In May 2020, Jon Jones said he was giving up the UFC light heavyweight crown to make a run at the heavyweight throne. The reason? He wanted to be paid more.
We’re closing in on a year since Jones made that decision. The ex-champion has still not fought at heavyweight.
UFC president Dana White recently told TMZ the promotion has moved on from a potential bout between current heavyweight kingpin and Jones.
Jon Jones is under contract,” White said recently on “The Jake Asman Show.” “He has a contract. We have tried to work with him and see if there are things we can do to make him want to fight at heavyweight. But if he doesn’t want to fight at heavyweight, he doesn’t want to at the end of the day. What are you going to do? You can’t make the guy fight.”
“The reality is Derrick Lewis is really the No. 1 contender for the heavyweight championship right now. So it doesn’t matter if Jon Jones wants to fight or doesn’t want to fight.”
The lines of communication might re-open between Jones and the UFC after the former 205-pound titleholder picked up a new advisor, but that remains up in the air.
While White’s claim that Jones doesn’t want to fight hangs in the air, I figured now was a good time to look back at the many times the UFC president has claimed a UFC athlete didn’t want to fight.
Former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker defeated Kelvin Gastelum at UFC on ESPN 22. After the win, Whittaker made it known he wanted a rematch against current titleholder Israel Adesanya.
“It’s funny, after the win, everybody’s calling for (a title shot) for me,” Whittaker said at the post-fight press conference. “That’s kind of how I’ve always taken to the approach of fighting, is that if you beat ’em all, you’re eventually at the top. It’s a simple path, and there is no other fight that makes sense to me other than that tile shot, and that’s the shot that I want and that I’m getting.”
White seemed to misunderstand Whittaker or not hear him because he claimed Whittaker didn’t want the rematch, despite Whittaker saying he did.
“I was adamant on him fighting Whittaker for the title. It’s the thing that makes the most sense,” White told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto. “And then Whittaker comes out after the fight and says he doesn’t want to fight him, which is wacky.”
Adesanya fought Jan Blachowicz for the light heavyweight title in his next outing. Blachowicz won that contest.
Rose Namajunas lost the UFC strawweight title to Jessica Andrade via slam knockout in May 2019. The two fought in a rematch and July 2020. By that time Andrade had surrendered the title to Weili Zhang. Namajunas won the rematch via split decision.
In December of that year, White told BT Sport he heard Namajunas wasn’t interested in a shot at Zhang and the belt.
Namajunas let Ariel Helwani know she wanted a shot at getting back to the top of the 115-pound division.
“I mean, of course, it’s not accurate. There’s always two sides to every story. I have been thinking about fighting Weili ever since I lost the belt and she became the champion,” said Namajunas.
Zhang and Namajunas met at UFC 261. Namajunas left the arena that night with the title after she scored a head kick knockout in the first round.
In 2020, Jon Jones and Jorge Masvidal publicly spoke up about their unhappiness with the UFC pay structure. Instead of addressing compensation, White told the media the two fighters, who he said were independent contractors, didn’t want to fight.
“I said it when we were going through the pandemic and the media was asking me, ‘What if the fighters are worried and don’t want to fight?’” White said. “Well, you don’t have to fight. Anybody that doesn’t want to fight, doesn’t have to fight, including Masvidal and Jon Jones and all these other guys, and it doesn’t have to be because of a pandemic.”
Masvidal seemed to disagree with White on several counts.
50% of the revenue. I don’t get paid on the hot dog you sell in the arena or the logo on the cage. I’ve never made a dollar on a ticket you sell. I get punched in the face for a living and even I know the pandemic or what’s left of it has nothing to do with it— Jorge Masvidal UFC (@GamebredFighter) June 5, 2020
In September 2020, Dustin Poirier and Tony Ferguson tried to set up a bout between them. One of the sticking points of that potential fight was Poirier wanted a raise. The UFC boss shut down that talk by using his go-to trope.
“Listen, I like Dustin. I’m not going to sit up here and say anything negative about Dustin, he’s a great kid. I don’t know if it was he didn’t want to fight in Abu Dhabi or what his deal was. He didn’t want to fight,” White said.
“Listen, there’s a lot of different ways to turn down a fight. Negotiating yourself out of one is one of the ways you can do it. So for whatever reason, he didn’t want to take this fight. Only he knows that.”
Poirier did not stay silent regarding claim.
The Poirier vs. Ferguson fight did not get booked.
In December 2018, Amanda Nunes moved up to 145 pounds to challenge Cris Cyborg for the UFC women’s featherweight title. It took Nunes less than one minute to add that belt to her bantamweight title. The loss was the first for Cyborg since her MMA debut in 2005.
White dismissed talk of a rematch in 2019.
“I think it’s pretty obvious why she wouldn’t want that fight. It’s a bad fight for her,” White told TMZ. ”I think that Cyborg is at the point where she’s afraid to lose again. Losing again isn’t something she’s interested in.”
Cyborg fought out her UFC contract in July 2019 and later signed with Bellator. Cyborg said she wanted the Nunes rematch, but she didn’t want to have to sign a new contract to get the rematch.
