC 249 could have been a night of pure celebration for the UFC President. However, Henry Cejudo had other plans. The once double champ beat Dominick Cruz, and then he retired. Take a look at Michael Bisping‘s reaction. Fast forward a little bit. Jon Jones has problems. Jones was to fight Francis Ngannou in a super fight, but that fell through. Jones continues to complain about what he felt he was owed. That makes two of the biggest superstars in the UFC unhappy with the company. One is a nearly unbeaten phenom who is always in the greatest of all time conversation. The other is the only UFC two-division champion to also win an Olympic medal. Then along comes Jorge Masvidal. You would think that after his last payday and the fact that he had a special belt created just for him, Masvidal would not have complaints. Turns out, he has a lot of them

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The UFC is really in trouble now isn’t it? It’s almost like the only thing needed now is for Conor McGregor to get involved. And that’s exactly what happened in the immediate aftermath of UFC 250. Once more the retirement felt like a negotiation than a legitimate retirement. Especially since this was supposed to be Conor McGregor’s “season”. He did seem very keen when the year began.

Negotiating Back 

This isn’t a discussion on the ethics of negotiation or fighter pay. Odds are you already have an opinion. 

This is a discussion on how negotiations play out in the real world. And MMA fans are getting a front row seat to see how some of the very best in the world do it. With each fighter making their demands, it would be easy to crumble. It would be equally easy to complain about it or try to strong arm your way through the situation.

Dana White instead chooses to play along. When Cejudo retired, White’s first reaction inside the octagon was to say call me. He reiterated at the post fight presser that it would not be a good idea to quit, but if that was what Cejudo wanted, then so be it. That move sent a signal to Cejudo that the UFC will not cave to his pressure if that was what it was.

With Jones, White has reiterated that Jones is the greatest of all time. He reiterated that Jones has a great relationship with Hunter Campbell. But at the same time, he talked about how Jones was asking for an obscene amount of money. He spoke in generic terms about Jones’ actions beyond the cage. This achieves a number of things. First, it provides Jones an incentive to come back and fight. Second, it appeals to Jones’ sense of identity as a fighter and as a friend. Few things are as persuasive as that. However, while playing up the advantages, Jones claim is delegitimised on two grounds. Highlighting his past antics exhibits how the UFC could view him as a liability. And exaggerating the claim takes away its legitimacy.

Masvidal spoke at length about numbers on his interview. He made comparisons to the pay structure that athletes in other sports have. Dana White pretty much won this one with just two words. He called Masvidal a financial wizard. Now Jorge Masvidal is a lot of things. He’s tough as nails. He’s absolutely fearless. And he’s highly intelligent. But Masvidal’s persona does not conjure up images of proficiency in finance in the public’s imagination. And with that one stroke, White neutralised a lot of the credibility that Masvidal brings.

McGregor added to the pressure with yet another retirement. White responded by…well, not responding. Dana’s current stance is “I don’t know what he’s talking about.” Remember those statements about Proper12? How they sold for an obscene amount of money? Imagine being McGregor and asking for more money after that.

The Path Ahead

Dana White is now displaying to world how negotiations work. It’s absolutely bizarre to those who have never been in one. It’s also absolutely obvious to those who have. 

As well as White is handling this, he faces a daunting task. McGregor, Jones, Cejudo and Masvidal are all negotiating back too. And they’re doing a pretty good job of it. The problem for the fighters here is that this HAS to work. If the UFC hold out long enough it will set a precedent event even more difficult for future fighters to overcome.

Featured image: Embed from Getty Images

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