MMA notes: Dana White blasts Jon Jones over pay dispute; Gilbert Burns zooms up rankings

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports

A weekly look at MMA’s hottest topics.

White, Jones argue over money

For years, Jon Jones was asked repeatedly about moving to heavyweight. Once, the idea moved so far that there was serious discussion about pitting the UFC light heavyweight champion against former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar in a fight that would have been a massive pay-per-view attraction.

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And so it seemed like many prayers were answered when, in the aftermath of Francis Ngannou’s 20-second KO of Jairzinho Rozenstruik on May 9 at UFC 249, Jones put out a tweet suggesting that he could beat Ngannou.

That would mean a match between the greatest fighter in the history of the sport and perhaps the most feared man in the game today.

Even though it wouldn’t be a title fight, it would have been an easy seller as a headliner of a pay-per-view. Jones would be leaving his comfort zone of the 205-pound division, where he has reigned largely unchallenged since 2011, to take on a vicious, ferocious opponent like Ngannou.

UFC president Dana White almost instantly poured cold water on the speculation, which seemed curious.

Jones has been a good draw in his UFC career. However, he’s never hit the 1 million mark as a headliner (though he was on the undercard of UFC 100, which reportedly sold 1.6 million on PPV). 

All of his outside-the-ring travails and a sometimes prickly personality have caused some people to dislike him. That’s a trick boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. used to his success in selling PPVs, and you have to think it would have worked in a Jones-Ngannou fight.

There would have been a lot of people who might not otherwise have purchased it who did so because they would think there was a good chance of seeing Jones lose.

There would have been many others who would want to see how the greatest fighter ever would react to the challenge of a man bigger and stronger than he and who punched much harder.

It seems that with a good undercard, it could have been a 1 million-plus seller on PPV. And the UFC could have made it for the interim heavyweight title, since champion Stipe Miocic isn’t ready to defend his title in the rubber match against Daniel Cormier.

So White could have made Jones-Ngannou for the interim belt as a headliner and insisted that the winners would have fought.

Light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and UFC president Dana White have been publicly going back and forth over a pay dispute. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and UFC president Dana White have been publicly going back and forth over a pay dispute. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Instead, White said Jones asked for too much money — Deontay Wilder money, he called it, referring to the former WBC heavyweight champion who was guaranteed $30 million in February to fight Tyson Fury — and said the fight wouldn’t be made.

Jones called White a liar and in anger at White’s stance, asked to be stripped of the belt.

It’s all but impossible to say who is right in this situation. Jones, of course, does deserve some kind of a bump from moving up out of his division and creating a big event that will sell far more than any light heavyweight title defense he could make now. 

How much more he deserves is the question, and we don’t have enough information to intelligently make that determination. We know that when Jones fights, his gate is going to come in close to $4 million. In his last five fights, his gates were $2.45 million at UFC 214; $2.07 million at UFC 232; $4.04 million at UFC 235; $6.06 million at UFC 239 and $3.55 million at UFC 247.

That averages to $3.63 million over his last five fights.

There aren’t any gates now though, and figuring a Jones-Ngannou fight would probably do better than $3.63 million, and probably better than the $6.06 million he generated for his bout with Thiago Santos at UFC 239, that’s a big loss for the UFC to absorb.

Jones has never sold a million on pay-per-view, even in his two fights with Cormier, his bitter arch rival, and so it’s far from a guarantee that he would do it in a fight against Ngannou, with whom he does not have a personal history and who is not as well known as Cormier.

But White’s comments blasting Jones were out of line. Only Jones, White, managers Malki and Abe Kawa and UFC chief business officer Hunter Campbell know the truth of what Jones asked for, but these are negotiations. If you don’t start off asking for a lot, the other side benefits more.

The UFC would have been better off deflecting Jones’ comments and negotiating to get a deal.

Jones is headstrong enough that he could walk away, though history suggests they’ll eventually come to a deal.

