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UFC president Dana White talks UFC 245, McGregor-Cerrone and latest on Zuffa Boxing

·Combat columnist
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LAS VEGAS — On the eve of UFC 245 on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena, I sat down with UFC president Dana White in his office and had a half-hour conversation about a variety of topics.

We discussed the depth of the card at UFC 245, talked about why Jorge Masvidal has gotten so popular, I asked about sexual assault allegations against Conor McGregor, if he plans to do business with Floyd Mayweather and the status of Zuffa boxing.

The full interview is above, but here are some highlights from our chat:

Loading up on UFC 245

At 0:28, I asked White why he stacked this show with so many elite fights, including three championship fights, instead of spacing them out a bit and strengthening other cards. White said part of it is ESPN’s schedule.

“This is our big end of the year event,” White said.

Usman-Covington fight could be special

At 2:25, I asked White about the main event and how he saw it playing out.

“There’s truly bad blood in that one and that one is as legit as legit can be,” White said. “You’ve got two of the best in the world in their primes. Stylistically, the way these two match up, they both fight exactly the same way. And, when you look at the stats, when you lay out the stats, they’re literally even.”

Would Jorge Masvidal be next for Usman-Covington winner?

At 5:12, I mentioned to White that Covington listed three fighters, Jorge Masvidal, lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and former champion Conor McGregor as potential opponents. White said Masvidal made sense.

“Masvidal has some fun options right now but obviously he just won the BMF belt and to win the welterweight championship on top of that would be big,” White said. “And yeah, he’s the guy who makes sense. After his last few fights, he’s become very famous.”

Did White learn anything from the success of the BMF fight?

At 7:20, I asked White if there were lessons he learned as a result of the success of the BMF title fight in November at UFC 244 between Masvidal and Nate Diaz that he could use in promoting other bouts.

“I can sit here now and walk you through our plans for 2020, [but] I promise you there will be a fight that will pop up that we don’t see coming and we would never even imagine,” White said. “That was one of those cases, like Conor McGregor and Floyd [Mayweather].”

Which UFC card was the most successful in 2019?

At 8:56, I asked White how UFC 244 performed in terms of paid gate and pay-per-view sales.

“It was the biggest show of the year,” White said. “It killed it.”

Is 2019 the most successful year in UFC history?

At 9:14, I followed up and asked White where 2019 ranked among the company’s best years.

He said it was the best year they’ve had.

“Our numbers as far as viewership are up like 47 percent from last year from being on ESPN,” White said. “It’s hard not to attribute [our 2019 success] to being on ESPN.”

Two lessons boxing could learn from UFC

At 11:52, I mentioned two things that the UFC has done during the White Era that could be helpful to boxing. I asked him his opinion.

“Shocks me,” White said of the fact boxing doesn’t consistently do these things. “I’d love to sit here and tell you how brilliant I am, but it isn’t rocket science.”

Is Amanda Nunes the women’s GOAT?

At 13:40, I listed the opponents that Amanda Nunes has defeated in her rise to becoming bantamweight and featherweight champion and White said he believes she’s the greatest women’s fighter ever.

“It’s not just who she beat but how she beat them,” White said. “It’s what makes her the GOAT right now.”

What current UFC fighter could become the biggest star of all-time?

At 15:00, I told White about a post made by MMA manager Brian Butler in which a video of Zhang Weili had more than one billion views on a Chinese video site.

“If she can continue to win in that division, [and] defend the belt a few times, she’s going to be one of the biggest stars ever in UFC history,” White said.

Did Khabib earn a $1M appearance fee to attend Ruiz-Joshua 2?

At 19:42, I told White of a rumor I’d heard that lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov commanded a $1 million appearance fee to attend the boxing heavyweight title fight between Andy Ruiz Jr. and Anthony Joshua on Dec. 7 in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia.

White went on to talk about Nurmagomedov’s wealth.

“Since he beat Conor McGregor, you notice that he did a tour of the whole Muslim world over there,” White said. “He was in every Muslim country around there. He was getting cars, money, everything. Khabib is crazy rich. Crazy rich.”

Is Floyd Mayweather doing business with the UFC?

At 21:32, I asked White about his tweet about Floyd Mayweather and what the relationship between them is.

“Floyd and I both believe that we add a lot of value to each other,” White said. “We’ll see how things start to play out, probably by the fall of 2020, and we’re probably going to do some business together.”

Is Cerrone the right opponent for McGregor?

At 23:31, I expressed some dissatisfaction on the part of fans with Cerrone as McGregor’s next opponent.

“Every celebrity on Earth is already asking for tickets,” White said of UFC 246, which will be Jan. 18 in Las Vegas.

Concerns about allegations of sexual assault against McGregor?

At 25:29, I noted that the New York Times has twice reported on McGregor being a suspect in alleged sexual assaults, and I asked if White considered not using him for UFC 246 as a result.

“Conor McGregor has made a lot of bad decisions in the last several years,” White said. “He’s paid for it. He’s walked into court and plead guilty to punching that guy in the face in Ireland. He paid for slapping the phone [out of a fan’s hands]. He attacked a bus and paid for that. He’s obviously done some things and been charged and whatever and paid and done whatever he’s supposed to do.”

What is the status of Zuffa Boxing?

At 27:49, I asked White why the promised October announcement of his plans to enter boxing didn’t happen. I asked if he still plans to get into boxing and he said yes.

“There’s money there when they put on the right fights,” White said.

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