Dana White talks UFC 266 title fights, previews Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler

UFC president Dana White shares his thoughts on Saturday's UFC 266 and tells Kevin Iole he has learned over the years to expect the unexpected during a Nick Diaz fight week.

Video Transcript

KEVIN IOLE: Hey, everybody. I am Kevin Iole. Welcome to Yahoo Sports. Me and my guests are about ready to head down to Park MGM for the UFC 266 news conference. But we've got a bit of news to take care of.

So I am joined right now by UFC President Dana White. Dana, has an eventful week already. How are you doing, my man?

DANA WHITE: I'm good. I'm good. Everything's good, yeah.

KEVIN IOLE: So Nick Diaz made news yesterday. He is scheduled to fight Robbie Lawler in now a middleweight fight, not a welterweight fight. Five round middleweight fight on the main card of UFC 266. We were all sitting at Apex waiting to talk to Nick yesterday. He does not show, but he did do an interview with ESPN.

And I want to start by asking you about what he said. A couple of interesting things he said. But the first thing is, he wasn't too keen on fighting Lawler, he said he should be fighting Kamaru Usman. This was his quote about Lawler.

He said, quote, this doesn't make sense for me to go in and fight Robbie Lawler again. I don't know why I'm doing this. This should not have happen. Whoever set this up is an idiot. I don't know why I'm doing this. I don't know why this happened. I should be fighting Kamaru Usman and that's it. You told me just before we started recording you hadn't heard what he said. What's your reaction to hearing that?

DANA WHITE: You think he should be fighting Kamaru Usman?

KEVIN IOLE: I personally don't, but he does. What about you?

DANA WHITE: You know what I've been saying lately. Kamaru Usman is the pound for pound best fighter in the world. OK? Masvidal twice, Gilbert Burns, Tyron Woodley, RDA, Damien Maia, Leon Edwards. I mean, the list of guys that this guy has beat and the way that he beat them. He is the world champion in that division and he is the pound for pound best fighter in the world. Does anybody out there think that Nick Diaz, that's who he should come back and fight after not fighting for seven years? That would be an idiot. That would make that fight.

KEVIN IOLE: When you hear, one of the other comments he said, which I thought that was one of two money quotes in this interview. And to give credit, Brett Okamoto was the one that did a really good interview with Nick. The other thing that he said was, quote, all the people around me and all the money and all the sponsors, they won't let me get away from fighting. There are things I could do, but it's not going to work out. I might as well just go out and take my punches. You know some people would hear that and say, maybe this guy shouldn't be fighting. Is that just Nick being Nick when you hear those comments?

DANA WHITE: Yeah. When does Nick not say crazy stuff? Nick Diaz came to me in Houston. We all sat down, he wanted to fight. OK. Said well we'll reach out to you, we'll send you an opponent. We start going back and forth with opponents. We end up with Robbie Lawler.

We send them a bout agreement. He signs it. Goes into camp and start training for Robbie Lawler. And now here we are two days before the fight and this is a bad idea?

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah. It's something else. The other thing that was weird to me, and I know back in the day you'd get upset about this, I remember I was at the press conference when he didn't show up for the GSP press conference and you really lost it. And I wrote in my column today you kind of have changed in that regard. You don't lose your cool over those kind of things anymore. When Nick made the what I think is a strange request on fight week to change it from 170 to 185, you just went with that. Do you know anything about what was going on there? Is it your speculation that he just didn't want to--

DANA WHITE: We didn't just go with it. I mean Robbie Lawler was in the air. So we had to talk to Robbie Lawler first. Robbie Lawler landed, talked to him, he obviously wasn't happy about it. I mean he landed at 182, he probably would have came in the 90s if he was going to fight at 85. But Robbie is a gamer, he's a fighter. And he took the fight, he accepted the fight.

Now every time that I booked the Diaz brothers, when I was younger and just getting to know the Diaz brothers you don't see this coming. So I used to lose my mind and go crazy. I know exactly what to expect or not to, so I don't know what to expect going into a Diaz the week before.

KEVIN IOLE: I missed that old Dana that used to go crazy like that. Now you save it for--


That's about it. So anyways, well before we move on from Nick Diaz, I mean let's take the fight. Let's assume they both make it to the octagon and they square off. What kind of fight? They fought 17 and 1/2 years ago, 2004. What kind of fight do you think that they can put on?

DANA WHITE: Who knows. I mean I know what Robbie Lawler is going to bring. In case you forgot about Robbie Lawler, go to UFC'S Instagram today. They have a Robbie Lawler highlight reel, it's insane. Insane. You know what Robbie Lawler is going to show up and what he's going to do. What Nick Diaz is going to show up and what's going to happen, I don't know. But from history, what history has shown me, the Diaz brothers come to fight.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, there was no doubt about that. Let's move on. I think the main event is an interesting fight. Alexander Volkanovski versus Brian Ortega, who's getting a second crack at the championship. And there seems to be some bad blood between those two.