The one thing we know for sure is that UFC champions make more than the amount that is announced by the athletic commissions in most states on fight nights. That’s just a start. They get a piece of the pay-per-view shares and other compensation.

In an interview during an Instagram Live chat with me on Monday, manager Ali Abdelaziz said lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov made $15 million in one fight, presumably against Conor McGregor, though he’s never had a purse anywhere near that.

We don’t know what the fair number for both sides is, but we know this is a fight worth saving.

The less speaking the better from both sides until a deal is reached.

Adams’ touching statement

Former UFC heavyweight Juan Adams is one of the smartest fighters in the sport. He wrote a lengthy post on Facebook about what it is like to be a young black man in the U.S. and his thoughts on what can be done. He agreed that I could share it, and it’s linked above.

But I wanted to put some of his words here, because he wrote from the heart and delivered a message that is important.

“I believe that the late-May wave of protests, along with the sideshow episodes of looting and property destruction, are a collective expression of the same way I sometimes feel, resulting from a culmination of years of black lives (and the lives of other minorities) being institutionally marginalized and people of color often being treated as something less than human,” Adams wrote. “For example, being handcuffed and held face-down on pavement because an officer thinks you could be bringing drugs to a renaissance festival or being accused of having weed in your car when a friend’s alarm goes off at their house and you don’t know their code. Or, when a police officer has their hand on their gun when they approach you to talk about a reported disturbance at your place of employment when no such disturbance even existed in the first place. The protests and the acts of theft and destruction surrounding them are, in my view, an eruption of emotion after years, decades, and centuries of being told and shown that ‘you don’t matter.’ While I know my life matters — no more or less than another — when we say #BlackLivesMatter, it’s because the larger world we live in seems to constantly tell us through policy making and policing us that our lives really don’t matter.”

He went on to condemn the looting that is taking over the headlines and diverting the message protesters are risking so much to deliver. 

“I understand that way of thinking and feeling, and in many ways, I feel the same way — but I am also torn by the discriminate and indiscriminate violence, vandalism, and theft characteristic of protests,” Adams wrote. “By nature, the current wave of activity is discriminatory in that it identifies an entire group (all police or everyone in the majority of the population) as being at fault and seeks retribution from all members of those groups regardless of their participation in the injustices. The looting and destruction to private and public property are also indiscriminate in that they damage businesses, neighborhoods, and public institutions regardless of the benefits they may offer. I have watched and read reports of white-owned, black-owned, Asian-owned, and Hispanic-owned businesses damaged by those participating in some activities in select cities over the past weekend. Perhaps worst of all, bad people and uniformed actors widen the racial divide and take the focus off the deaths of [Ahmaud] Arbery and [George] Floyd and the underlying issues that need to be resolved.”

Adams’ words need to be heard. Do yourself a favor and read his entire post.

Burns zooms upward

Not surprisingly welterweight Gilbert Burns is now the No. 1 contender in the most recent UFC rankings. He had been sixth before his comprehensive victory over ex-champion Tyron Woodley.

I wasn’t sure he deserved to be No. 1, but he clearly deserved to go up. The biggest surprise to me in the welterweight rankings is that voters kept Woodley ahead of Leon Edwards. Woodley fell three spots from 1 to 4, while Edwards dropped one from 4 to 5.

Edwards has won eight in a row and 10 of 11, with his only loss in that period having come to champion Kamaru Usman. Woodley has lost back-to-back fights in which he wasn’t even close, losing 10 consecutive rounds against Usman and Burns.

Seems that Edwards should have stayed at No. 4 and Woodley should have dropped to No. 5.

He said it

“I’m pissed off. Wait, hold up. How many of you walk into a store and have to put your hands behind your back just so they don’t think you’re stealing? How many of you walk down the street and have to kind of smile and try to make you see the person who already is scared of you, you make them feel comfortable?” — UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, speaking in New Zealand on Sunday at a Black Lives Matter protest.

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