Dana White defends Conor McGregor, UFC lightweight division from 'haters'

LAS VEGAS -- UFC president Dana White intends to get his lightweight division moving again, but says there's "exaggeration" from those complaining about Conor McGregor.

McGregor (21-3) is the UFC's undisputed 155-pound champion, but he has not defended the belt that he captured by knocking out Eddie Alvarez in November 2016.

It's a similar situation to late 2015, when McGregor won the UFC's featherweight title by knocking out Jose Aldo. He immediately moved up in weight, but did not relinquish that title for 11 months.

A timeframe for McGregor's return to the UFC is currently unknown, and White has acknowledged on several occasions that the lightweight division needs to move forward. However, White shot down any notion that the UFC should have stripped McGregor of the lightweight title by now.

"For people to suggest that, you're just a Conor hater," White told ESPN. "Because if you look at how everything played out, Conor has fought everybody. When he won the 155-pound belt, he dropped the 145-pound belt, which we made him do. He tried not to do it, but he contractually had to let go of the 145-pound belt.

"He became the 155-pound champion, and his next fight was against Floyd Mayweather. He has to defend the title now. So, how has he never defended the title?"

White said it's easy to "look at a piece of paper" and argue McGregor's been reluctant to defend his title, but doing so ignores the details of the timeline.

Prior to winning the UFC's featherweight championship, McGregor worked his way up the ladder like any other contender. After knocking out Aldo, McGregor wanted to make history by challenging then-lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos.

The UFC initially booked that fight for March 2016, but dos Anjos pulled out and was replaced by Nate Diaz. McGregor and Diaz ultimately fought twice, after Diaz won the first contest. The series is now tied 1-1.

"There's some f---ing exaggeration in saying the guy's never defended a title," White said. "He fought everybody on his way up 145 pounds. He fought [Chad] Mendes, [Dustin] Poirier. He beat Max Holloway, the only guy to beat Max Holloway in four years.

"It wasn't Conor's fault [dos Anjos] got hurt. It is Conor's fault he did Mayweather, but we decided to do the Mayweather fight and everybody gave a f---. And after the fight, every fighter in the UFC gave him props for representing the sport."

White told ESPN that he's "hopeful" McGregor will return no later than next summer. In the meantime, the UFC crowned an interim lightweight champion in Tony Ferguson in October.