Ortega failed kind of badly, I mean you know I had picked Max all the way to win that fight back in 2018 when Max was a champion. But no way did I see Max Holloway destroying Ortega the way he did. From what you've seen of Ortega's growth since then, he had the one fight against the Korean Zombie. Do you think he's better ready for the pressures of a championship fight than he was last time?

DANA WHITE: Yeah, 100%. I love everything about this fight. When you get two of the best fighters in the world in their prime facing off for a world title, there's nothing better than this. This is why we're all fight fans for fights like this Saturday.

KEVIN IOLE: Volkanovski was getting a lot of credit now because obviously he beat Jose Aldo and Max Holloway twice, and you know you're going to get a lot of credit. But I said to him and I want to ask you the same question, Brian Ortega, he's been known as a jujitsu person. But he fought the Korean Zombie, Chan Sung Jung, basically he fought the Zombie's fight. If you go into that fight and you say how would the Zombie want Ortega to fight, it would be standing in front of me and trade. And yet Ortega won that fight, going and fighting the zombie's fight. Did you see that as a sign of growth on the part of Brian?

DANA WHITE: Yeah. I think that one of the hard parts for Ortega is he came in red hot. I mean, right from day one he had a lot of hype behind them, he was an exciting fighter to watch. He's this unbelievable jujitsu guy, but he had an incredible chin and like to stand and bang.

So he had a lot of hype coming in. And I think he's older now, he's wiser now, he's got a lot more experience and timing is everything. And this is the perfect time for this fight to happen for the title.

KEVIN IOLE: Max Holloway plays a key role in this division, of course, and he's been sensational. And both guys this week have mentioned Holloway is probably in their future should they win the fight. What is going to happen while Holloway next? Is he going to fight Yair or-- what are the plans for Max at this point?

DANA WHITE: I don't know. Listen, I got so much stuff going on right now. This week getting this fight off. Then we got Abu Dhabi and then Madison Square Garden. If you look at how hard it is in the fight business to keep fights together and do all this stuff, and then you look at what has happened in the last two years with visas and borders shut down and COVID and all this other stuff. I'm taking it fight by fight. I know you guys love to get on and say, hey, what about this, what about that, what about this, not even thinking about any of that stuff right now.

KEVIN IOLE: Well one of the fights that is happening this weekend, and you mentioned a couple of the issues that are going on there, borders and whatnot, was Nasrat Haqparast and Dan Hooker. Both guys had trouble getting into the country. And so apparently both are arriving today. I don't know if either one of them is here yet, but both are arriving now, we're taping this on Thursday.

So a question for you. First of all, do you give them any consideration? Basically they're going to have to get off the plane after flying many, many hours and go cut weight. Do you give them any consideration, do what you did for Diaz and Lawler and say, OK, we'll make it a 165 fight just because of the circumstances?

DANA WHITE: Nobody's asked for that, nobody's asked for that. Listen, both of these guys are absolute studs. They're both saying they're going to make weight and they both want to fight.

KEVIN IOLE: What does it say to you what both of these guys have gone through, Dana? I mean that is incredible.

DANA WHITE: Incredible.

KEVIN IOLE: Dan Hooker has been pretty amazing, he talked about last time he had to stay in Abu Dhabi for six weeks after the fight. He gets knocked out in the first round and then he can't go home for six weeks, and then he quarantines for two weeks in New Zealand when he gets there. I mean the commitment that these guys have to make. And Nasrat's mother just died, and now coming over to fight. I mean, what does that commitment say to you, what they're going through to fight in this bout?

DANA WHITE: Yeah, it's incredible. I say it all the time, that these guys are special. These guys are different. They're build different than other human beings are and that's why they participate in this sport.

KEVIN IOLE: Lauren Murphy is going to challenge Valentina Shevchenko in the co-main event. And I asked Valentina this question yesterday, she has been bet up from minus 1,200 to minus 1,500. I think if Lauren Murphy wins it would be the third biggest upset by the odds in UFC history. GSP and Matt Serra, and then Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm.

And I asked Valentina, how do you avoid what happened to Ronda? Ronda was dominating everybody, got right to the top and then it was like she fell off the cliff. How did Valentina or anybody, but let's use Valentina in this case, how do you avoid what happened to Ronda? I mean it seemed like Ronda was great, she beats Bethe Correia in 34 seconds. Next thing you know she's getting pummeled by back to back fighters and retires. How does one avoid that kind of ending?

