clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Francis Ngannou, and the ever-growing list of UFC fighters Dana White claims ‘don’t want to fight’

One of Dana White’s go-to ways to denigrate UFC fighters is to say they don’t want to fight

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Francis Ngannou and Dana White in happier times
Francis Ngannou and Dana White in happier times
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

With Dana White once again using his tired old claim that a top level UFC fighter somehow is scared or “doesn’t want to fight,” it’s worth pointing out just how absurd and repetitive his playbook is whenever someone tries to negotiate.

Below is an extensive yet still incomplete list of fighters White has tried to vilify by claiming they were either afraid to take a fight or didn’t want to fight. This growing list will be updated periodically, as White will predictably use the same claim again eventually.

2023 - Francis Ngannou

Francis Ngannou fought out his UFC deal in January 2023. He won that fight, beating Ciryl Gane through five rounds and retaining his UFC heavyweight title. Ngannou, who extended his UFC winning streak to six with the decision victory, took the fight against his doctor’s advice.

Despite fighting on a bad leg and beating UFC heavyweights such as Stipe Miocic, Cain Velasquez, Alistair Overeem, Curtis Blaydes, Junior dos Santos and Jairzinho Rozenstruik, UFC president Dana White is trying to portray Ngannou as a scared man.

White’s remarks came on the same day the UFC president announced the promotion and Ngannou were parting ways after a failed contract negotiation, but that doesn’t make his words any less silly.

“I think Francis is in a place right now where he doesn’t want to take a lot of risk. [He] feels he’s in a good position where he could fight lesser opponents and make more money,” said White.

Former UFC champions Eddie Alvarez and Daniel Cormier were among those who voiced their doubts regarding the veracity of White’s claims. However, no one expressed surprise when White attempted to belittle Ngannou on his way out the door. Why? Because it has long been one of White’s go-to bullying moves.

2021 - Jon Jones

While White accused Ngannou of not wanting to fight guys of Jon Jones’ caliber in 2023, that narrative started out on the complete opposite. White previously insisted in 2021, that it’s actually Jones that was afraid to take on Ngannou.

“You can say that you want to fight somebody, but do you really want to?” White said about Jones. “We can make that fight tonight, Jon. If Jon Jones really wants that fight—listen, it’s one thing to go out and tweet and say you want it. Do you want the fight?”

The difference? It was Jones who was in the middle of contract negotiations at that time.

White repeated that claim in May 2021, accusing Jones of not wanting to fight at heavyweight.

“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,” White said.

“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.”

2021 - Robert Whittaker

“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.”

Perhaps White misunderstood Whittaker? Because Whittaker clearly he did want to fight 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.”

2020 - Rose Namajunas

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.

2020 - Jon Jones and Jorge Masvidal

In 2020, Jon Jones and Jorge Masvidal publicly spoke up about their unhappiness with the UFC pay structure. However, 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.

2020 - Dustin Poirier

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 White’s claim.

The Poirier vs. Ferguson fight did not get booked.

2020 - Conor McGregor

In 2020, Conor McGregor revealed that one of his fake retirement announcements was a negotiation tactic due to issues he had with UFC executives that “wanted to show power and stomp all over me.”

Despite it clearly not being a real retirement, White had this to say when asked about McGregor’s gripes.

“No. Conor McGregor is retired,” White said in June 2020. “I don’t chase guys that don’t want to fight. I don’t chase guys. We offer guys three fights a year. You get three fights a year, if you don’t want to fight, I’ve got a roster full of people who want to fight.”

McGregor was booked for a fight a few months later, fighting twice after this and losing both bouts to Dustin Poirier.

2019 - Cris Cyborg

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.

2018 - Georges St-Pierre

In 2018, White repeatedly took shots at UFC legend Georges St-Pierre.

“As far as I’m concerned, ‘GSP’ is retired right now. He’s not interested in fighting anybody,” White said.

GSP’s manager immediately refuted this comment, saying “He was on Ariel (Helwani’s) show a few weeks ago and on Joe Rogan’s podcast a couple weeks ago and during a three-hour interview he never said he was retired. He mentioned on both what would interest him.”

While White repeatedly questioned character and his desire to fight, St-Pierre would keep trying to get a bout with one of the most dominant fighters of all time in Khabib Nurmagomedov.

In December 2018, GSP opened up on the frustrating “BS” politics trying to get a fight booked, citing it as one of the factors to his official retirement in 2019.