Nate Diaz went 1-1 against Conor McGregor in 2016. Diaz made a disclosed $2.5 million for those two fights. After he faced McGregor, Diaz took an extended break. Diaz was out of action for more than a year when TMZ asked the UFC boss about Diaz.
White said that the younger Diaz brother had turned down the fights the UFC offered him, but added that he was sure Diaz would accept a third fight against McGregor.
White got a jab in at the expense of Diaz when TMZ asked if Diaz was going to face welterweight titleholder Tyron Woodley.
“Nate doesn’t want to fight and, right now, Nate isn’t in line for a title shot,” said White. “Rafael dos Anjos just beat Robbie Lawler which is a big deal, he deserves the fight.”
Diaz did not fight until August 2019 when he won a decision over former lightweight champ Anthony Pettis.
In May 2018, Yair Rodriguez ran afoul of White and the UFC when the promotion abruptly released him.
“We offered him fights, he turned down the fights,” White said at the UFC Fight Night 130 post-fight press conference. There was a lot more back and forth that went on with that. If you don’t want to fight, this isn’t the place to be. There’s plenty of places out there that will take Yair Rodriguez and would love to have him, and would sign him and I’m sure he’ll have a great career. This isn’t the place for you.”
As has often been the case, the fighter had a different story.
“I told them I will accept anyone in the top 10,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t need a negotiation for a top-10 [opponent]. This guy was No. 13 when I was No. 7. I just got beat by Frankie. It’s just one fight. I’m 6-1 in the UFC. I just think that’s what I deserved, and they didn’t want to give it to me. That was more about respect, respecting myself.
“This, for me, was an eye-opening experience.”
In June 2018, Rodriguez was back with the UFC.
Rodriguez has fought three times since then. He is set to main event UFC Fight Night 191 opposite former featherweight champion Max Holloway.
Tyron Woodley was three months removed from a successful welterweight title defense — a submission of Darren Till at UFC 228 — when a media member asked White when fans would see Woodley make his next attempt at defending the title.
“Guy never wants to fight,” said White. “You want to be a world champion, but you don’t want to fight anybody. That’s a problem.”
Shortly after that, Woodley spoke to Ariel Helwani. The then-champion disagreed with White’s claim.
I’ve agreed to fight Colby. I’ve agreed to fight really anybody – that’s the funny part,” Woodley said. “I just asked for a little more time before I can confirm (his injured hand was okay). I’ve never said no to January 26. Let’s get that on record. I actually want to fight in Anaheim. . .
“I’ve stepped up for the UFC many, many, many times. But at one point, you need to start monitoring your legacy, monitoring your title run, monitoring the way you want to be remembered. I don’t want to be remembered as a guy that lost a fight to Colby Covington, or anybody else, because he knew he wasn’t 100 percent, or wasn’t given the chance to at least go through the physician that performed the surgery on his hand to get his clearance.”
Woodley lost the title to Kamaru Usman via decision in March 2019.
TMZ caught White in 2017 and asked him when either of the Diaz brothers would fight again.
“If they want to fight next week or if they never want to fight again, that’s up to them. It’s not up to me,” White said.
“They don’t seem like they wanna fight ... either one of them.”
Nick Diaz, who was a former Strikeforce champ, fought Anderson Silva in 2015. That bout ended with a Silva decision win, but it was later ruled a no contest when both fighter failed drug tests.
Nate was coming off his 2016 back-to-back fights against Conor McGregor where the pair went 1-1.
In 2016, Georges St-Pierre, who had not fought since he defended his 170-pound belt via a split-decision win over Johny Hendricks in 2013, expressed interest in coming out of retirement to face middleweight titleholder Michael Bisping.
“There are two things that I’m very proud of, my welterweight title, and the record I hold for most wins in UFC history,” St-Pierre said on “The MMA Hour.” “Now I have Michael Bisping challenging me for (most wins in UFC history). … Yes, he’s bigger. But I have more skill, more athleticism and a higher fighting IQ. The world doesn’t turn around me, but if it’s a fight that fans and UFC want to make, they’ve got my number.”
A year later that fight was still in the talking stages. That’s when White, according to Bisping, decided St-Pierre didn’t want to fight.
“Right now, I’m still looking at GSP, said Bisping. “I had a conversation with Dana White last week on the phone, he made me an offer — not for a fight — I will not reveal on here what it was but he made me an offer for something. I said what about GSP? He said ‘GSP does not want to fight.’
“I said well that’s not what I’m hearing. I said I’m hearing he wants to fight me, his coach told me that he wants to fight me. He said ‘if I could make the GSP fight happen, I’ll make it happen but he doesn’t want to fight you, I’m telling you.’
“So I don’t know what the f—k is going on out there.”
St-Pierre took the 185-pound crown from Bisping in November 2017. The win, which came via technical submission in the third stanza, made St-Pierre a two division champion. The Canadian never defended the title. He relinquished the belt in December 2017 because he developed ulcerative colitis during the move to middleweight.
Alistair Overem had been involved in professional combat sports for 15 years when White claimed he was “literally hiding” from another fighter.