DANA WHITE: One of the things that Ronda did is Ronda tried to do it all at the same time. She believed that she could juggle all these balls up. She was doing movies, she was doing appearances. She never said no to anything. She would do anything that came her way. And everybody in the division was gunning to beat Ronda, they're all training to beat Ronda. Ronda would film a movie and then come back and start training in two weeks before the fight and doing things like that. I think Valentina is working all the time, staying busy in camp.

But you look at a girl like Lauren Murphy, she's grinded her way to the top. She deserves to be here. And one of the things that makes her very dangerous is more than half of her wins are by finish. I mean she's got like eight or nine knockouts. When you're 125 pound girl and you can knock out your opponent the way that she has, she's a dangerous fighter.

KEVIN IOLE: I know Valentina has lost twice to Amanda, but both times were razor thin margins. And of course she was fighting up in weight, so advantage to Amanda. Do you think there's an argument that could be made that Valentina deserves to be in the GOAT conversation for female MMA fighters?

DANA WHITE: They're two of the best women to ever fight combat sports, two of the greatest women ever. Yeah. Yeah, they're neck and neck. I mean people have been asking me nonstop, if they both win their next fight would you do them again? And it's funny that people are asking that. Normally when somebody has one two already there's not really a need to see that in a fight, but people do want to see that fight again.

KEVIN IOLE: Right. Do you remember your thought on Amanda and Valentina too? Especially that was the fight in Edmonton. I don't know if you remember it specifically. But I know I thought Amanda had eked that out. But a lot of people that I respect thought Valentino won that fight. Do you remember how you saw that one?

DANA WHITE: I do not. I don't remember.

KEVIN IOLE: It was so close and so crazy of a fight. How does Lauren Murphy beat her? I mean, in your opinion, like if Lauren Murphy wins this it seems like Valentina, her arm bar with Julianna Pena. Yeah, you think of the different ways that she's won fights. I mean it's just been pretty amazing the versatility she shows. How does someone attack a fighter like that? I mean, where's the weakness?

DANA WHITE: No, it's a good question. I mean yeah, she's done it all. And she looked like an absolute savage in her last fight. So Laura Murphy's camp had to go in and watch a lot of tape and try to find a kink in that armor. We'll find out on Saturday if she can do it.

Listen, she's got the power. She's knocked women out. She's got eight or nine knockouts. Like I said, she's won a fight by submission, so she's got a ground game. She's got to get in there and implement whatever the game plan is that would be Valentina Shevchenko. Sure not many people have figured that out yet or know it, but maybe her team has.

KEVIN IOLE: We'll see. That'll be interesting to see. Just go on to a couple of other issues. I just want to check with you on. Ciryl Gane won the interim championship over Derrick Lewis, then his wife had a baby. Have you had any communication now, is he ready to get back in? Because I know you want to make Gane and Francis Ngannou-- Has he gotten back to training? Do you know if anything is going on there?

DANA WHITE: Yeah, we should be announcing that soon.

KEVIN IOLE: OK. Do you anticipate that being this year or next year?

DANA WHITE: Next year.

KEVIN IOLE: Next year, OK. All right, I didn't know if there was a chance they might fight in December. I know you're getting on the end of it. Good, that'll be a fun fight.

And then the other thing I wanted I wanted to follow up on is Nate Diaz. So we talked about the Diaz brothers, and Nate seems like he's fallen into now a little bit of a rhythm. He's coming back and fighting on a more regular basis than he had for a while. Has there been any conversations with Nate? And do we have any plan for him?

DANA WHITE: Yeah, there's nothing right now. I know we're talking, I know Nate wants to fight so we're talking right now.

KEVIN IOLE: And then Dana, I want to end with this. I saw Ari Emanuel made a comment the other day, he was talking about the future and he was talking about the business. And he was saying with all the streaming services that are coming up basically there's more competition than ever, that that's only going to bode well for you guys.

Now I know you're with ESPN for what, I think three or four more years, right? So it's going to be a while. But when you see what the NFL is doing where they're breaking it off and they give Amazon something, we're streaming games on Yahoo Sports, there's Monday night on ESPN, all the different networks. Could you ever see yourself in a similar situation where ESPN is your main partner but you split it up a little bit?

DANA WHITE: Yeah. Listen, anything's possible. And when you look at the UFC has gone like this, right? We've been very lucky that technology has been going right along with us. So when we first bought this company you had in demand, pay per view, Dish Network, and Direct TV for our pay per views. And then you had to go out and cut all these different deals all over the world.

The streaming thing is happening so fast and the technology is so good, it's getting so big. This is what I always dreamed of. My dream was always-- I mean, how many people are there in the world? Seven, eight billion, right? We grew up on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox.

