Encarnacao: Dana White firmly in Conor McGregor’s corner

August 20, 2017 GMT

UFC boss Dana White is at ease during his events, intently watching a monitor cageside or hobnobbing with fighters and celebrities. But not Saturday, when his lightweight champion Conor McGregor steps into a pro boxing ring for the first time in a quixotic bid to hand Floyd Mayweather his first loss.

“I’m not keeping it together. I’m going to be a (expletive) basket case,” White, who’ll be ringside for the fight at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, told the Herald last week. “I’m rooting for one guy that night, and it’s a very weird position for me to be in because normally both guys are under contract with me, and whoever wins, wins. That Saturday, I’m Conor McGregor, baby.”

At that point, all of White’s work will be done. He and McGregor will have either convinced the public the Irishman has a chance, or not. This, perhaps more than how successfully McGregor combats Mayweather in the ring, will determine if the promotional gambit will go down as a disaster or stroke of genius.

The financial arrangements of Saturday’s fight are closely guarded, but White said there is a scenario in which McGregor and the UFC might not see a windfall.

“There’s a number of pay-per-views (buys) . . . that if we don’t hit that certain number, and it’s a massive (expletive) number, we get our ass handed to us,” White said.

Thus, the mission is to convince the public an exceptional MMA fighter with zero pro boxing fights can find a way in against one of the best all-time defensive boxers.

McGregor is the underdog, but his odds are down to +376 (bet $100 to win $376) from +672 in mid-June. They were as high as +1100 when the fight was first publicly floated last year. And they could shrink more as White and company put the finishing touches on a television special called “How Conor McGregor Wins,” targeted for airing on Fox.

The special features insight from boxing luminaries like Larry Holmes, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Freddie Roach, and unreleased footage of McGregor’s now mythical 12-round sparring match against former IBF junior welterweight and WBA welterweight boxing champ Paulie Malignaggi.

One nine-second clip the UFC released of the session earlier this month set off a firestorm, as it depicted an arguable knockdown by McGregor. A jilted Malignaggi gave a flurry of interviews saying the 12-round spar was sprung on him with no time to prepare in a quest to produce propaganda.

“I’m telling you right now, Conor McGregor won 12 out of 12 rounds, except (the referee) took two points away from Conor, so there you go,” White said. “And if you want to be really nice, I’ll be nice, I’ll give Paulie one round, just to be nice.”

It’s all part of a pre-fight mosaic in which the 29-year-old McGregor has exuded the purest confidence and swagger, a form familiar to UFC fans but not to Mayweather.

The fight, which will cost a whopping $100 on pay-per-view, is expected to test the 4.6 million buy record for Mayweather’s 2015 bout against Manny Pacquiao, which had the same price and pulled in around $500 million in total revenue. Odds makers have set the line at 4.99 million buys for Saturday night.

White is quick to point out that unlike the Pacquiao fight, the McGregor pay-per-view will have international reach through the UFC website, which is set up to charge fans to watch, opening up untold global revenue opportunities. Still, he said the UFC won’t gain any more money from buys on its digital platform as on traditional pay-per-view.

“We’re all splitting the money exactly the same. Everything goes into a pot,” he said.

The payouts — essentially Showtime will pay Mayweather, and the UFC will pay McGregor — promise to be so lucrative the UFC had to apply at the last minute to be a promoter of record for the fight, which the Nevada commission approved.

“We can’t pay a guy the type of money we’re going to pay Conor without being a licensed promoter,” White explained.

The commission also added a last-minute intrigue by approving the use of 8-ounce gloves for the fight instead of the standard 10 ounces. That’s closer to the 4-ounce gloves McGregor is accustomed to in MMA, and yet another boost to the promotional imperative of the fight.

“Floyd’s the best defensive fighter ever, and lot of the blocking comes with his shoulder and with the gloves,” White said. “Conor is used to wearing 4-ounce gloves, these are 4 ounces more now. Conor hits like a truck. If Conor McGregor hits Floyd Mayweather, he’s going to feel it, he’s going to know it.”

The 40-year-old Mayweather has done his part, harping in public comments about not feeling like the fighter he once was.

White will watch the fight play out on Saturday knowing the future of his enterprise, as much as McGregor’s, rests on the outcome. McGregor has pledged to return to the UFC to defend his 155-pound title, but the company recently booked an interim title fight for the division, a move typically made when a champion isn’t expected to defend any time soon. It’s widely accepted that if McGregor pulls off the impossible, he’ll walk away with enough cash and cache to set his family up for generations.

“When you make a lot of money, you never know how it’s going to change you,” White said. “I think that he wants to build this incredible legacy and make as much money as he can before the window closes. But who knows? We’ll find out.”