Overeem moved his MMA record to 37-13-0-1 with a decision win over former UFC champion Frank Mir at UFC 169 when talk of a potential fight against Junior dos Santos arose. When the fight didn’t come to be, White put the blame on Overeem.
“He wants nothing to do with dos Santos,” White told Ariel Helwani. “He’s literally hiding from JDS ... but he had no problem calling out Brock Lesnar who hasn’t fought in 2 years and who is in WWE.”
Overeem told MMA Fighting that wasn’t the case.
“I’m hurt,” said Overeem. “Rib problem. So first (I) need an ETA on recovery time. (It) would be unwise to accept any fight before knowing exactly what’s up. (I) wouldn’t want to pull out of any fight [due to] being unfit, especially an anticipated fight as this one.”
Overeem and Dos Santos met in 2015. Overeem knocked out the former heavyweight champion in the second round.
In 2014, Jon Jones was in his first stint as UFC light heavyweight champion. He had defended that crown seven times as of his April decision win over Glover Teixeira. The UFC wanted Jones to rematch Alexander Gustafsson after that victory. Jones had defeated the Swede in September 2013. The defending champ preferred to face Daniel Cormier.
With that disagreement brewing, White made the claim Jones didn’t want to fight.
“Just to clear up a couple things, people think we’re in contract negotiations with Jon Jones - we’re not. Jon Jones still has five fights left on his contract,” White told UFC.com. “So what we’re doing right now is trying to get him to sign the bout agreement for Gustafsson. He doesn’t want to fight Gustafsson. ... Lorenzo and I have a meeting with Jones on Thursday to get him to sign the bout agreement, and he’s asking to fight Cormier instead.”
The Jones vs. Gustafsson scrap got booked for September 2014, but Jones got his wish in the end when Gustafsson suffered a torn meniscus. Jones faced Cormier in January 2015 and beat the former Olympic wrestler via decision. The loss was the first of Cormier’s MMA career.
In March 2013, Georges St-Pierre defended his welterweight crown with a unanimous decision win over Nick Diaz. After the loss, Diaz lamented, “I think I’m going to have to just kind of figure out if I want to keep doing this. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve really got it anymore.”
Diaz later told Fighters Only, “I don’t mind taking fights if it’s a big fight that people are going to make a big deal out of. If not, then it’s not really worth it to me.”
One man who offered to be part of a big fight with Diaz was Michael Bisping.
White sounded interested in making that fight happen, but he then offered, “…everything I hear from Nick Diaz is that he doesn’t want to fight.”
White’s comment came shortly after Diaz’s teammate, Gilbert Melendez, said, “I think with the right opportunity, for the right thing, he’ll come out. Whether it’s boxing, whether it’s kickboxing, whether it’s whatever, some sort of challenge would be great.”
The Bisping vs. Diaz fight never happened.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua was scheduled to face Thiago Silva at UFC 149, but an injury knocked Silva out of the fight. With that, the promotion turned to Glover Teixeira. Teixeira had made his UFC in May 2012 with a first-round submission win over Kyle Kingsbury.
According to White, Rua and his team nixed that matchup. In fact, White seemed to imply Rua, who had won a PRIDE Grand Prix and the UFC light heavyweight title by that time, was afraid of Teixeira.
“He said that he’d actually rather be cut than have to fight him,” White told Ariel Helwani. “Dude, nobody wants to fight this guy. We’re trying to match the guy up with somebody, but he didn’t mind fighting Brandon Vera, so he’s fighting Brandon Vera.”
“I don’t want to sound like I’m disrespecting Shogun, because I’m not,” White continued. “I’m just telling the truth. It’s verbatim what his people said when we talked to them. You know me. I tell it like it is. If you don’t want that out in public, then don’t say it to me on the phone, because I’m going to say what was said. Shogun’s a warrior. The guy’s fought everybody from PRIDE to the UFC. His last fight with Dan Henderson was awesome. It is what it is.”
Rua had a different story.
“They asked me to fight Glover, my manager told me and then I talked to my team and we decided not to fight Glover because he’s a top guy but, but he’s building a career in the UFC,” Rua told Tatame. “He fought once and it was on an undercard, so it’s not fair. I made it clear that it wasn’t interesting for us now. But in a while it may happen, but not now.”
Rua and Teixeira are both still under the UFC banner in 2021, but they have never faced off inside the octagon.
The UFC was in Germany for UFC 122. As was the norm in those days, White was asked if there were any talks to bring Fedor Emelianenko to the UFC.
“He’s a f**king farce man. Everybody keep clinging onto this guy that doesn’t want to fight anybody,” White said.
“This guy doesn’t want to fight,” White said later. “He doesn’t want to fight any of the top fighters in the world. He doesn’t want to.”
A few month’s before that discussion, White was much higher on the prospect of signing Emelianenko.
“He has become my obsession,” White said. “I want it worse than the fans want it now, believe me.
This one might not have been a UFC fighter, but the Emelianenko to the UFC talk has been such a part of promotional history, it felt wrong not to include it.