There's going to be those type of power players globally here in the next five to seven years. Who are they? Who are they going to be? I don't know. Amazon looks like it's definitely going to be one of them. So when I have the right fight in the right place at the right time, the whole world can watch. You know what I mean? At the same time at the same price.

KEVIN IOLE: That's awesome.

DANA WHITE: It's very interesting.

KEVIN IOLE: You know how much I love technology. I took a job at Apple for a while. You used to come in the store and I'd be in the back and all the kids would go, you're never going to believe who's out there, Dana White and Chuck Liddell. And that would be funny.

But you know how much I love technology. So I've always thought of convergence. And so certainly you could do this on ESPN, but with the e-commerce I'm thinking how cool would it be if I'm you and I'm sitting there and I got Nick Diaz fighting Robbie Lawler. The fight streaming on Amazon say, but you can do it on ESPN. And I want to buy a Nick Diaz t-shirt.

Boom, just click right on there. I'm on the site, it's already an e-commerce giant, I can buy the t-shirt. Or I want to buy a Robbie Lawler cap, right? I mean is that something that you feel like can be worked on? Because that would be an income stream for you that would be incredible if you could pull something like that off.

DANA WHITE: I think all that type of stuff is going to happen. You're going to be able to buy stuff that's inside the program. You'll be able to bet right before the fight starts, bet round to round. I mean television is going to change so much in the next 10 years, it's going to be crazy. It's going to be nothing like what you and I grew up watching.

KEVIN IOLE: Right. Right, no doubt. So my 80 inch TV downstairs isn't going to do me much good in a couple of years.

DANA WHITE: Yeah, who knows man.

KEVIN IOLE: All right, well let's wrap with this, Dana. Everybody likes when the big fights come around. And I think anytime Nick Diaz is on a card it's a big fight card. Two title fights, Nick Diaz. A lot of great fights. I love the show, I love Blaydes and Jairzinho Rozenstruik. I think it's really good.

So this one seems to be set for a pretty big pay per view. I know you told me the other day the fight is sold out. What's the gate going to be approximately? And how big can this pay-per-view get? Do you think you can hit seven figures on this one?

DANA WHITE: Yeah, I don't have the up to date exact gate, but it's around $5 million bucks. Gates around $5 million, sold out. Should be packed and the energy, you know how that is when it's sold out arena. I mean, when you look at the fight card, I mean the night starts out with Jessica Andrade and Cynthia Calvillo. Then it's Blaydes versus Rozenstruik. And then it goes right into Diaz versus Lawler. I mean, it's going to be a great night.

KEVIN IOLE: And then you have Madison Square Garden sold out you said, so that's another one. Is that an over $10 million gate there?

DANA WHITE: Yeah. So it's anywhere from $8 million to $10 million bucks. Yeah.

KEVIN IOLE: Wow, that's incredible.

DANA WHITE: Every event we put on so far this year has sold out.

KEVIN IOLE: Every pay per view event has been sold out?

DANA WHITE: Every event, yep.

KEVIN IOLE: That's pretty crazy. How much are you charging people to go in the apex, by the way? So for fans who don't know, there's small gatherings of people with the Fight Night cards at Apex. And you have a food catering set up there for them and whatnot. How much do those people pay for that? Seems like a lot of them are just friends of yours. But who is it that's there and how are they buying those tickets?

DANA WHITE: Yeah, so what they've been doing is people have been buying these VIP packages. So you can go into the apex and you get to do all kinds of stuff behind the scenes, and jump into the octagon after the fight, and all that good stuff. So is that on the UFC.com? Yeah, you go on UFC.com and they have a whole set up here where you can buy it packages to go in there. I don't know exactly what it cost, but it's bad ass, it's fun. You get to interact with everybody. It's a very different and cool experience.

KEVIN IOLE: I might have to sneak over and steal some of that food they have for those people lined up there. That catering always looks good.

DANA WHITE: Are you telling me [? Linea ?] is not feeding you guys over there?

KEVIN IOLE: Believe me, [? Linea ?] takes care of us, believe me.

DANA WHITE: All right, all right.

KEVIN IOLE: I just like that taco truck you have out front, that looks pretty damn good.

DANA WHITE: Hey, me and my crew are going to come over and steal some of your guy's sandwiches that you had the other day.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, those were big time.

DANA WHITE: What were those?

- Panera.

DANA WHITE: Yeah, you guys had Panera sandwiches.

KEVIN IOLE: Those were good, those were big time. Dana, I'm going to let you roll. I will see you at the Park MGM in a little bit. Thank you so much. Good luck with UFC 266.

DANA WHITE: Thank you, my friend.

KEVIN IOLE: See you.