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Conor McGregor could have faced Tony Ferguson at UFC 249, but he turned that opportunity down, according to UFC president Dana White.
Instead, it was Justin Gaethje who stepped in to defeat Ferguson for the interim lightweight crown in the promotion’s first event since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic on May 9. On Saturday, McGregor announced that he was "retiring" from the sport before later elaborating that he was unhappy with opponent options and “bored of the game.” The Irish star previously announced his retirement in 2016 and 2019, only to ultimately return to action once negotiations with the UFC were resolved.
“He wants to fight Gaethje,” White said of McGregor 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.”
McGregor told ESPN that he didn’t think the promotion should wait to hold Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje in September.
"They should have just kept the ball rolling. I mean, why are they pushing [Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje] back to September? You know what's going to happen in September, something else is going to happen in September, and that's not going to happen,” he saiid. “I laid out a plan and a method that was the right move, the right methods to go with. And they always want to balk at that and not make it happen or just drag it on. Whatever I say, they want to go against it to show some kind of power. They should have just done the fight -- me and Justin for the interim title -- and just kept the ball rolling.”
As the biggest star in the UFC, McGregor generally has a position of great leverage within the Las Vegas-based promotion. In this case, however, it appears that the “Notorious” one isn’t getting 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.”