UFC president Dana White had a busy month trading barbs with UFC fighters past and present. Former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou's signing with PFL reignited his feud with White. Meanwhile, reigning bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling has his own issues with matchmakers.
If contract and matchmaking disputes were not bad enough, new financial reports reveal that UFC fighters are being paid an even smaller share of revenue than before. Pair that with promised tension between Conor McGregor and Michael Chandler on the new season of "The Ultimate Fighter" and there is no shortage of UFC drama that took place this month.
Let's take a look at some of the biggest stories shaping the MMA landscape in May.
Can't get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news.
Dana White vs. Francis Ngannou
Ngannou's departure from UFC dominated headlines throughout January. It was the most high-profile UFC exit in quite some time and an ultra rare instance of a reigning UFC champion parting ways with the company. Ngannou announced anin May. White was not impressed.
"Based on what I know about the deal, which is not much, it makes no sense to me," White told reporters on May 20. "You're going to pay a guy not to fight for a year, and it's already been like  months. He's fought three times in the last three years.
"The day that we released him, I knew exactly what was going to happen. Francis wants to take zero risks, doesn't want to take any chances, and he obviously didn't want to take a chance with Jon Jones -- and after we saw what happened with Ciryl Gane, I don't blame him. I think the outcome would've been exactly the same, and I'm sure most of you do and I'm sure Francis does too."
Ngannou volleyed a response at White, fact-checking his former employers' statements.
"What is your problem with me?" Ngannou said. "I completed my contract, was a free agent, and chose to walk away. You didn't release me.
"I'm finally getting paid and respected, and have a deal that's fair and equal for all parties. Why are you so against me being free and happy?"
3. The reason I fought three times in three years is because you wanted to control my deal and signs a new one. And freeze me out. “I owe these guys three fights a year.” Isn’t that what you say? What happened? I always asked for & never said no to any fight in the 3 years— Francis Ngannou (@francis_ngannou) May 21, 2023
White vs. Aljamain Sterling
White's tirades are not reserved exclusively for ex-UFC fighters. White and the UFC bantamweight champion have never been particularly buddy-buddy, but the leadup to UFC 292 has further strained things. The UFC president officially announced on May 17 that Sterling vs. Sean O'Malley would headline UFC 292 on Aug. 19. The problem is that Sterling and his camp have denied formally agreeing to the fight. Sterling spoke out after the fight announcement, explaining that he verbally agreed to the date pending medical clearance but never signed a contract.
"I'm still injured, like with my legs banged up," Sterling said on his "Weekly Scraps" podcast. "My bicep still sucks. [I'm] supposed to get another MRI on that. I'm trying to get to this fight in August. We talked a little bit about it, and I'm trying to see if we can make it happen, but my leg is still super sensitive to the touch.
"I've done everything the UFC has asked me to do -- two partially torn biceps, went through two training camps like that, fought through them," Sterling said in a separate podcast episode.
White expressed little sympathy when addressing Sterling's protests in various press conferences and interview appearances. The UFC boss remains steadfast that Sterling vs. O'Malley will take place as scheduled and threatened to introduce an interim bantamweight title, despite Sterling having fought approximately three months before UFC 292.
"I'm not the one that went out and said, 'If my body holds up,' when I'm promoting a fight," White told Fansided. "If you're not healthy, don't take the fight."
"We'll have somebody else fight, we'll do somebody else for the interim title."
UFC fighter pay percentage drops from abysmal to horrific
Parties lobbying for fighter pay have even more ammunition following the latest financial statements filed by Endeavor, the parent company of UFC. MMA reporter John Nash -- who has extensively explored and covered UFC's finances for Bloody Elbow -- reported that UFC fighters received a 13% share of total revenue in 2022. That is a meaningful decline from the 16% revenue share fighters were paid in 2019. By contrast, major professional sports leagues like the NBA and NFL pay their athletes approximately 40 to 50% of all revenue. The paltry 13% handed out to fighters comes in a fiscal year where UFC reportedly generated a historic $1.140 billion in revenue for the company.
'The Ultimate Fighter' returns with Conor McGregor vs. Michael Chandler
The UFC is drawing the big guns to drum up interest for their latest season of "TUF." A reality television series integral to UFC's early mainstream boom, the show has felt increasingly dated since its 2005 debut. Season 31 of "TUF" premieres on Tuesday with McGregor and Chandler in the marquee. The team captains are expected to fight later this year in McGregor's first bout since injuring his leg in a losing effort against Poirier in July 2021. White and various promotional footage teases very tense encounters between McGregor and Chandler.
"Well, there were a few [incidents], actually," White told The Mac Life. "That was just one that's had video footage of it. There were a few days and it happens."