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White says ‘fight factory’ can endure McGregor layoff, cloudy Rousey future

By Lance Pugmire |  Los Angeles Times (TNS) 

LAS VEGAS — Conor McGregor appears headed to an extended layoff awaiting the birth of his first child, due in May. Ronda Rousey has said her fight clock is ticking to zero. And former light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones is sidelined until July for a doping case.

Yet, in his office, surrounded by millions of dollars’ worth of art that might best be themed “Unmerciful,” UFC President Dana White is showing up daily, prepared to deal with it all.

“Every day I walk in this office is a new day for the sport,” White told The Los Angeles Times during a personal visit this week. “This is what we do, what we are. I’ve been doing this (stuff) for years, and I can tell you, 2017 will be dynamite.

“This is the … fight factory.”

White’s commitment to the job has been observed closely since his close friend and former UFC Chairman Lorenzo Fertitta sold the company to Beverly Hills talent agency WME-IMG for around $4 billion in July.

White cashed out an estimated $400 million stake and remained as president, but there have been times that he’s skipped post-fight news conferences and limited the previously generous access he provides reporters.

The UFC has also lost some talent inside its offices, particularly longtime matchmaker Joe Silva.

White told The Times, however, that he remains fiercely involved and tightly connected to company happenings, including matchmaking and production, and says he’s enjoying the bond-building with WME-IMG’s Ari Emanuel, who first helped Fertitta and White land important television deals.

“What Ari brings to the table, what he does and knows is amazing … we have a meeting in Russia (this month) and we’re going to China after that, and working on some stuff that’ll blow people’s minds and be a lot of fun over the next five to seven years,” White said.

“I love this sport, this company and I come to make big fights.”

What Donald Trump’s election as president means will be worth watching. White spoke for Trump at the Republican National Convention and a White House dinner invitation should be coming.

Beyond that, boxing promoter Kathy Duva suggested this week that Trump could also help the UFC avoid being subject to the federal Muhammad Ali Act that requires earnings disclosures from promoters to fighters.

It’s been a good 2016 for the UFC.

While it appears McGregor’s main-event victory over Eddie Alvarez Saturday night at the UFC’s New York debut in Madison Square Garden might not break the record of 1.6 million pay-per-view buys, it left McGregor, 28, around 200,000 fewer calendar-year buys (4.7 million) than the record 4.9 million that Floyd Mayweather Jr. drew at age 38 in 2015.

Another big seller comes to T-Mobile Arena on Dec. 30, when Rousey finally returns from her head-kick knockout loss to Holly Holm last November and meets new women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes of Brazil. Rousey said on “Ellen” recently that she won’t fight much longer.

From there, White is working.

He said middleweight champion Michael Bisping of England has “a knee issue” and won’t be ready to defend his belt against Cuba’s Yoel Romero on the UFC 208 card in Anaheim on Jan. 21.

What he’ll do for a return to New York at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Feb. 11, and a March 4 card in Las Vegas is also in flux with some key talent — starting with McGregor — on the shelf.

“He won’t fight before May,” White said of McGregor. “His girl (Dee Devlin) gets super stressed out when he fights. He doesn’t want her having any of that stress while she’s pregnant. He’s good. He should take time off. He’s been fighting nonstop. Nothing wrong with him taking time off. It’s good for him and her and it’s good for the baby.”

Panic over the void was not seen this week.

“We’ve done this for 16 years, with a lot of big stars who couldn’t fight or moved on — Chuck Liddell, Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre,” White said. “There’s not a day in this office I don’t get the question, ‘What are we going to do about this guy?’ Every day I turn around, I’ve got a reporter saying we’ve peaked.

“If I listened to any of that … we probably would be done.

“But I can tell you, we’re just getting started. Ari is a bright, fresh-eyed guy who’s just getting into this business, and he’s in love with it.”