“It takes three people to make a fight. The two fighters and the organization,” he said. “It just didn’t happen. I wish Khabib the best of luck.”

2018 - Nate Diaz

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 had been 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.

2018 - Yair Rodriguez

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 five times since then.

2018 - Tyron Woodley

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.

2017 - Demetrious Johnson

In 2017, White was on a mission to get then-UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson to face ex-bantamweight titleholder T.J. Dillashaw. This was two years before the UFC booked Dillashaw to face Henry Cejudo for the flyweight title, a fight that Cejudo won via knockout in 32 seconds. To make matters worse, Dillashaw tested positive for EPO and surrendered his bantamweight title after the positive drug test.

White said of Johnson while trying to make that fight, “D.J. doesn’t want to fight him. Why? It’s insanity. This is the first fight ever in D.J.’s history that he actually gets pay-per-view [points]. He gets pay-per-view on this one and this is the first real fight people will care about and want to see on pay-per-view and he is refusing to fight T.J. Dillashaw.”

That entire process led Johnson to release a statement about the “UFC’s mistreatment and bullying.”

2017 - Nick Diaz and Nate Diaz

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 fighters failed drug tests.

Nate was coming off his 2016 back-to-back fights against Conor McGregor where the pair went 1-1.

2016-2017 - Georges St-Pierre

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 UFC champion. The Canadian relinquished the belt in December 2017 because he developed ulcerative colitis during the move to middleweight.

White soon used the same line on him again.

“I don’t think the guy wants to fight. I think he jumped in, grabbed some cash and went back to Canada,” White said in 2017.

2014 - Alistair Overeem

Alistair Overeem 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.

2014 - Jon Jones

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. Instead, the defending champ preferred to face Daniel Cormier.

With that disagreement brewing, White claimed 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 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.

2014 - Ben Askren

In 2013, former Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren moved to ONE Championship. Before Askren signed with ONE, he had talks with the UFC, but Askren said an offer from the promotion never materialized. Instead, White said Askren would be better off signing with the World Series of Fighting. Askren, who seemed to want to fight in the UFC so he could prove he was the No. 1 welterweight in the world, bristled at that suggestion and eventually inked a deal with ONE.

In 2014, after Askren captured the ONE 170-pound title, White said of the fighter, “The thing is with Ben Askren is that Ben Askren doesn’t really want to fight here, in my opinion. People that are close to him say the same thing. The guy is making a ton of money to fight nobodies, but when you talk and you say a lot of things it keeps your name out there. Trust me when I tell you this, Ben Askren does not want to fight in the UFC. Believe me when I tell you that.”

Askren eventually signed with the UFC in 2018. He went 1-2 with the promotion before he retired from MMA in 2019.

2013 - Nick Diaz

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.

2013 - Jose Aldo

Jose Aldo defended his UFC featherweight title with a decision win over Frankie Edgar at UFC 156. Following that event, White said that Anthony Pettis had texted him and told the UFC president that he wanted to drop from lightweight to face Aldo. Aldo was asked about that matchup.

“That is an interesting fight,” Aldo replied via an interpreter. “I train to fight the best. I respect them all. I think to fight Pettis, he’s almost at the title shot in his own division, but it will be an interesting fight.”

Somewhere along the line, Aldo’s enthusiasm for a fight with Pettis cooled. White did not appreciate Aldo changing his mind.

“Jose Aldo came out and said, ‘There’s no way in hell I’m fighting Pettis,’” White told reporters following the UFC 157 post-fight press conference at the Honda Center. “He’s absolutely refusing to fight Pettis. Doesn’t think he deserves the shot.”

“That’s fight’s on,” White continued. “He’s going to fight Pettis or he’s not going to like how this is going to turn out.”

The Aldo vs. Pettis fight was booked for UFC 163. However, Pettis pulled out of the bout with an injury. The matchup was not rebooked.

2012 - Shogun Rua

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 debut 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.

2009-2010 - Fedor Emelianenko

In 2009, as was the norm in those days, White was asked if there were any talks about Fedor Emelianenko fighting in the UFC.

“I’ve put my money where my mouth was, laid everything out and tried to make this thing happen and they’re coming up with unrealistic sh—. This guy doesn’t want to fight the best in the world,” White said on a UFC conference call.

He repeated the same line in 2010, when the UFC was in Germany for UFC 122.

“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.”

While he technically never became a UFC fighter, the Fedor to UFC talk has been such a part of promotional history, it felt wrong not to include it.