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Dana White talks UFC 269, the rise of Charles Oliveira and dominance of Amanda Nunes

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UFC president Dana White goes 1-on-1 with Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole to preview Saturday's UFC 269, which features two title fights including the much anticipated bout between Dustin Poirier and lightweight champion Charles Oliveira.

Video Transcript

KEVIN IOLE: Hey, everybody, Kevin Iole at Yahoo Sports. I am joined by UFC President Dana White. Dana, UFC 269 on Saturday. Two title fights, a great card, Sugar Sean O'Malley on, Dustin Poirier challenging Charles Oliveira in the main event. We're going to talk to a lot of those fights. But I want to start with a little business deal.

Last month-- and I actually sent you this story to talk about it-- Endeavor reported $1.4 billion in third quarter revenue. And what was it? $63.6 million in net income. And I want to read you this paragraph because you talked about 2020 being the best year in the company despite the pandemic. And this story-- and I'm not sure what the source of it is-- but it says, "The company says it delivered its best nine month year to date period in UFC history." So the second year in the pandemic. So back to back years in the pandemic, you're doing the best in history. What do you attribute all this to?

DANA WHITE: Yeah. And we're going to break tons of records this year too. You know, ever since we went back to fans coming, we've sold out every event. We're going to break the pay-per-view record this year, most pay-per-views ever in a year.

KEVIN IOLE: Well, pay-per-views sold, right? That's what you mean.

DANA WHITE: Yeah. Yeah. And a lot more. So, you know, we charged right through COVID. We figured out how to do it, we did it. And I believe that the fan base grew in 2020. You know, obviously, our social media grew. And lots of other numbers showed that we did. So going into 2021, I mean, I put out a video last year around New Year's. And I was like, hey, 2020, I kicked your ass. 2021, I'm coming for you now.

And, you know, that was the mentality here coming into 2021, that we were going to be first. We were going to be the first-- we were the first back on TV, and we're going to be the first full capacity indoor live event. And we did all of that. And I think being aggressive like we were has paid off.

KEVIN IOLE: One other thing about that. When you talk about you're going to set a record for pay-per-views. You know, this has been kind of a difficult year for pay-per-view for some of the boxing promoters. Even with really good shows, the boxing promoters haven't done as well. You're able to maintain that loyalty where you build an audience that buys your shows, I think, almost to a certain degree regardless of who's on the card, right? You get people that when it's a numbered UFC event, they want to see it. What is the secret to that? Is it promotion? Is it the sport? Is there anything that you can say is the secret to that success?

DANA WHITE: It's about putting on good events from top to bottom, you know. The fans that follow the UFC, whether you come to the live event, you watch it at home with your friends, or you watch it in a bar, you know what you're going to get. And what I sell are holy shit moments. You know, three or four holy shit moments a fight. And, you know, you don't ever turn off the TV on a Saturday and go, I wish I didn't stay at home and watch this. Or I wish I didn't buy tickets to this tonight. You know what I mean? We make sure that every time fans come to an event live or pay-per-view, they get what they're paying for.

KEVIN IOLE: You can't control what goes on in the ring. Now I know you set the tone for the type of fights that you want, and you've been successful with that. How do you encourage people to fight the way that it becomes fan friendly? Because I know, like I talked to a million boxers, and they say, you know, win this fight, look good in the next one, right? And a lot of your guys are the opposite. They're happy if they get into some crazy brawl. How have you set that tone to make that happen?

DANA WHITE: There's a secret formula that, there really is, believe it or not. I mean, all you have to do, look at the Contender Series. Look at the fights that are on the Contender Series.

KEVIN IOLE: You know, you're making guys hungry and want to go through.

DANA WHITE: There's a way to do it.

KEVIN IOLE: Well, one of the guys that's really hungry is Dustin Poirier. He's been an interim champion, but not a full champion. He gets a chance. And I think this is really interesting in the main event, Dana. You've got two guys that are so even.

