UFC prez White sounds off on McGregor, Rousey, Punk futures

BOSTON (AP) — Dana White was texted a GIF of a dancing Joel Embiid from a friend who taunted the UFC president for the Philadelphia 76ers’ win over the Boston Celtics.

White, who lived in Boston for 10 years and is a diehard fan of the city’s sports teams, fired back with something more impressive: a shot of him flashing a Boston Celtics NBA championship ring straight from his courtside seat with team owner Wyc Grousbeck.

It’s been a happy homecoming this week for White. He caught a Celtics game, will attend Sunday’s AFC championship game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots, and caught up with countless old friends from his old stomping ground.

“Not a bad weekend,” the 48-year-old White said, wearing a Patriots T-shirt and jacket.

But the main attraction this week is UFC 220 on Saturday night at a sold-out TD Garden. Stipe Miocic defends the UFC heavyweight championship against Francis Ngannou and light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier defends against Volkan Oezdemir .

White touched on a wide range of subjects during interview Friday with The Associated Press ahead of UFC 220.

— On Conor McGregor:

Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov for the interim lightweight title, the one Ferguson won in October, was announced for UFC 223 in New York. The 29-year-old McGregor has not fought for UFC since he won the lightweight belt in November 2016 . McGregor has not competed at all since August, when he lost to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in his boxing debut.

McGregor could soon be stripped of the title.

“We can’t tie up the title two years, no matter how much I love the kid,” White said. “We’ll let Tony Ferguson and Khabib fight for the title and then Conor obviously will be the first one to come back and get a crack at either one of them.”

Will McGregor come back?

“I don’t know,” White said. “I don’t wait for anybody. I run my business, I keep rolling and that’s it. The kid’s got $100 million. Who knows, he might never fight again.”

— On a potential Mayweather-McGregor rematch.

“I wouldn’t do that fight again,” White said. “I would never work with Showtime again. I’d never work with that weasel (Showtime Sports executive Stephen Espinoza) again.”

How about Mayweather in UFC?

“If Floyd wants to fight in the octagon and get out of his Showtime deal, let’s do it,” White said. “I think that’s the only way people would care this time. Do you know how many people want to see that guy take a shin to the face?”

— On Ronda Rousey:

Like McGregor, Rousey stood as the face of UFC for years but has also been out of the cage since 2016. The once-feared Rousey hasn’t fought since December 2016 when she suffered the second of two straight defeats — the only ones of her career. The 30-year-old Rousey has kept busy in entertainment and has met with WWE officials about a possible pro wrestling career.

White said Rousey is still under contract with UFC.

“She won’t fight again,” White said. “I love that woman. We have an amazing relationship. What she’s done for the sport and for this company, created millions of female fans around the world. Ronda can do whatever the hell she wants to do.”

— On CM Punk:

The former WWE superstar made headlines when he jumped to UFC in 2014 . But Punk’s debut at UFC 203 in September 2016 was a short one, and he tapped out just 2:14 into the first round against welterweight Mickey Gall.

White said the 39-year-old Punk will fight again.

“I like that guy. He’s a good dude,” White said. “He wants one more. He wants to get another shot. I’m going to give it to him.”

White said he has no date or opponent in mind for Punk, “but I’m working on it.”

“He’s a completely different case than most normal human beings, so I’m going to give him another shot,” White said.

On Brock Lesnar:

—Lesnar returned to MMA in July 2016 with a victory, but he is under contract to WWE as a professional wrestler and is the promotion’s Universal champion. Lesnar beat Mark Hunt at UFC 200 in a unanimous decision that was changed to a no-contest after Lesnar failed a doping test. He received a one-year suspension from the Nevada Athletic Commission, but could return to MMA after completing the final months of the ban.

“I think he’ll give it one more run,” White said. “I just think Brock loves to fight.”

— On Georges St-Pierre.

GSP was one of the UFC’s marquee names and a legit pay-per-view draw during his long reign atop the 170-pound division. He returned from a four-year break to beat Michael Bisping in November at Madison Square Garden for the middleweight championship. GSP has since relinquished the belt and has said he may take more time off because of health issues.

“I think his return was purely financial,” White said. “But he did it. He came back and beat Michael Bisping.”

— On early weigh-ins.

All the UFC 220 fighters made weight on Friday morning, but one MMA journalist counted 51 fighters who have missed weight or failed to weigh in since the company went to early weigh-ins about 18 months ago. The Uriah Hall vs. Vitor Belfort fight scheduled for last Sunday in St. Louis was scrapped after Hall was hospitalized trying to cut weight. Hall said he suffered a “mini-seizure” and a “slight heart attack.”

“Guys think that they can just wake up in the morning and get that weight down and weigh in and then put the weight back on,” White said.

White said he will not move the weigh-in time.

“There’s a way to get down and cut the weight the right way,” he said. “If you can’t do it the right way, then fight the weight class above.”

— On future cards:

White said UFC planned to run 2018 shows in Utica, New York, and Atlantic City, New Jersey.