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Making sense of Dana White's decision to pull Conor McGregor from UFC 200

·Combat columnist
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LAS VEGAS – The idea that there is some kind of serious business dispute going between Conor McGregor and UFC management is overblown. There is not. It's more like they're annoyed with each other.

It appears they're more than a bit irritated with each other, and each with good reason, but it hardly appears they've got irreconcilable differences and are headed for divorce court. This is true even though McGregor was yanked from his spot Tuesday in the main event of UFC 200.

UFC management, specifically president Dana White and chairman Lorenzo Fertitta, have to be angered that McGregor has given them such a hard time about attending a Friday news conference in Las Vegas.

Dana White pulled Conor McGregor, shown being interviewed by Joe Rogan in the cage after a fight, from the UFC 200 card. (Getty Images)
Dana White pulled Conor McGregor, shown being interviewed by Joe Rogan in the cage after a fight, from the UFC 200 card. (Getty Images)

From McGregor's point of view, the rematch with Nate Diaz that was supposed to be the main event of UFC 200, the summer's blockbuster card on July 9 at the new T-Mobile Arena, is the biggest of his career.

He's done a tremendous amount of work in the last year promoting hugely successful shows at UFC 189, UFC 194 and UFC 196, as well as coaching on "The Ultimate Fighter," and he has to believe he's done far more than his share.

He'd prefer to concentrate on training to be as ready as possible for the Diaz rematch. While a second consecutive loss wouldn't wreck his career, he would no longer have the same cachet that he does now were he to lose again.

UFC 200 is going to be a massive card and the company wants to give it a proper build-up. There are three shows that week, and all three include at least one title fight. The UFC will hold events all over Las Vegas that week to promote the show and create a unique experience for fans who make the trip.

With UFC 197 set for Saturday in Las Vegas, White and Fertitta planned to take advantage of the fans and gathered media to preview UFC 200 by holding an elaborate news conference on Friday prior to the weigh-in. Every fighter but one who is currently booked to appear on any of the three shows was headed to Las Vegas to take part in the news conference, take publicity photos and appear in commercials.

The UFC, which has spent extraordinary sums promoting and marketing McGregor, is planning a major campaign and couldn't afford to be without the star of the show. It's easy to understand from White's standpoint why he wanted – demanded – McGregor to be in Las Vegas.

But it's also easy to sympathize with McGregor's position. McGregor and former women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey have lapped the field in terms of the amount of promotional work they have done. McGregor's efforts have paid off handsomely. The UFC doesn't announce exact pay-per-view figures, but the last three cards he headlined (UFC 189, 194 and 196) all did right at or exceeded 1 million buys. White said at the post-fight news conference that UFC 196 was trending to be the company's biggest event ever.

McGregor is training in Iceland, which means that to get to Las Vegas, he'd have to fly six hours from Reykjavik to New York and then another five-plus hours from New York to Las Vegas. With layovers, it would be a 20-plus hour trip.

Given he would have to do that both ways, it would cost him two days of training at the minimum and perhaps more.

That's a lot to ask of a guy who has done more than anyone, with the possible exception of Rousey (and since her loss to Holly Holm in November, Rousey has been none too eager to speak with MMA media).

Conor McGregor was scheduled to fight Nate Diaz in a rematch of his UFC 196 loss. (Getty Images)
Conor McGregor was scheduled to fight Nate Diaz in a rematch of his UFC 196 loss. (Getty Images)

Both sides have good points. UFC spokesman Dave Sholler said the company had been working with McGregor for more than two weeks to book his flights.

Sholler said that on Monday, when McGregor still wouldn't agree, management decided to yank him from the show. But McGregor manager Audie Attar of Paradigm Sports Management asked for a bit more time to make one last-ditch effort.

About 1:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, it was apparent McGregor wasn't caving and he put out his now-infamous retirement tweet.

Tempers undoubtedly got heated on both sides during the process, as neither White nor McGregor are known for biting their tongues. But sources with knowledge of the situation said there is no major rift between the sides. White often jokingly refers to McGregor as Fertitta's son.

From McGregor's standpoint, that's a good thing, because that's a fight he can't win.

Even if you say McGregor is the company's biggest star – and I'm going to say that despite everything, it's still Rousey – he needs the UFC more than the UFC needs him.

White and Fertitta are notorious for playing hardball and going as far as it takes to make a point. They have infinitely more resources than McGregor, and if this spat were to erupt into something larger and nastier, UFC management has proven to be the undisputed pound-for-pound king at that game.

If this evolved into something larger, the UFC would be hurt in the short term by McGregor's loss. But stars come and go in every sport. Babe Ruth retired and the Yankees survived. Mario Lemieux retired and the Pittsburgh Penguins survived. Joe Montana retired and the 49ers survived.

And the UFC will overcome the loss of McGregor and Rousey just like it overcame the loss of Georges St-Pierre and Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz and every other one of its stars.

It's hard not to root for a guy like McGregor, who overcame incredible odds to become a massive star in his sport. He was on the welfare rolls the week he made his UFC debut in 2013. Now, about three years later, he's banking eight-figure paychecks and is one of the most prominent sports personalities in Ireland.

UFC president Dana White isn't one to back down. (Getty Images)
UFC president Dana White isn't one to back down. (Getty Images)

Plus, who doesn't like to see the little guy take down the behemoth?

But Fertitta, White, et al are vastly more experienced at this game than McGregor. They're way better funded. And they have the benefit of time.

It's possible the UFC could make Jon Jones-Daniel Cormier II for the main event of UFC 200 if Jones defeats Ovince Saint Preux on Saturday. A possibility for Diaz would be a welterweight title fight against Robbie Lawler.

If that were to be the case, the main card would be Jones-Cormier II, Diaz-Lawler, Jose Aldo-Frankie Edgar II, Miesha Tate-Amanda Nunes and Cain Velasquez-Travis Browne.

You think that wouldn't sell big?

It doesn't appear to be headed in that direction in any event. But if McGregor takes this fight, it's the one in which he'll be a decided underdog.