Poirier and Oliveira, I just wrote this in my column, are 10 months apart in age. Oliveira joined the UFC eight months after Poirier does. And the records are very similar, everything is very similar. But yet I think if you look at their career tracks, most people would say, Poirier was an A level fighter longer than Oliveira was. Oliveira has kind of come into his own in the last couple of years.

Starting with Oliveira, you know, he's on a nine fight winning streak. What do you attribute this change in him?

DANA WHITE: I don't know if that's exactly true. Because when you look at Oliveira, he has the record for most finishes. He's got the record for most submission wins, Performance of the Night bonuses, you know. And you're talking, you know, he's finished 17 fighters. 14 subs, 11 Performance of the Night bonuses, post fight bonuses, he's got 17. The guy's been there and he's been exciting for a long time and he's been fighting absolute studs. 28 of his 31 wins have come by finish. He's got a 90% finish rate, you know what I mean? It just took him longer for people to really start to notice him than it did for Poirier. And he had a couple of issues with weight in the past.

KEVIN IOLE: He lost three or four fights at one point.

DANA WHITE: Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. So, you know, it just took him a little bit longer. And it happens with some guys. Some guys become huge stars and get noticed right away. Others, they got to work hard at it.

KEVIN IOLE: Stylistically, what kind of fight do you think we expect? You know, we know Oliveira is great at the submissions. And the thing I think is amazing about him is, it's not like, say, you know, to use Ronda Rousey as an example. She had that great arm bar, and she would submit people with that armbar. Poirier has calf slicers, rear naked chokes. I mean, every kind of submission. you can think of and some that you can't, Oliveira has done in competition. What kind of fight can we expect do you think, stylistically, given what they both do?

DANA WHITE: Yeah. No. I think this fight is absolutely unbelievable and exciting no matter where it goes. If it's standing, it's exciting. If it goes to the ground, it's exciting. Obviously, standing, I give Poirier the advantage. On the ground, I give Oliveira the advantage.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah. Now Poirier had an interesting comment I saw I think on UFC.com, where he's talking about his fight with Conor McGregor. And he said, if he hadn't broken his leg, he wasn't going to finish that fight. I broke his heart. Is Poirier the kind of guy that breaks fighters' will? I mean, is he that type of fighter that you see?

DANA WHITE: Yeah. He's a tough, durable guy who keeps coming forward, hits hard, always in great shape, and is willing to go the distance and knock down, drag them out wars, man. Yeah. He's a tough guy.

KEVIN IOLE: Let's transition to the co-main event, Amanda Nunes, the GOAT, is minus 900 favorite to win this fight. It's almost like a Fait accompli according to bookmakers that she's going to win against Julianna Pena. But the one thing I don't get-- and I talked to Amanda about this-- Julianna has been crazy with this talk. You know, Amanda's ducking her. And it's actually not new. I found an Instagram post that she wrote in 2016, a couple of months after Amanda won the title. Quit running your dug-- What the hell do you make of what Julianna is saying?

DANA WHITE: Listen, Julianna picked a fight, and she's got one. Amanda Nunes wants to kill her. So, yeah. And she's another one. I mean, Amanda Nunes has broke every record there is. I mean, most wins, most wins in title fights, most wins in bantamweight division, most knockouts and stoppages in women's bantamweight division history, first athlete to defend both titles, and the list goes on and on. She is undoubtedly the GOAT and the baddest woman on Earth. And Julianna picked the fight, and now it's time to step in and do it on Saturday night.

KEVIN IOLE: So if Julianna goes out there and says all these crazy things that Amanda has this weakness or that weakness, whatever you want to say, OK, I'll accept that. She knows better than me. But to say she's ducking her, like what the hell is she talking about?

DANA WHITE: Yeah. I think Julianna believes that she has a style that matches up well with Amanda Nunes. And if you're a professional fighter and you want to be a world champion, that's the way you got to think.

