At this point, the story of UFC 249 has been told more than the beginnings of the promotion itself.
After a series of postponements, the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic saw UFC 249 eventually pushed back until 9 May.
The world health situation also prevented UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov from travelling to the USA to defend his title against Tony Ferguson. Up stepped late-notice replacement Justin Gaethje, who put in a near-flawless performance to stop Ferguson and win the interim belt.
One wrinkle of the story which hasn’t been announced until now is that – according to UFC President Dana White – Conor McGregor turned down the opportunity to fight Ferguson in place of Gaethje.
“He [McGregor] wants to fight Gaethje,” White said on ESPN’s “First Take” on Tuesday. “Gaethje just won to get the fight with Khabib. He just beat Tony Ferguson. Conor had the opportunity to slide into that spot if Khabib or Tony fell out.
“He came back and said ‘I’m not a replacement fighter, I’m not going to do it.’ He would be in that position now if he took the fight. He didn’t, Gaethje did so Gaethje gets it.”
White was talking in response to McGregor’s retirement announcement made on social media in the early hours of Sunday morning.
McGregor elaborated on his decision, telling ESPN that he didn’t think the UFC should pause the promotion’s lightweight title picture until a unification bout between Nurmagomedov and Gaethje later in the year.
The Irishman also said he felt uninspired by the lack of potential opponents made available to him at this time.
“I’m a bit bored of the game,” he told ESPN’s Ariel Helwani. “I’m here watching the fight. I watched the last show [Tyron Woodley vs. Gilbert Burns], I watched the show tonight. I’m just not excited about the game.
I don’t know if it’s no crowd. I don’t know what it is. There’s just no buzz for me.”
White seems to have a different opinion, saying that McGregor’s frustrations may lay in him not being able to get his way.
“Conor McGregor is frustrated right now because, I mean look what’s going on,” White said. “Look at what we’re pulling off. We’re literally just going to Yas Island right now to pull off these fights because the hardest thing to do right now is to get people into the country from other parts of the world.
“We are a true global business. We’re the only one pulling off live sports right now. If I continue to do fights in the United States, I’m going to burn out all my American talent.
“Now we got Yas Island ready to go, it’s set up. This is just a matter of Conor being frustrated I think in that he can’t get what he wants right now. It’s just not possible.”