KEVIN IOLE: Right. No doubt. I asked Amanda this yesterday. So when I talked to her, I thought, Dana is going to love this comment. I talked to her a little bit about Kayla Harrison. I said, I know you're her training partner, I know you guys are friends, but if the UFC signs her, she's coming in to fight you. She's going to be in your division. And, you know, we've gone through many years of sitting around reporters talking to you about this guy doesn't want to fight that guy because they're friends. And Amanda said, I'm the champion, so I don't have a choice in the matter. And I just get your reaction to Amanda's attitude about she'll fight anybody.

DANA WHITE: Amanda Nunes has been incredible to deal with. You know, she's awesome. I couldn't say enough good things about her. And the reason she's the GOAT is because she doesn't have any of that bullshit that these fighters will come up with. I'm not going to fight this guy, I'm not going to fight that guy. Fans don't want to hear that shit.

KEVIN IOLE: Right.

DANA WHITE: Fans don't want to hear that shit, man. And fans want to hear that you're the man or you're the woman, and you'll take on all comers. That's what they want to hear. So as soon as all that goofy shit about being friends starts, it's fucking silly.

KEVIN IOLE: Do you have anything you can report to us on Kayla Harrison? Have you made her an offfer? Have you talked to her?

DANA WHITE: No. Off the top of my head, I don't know what her contract status is right now either. So obviously, if she's out of contract, we're interested in her. We'd love to bring her in and, you know, I've heard her say she thinks she's the best in the world. There's only one way to find out.

KEVIN IOLE: Right. No, I think that would be a big fight. I mean, she's a fantastic fighter. I think that would be a big fight. Let's go down a card. Another fight that I'm particularly interested in is Sean O'Malley. He's a 300 favorite over Paiva, Raulian Paiva. Paiva had a great outing last time, a really exciting fight. How do you think he matches up with O'Malley?

DANA WHITE: I don't know. It's going to be interesting. O'Malley's quick, he's good at staying on the outside, picking people apart with punches. He's got flashy spinning kicks and lots of crazy tricks in his bag. It's going to be interesting to see. It's a fun fight.

KEVIN IOLE: O'Malley is always in fun fights. What was your take on his last performance? I forget the guy's name with the green hair. I'm drawing a blank. But I mean, a late replacement.

DANA WHITE: It was insane.

KEVIN IOLE: That dude was incredible. I thought O'Malley looked good. I saw some criticism of him for not finishing the fight. I thought O'Malley looked great. What was your thought in that?

DANA WHITE: He looked incredible. He put on a clinic. It was an absolute clinic against a very tough, durable guy. Listen, there's some guys out there that you just can't put away, man, no matter what you hit them with, you know. So many people that were fans of O'Malley were like cheering for this kid at the end because he made it through the fight, you know. He's just one of those tough, durable dogs that would not go away that day

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah.

DANA WHITE: But you can't fault O'Malley for not finishing him. The guy was tough, it happens.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah. That was just an amazing fight. I really liked that. One of the other fights-- I'm a little confused on this fight is Cody Garbrandt, the former bantamweight champion, fighting Kai Kara-France. You know, if I thought Garbrandt was going to move divisions, I thought he'd go up and not down. I mean, he doesn't seem to be-- he seems to have a bigger frame than a normal flyweight would have. But he's going to give flyweight a shot. How do you see Cody as a flyweight, and do you think this was the right decision given the inconsistency he showed at bantamweight?

DANA WHITE: I talked to Cody the other day and he was telling me he's never felt better, should have done this a long time ago. So I don't know. You don't know until we see the fight and see how he performs. But he's telling me he's never felt better.

KEVIN IOLE: I mean, when he won the title from Dominick Cruz, that was an epic performance. We know what a great fighter Dominick Cruz was. And I remember talking to you a few days afterward, and you were really high on his future and everything. And I'm not saying he's not an elite fighter, he is, of course, but he's had a lot of more ups and downs than you would think of a guy that did what he did to Dominick Cruz. What do you attribute that to?

DANA WHITE: Yeah. I was blown away by the performance against Cruz man. He looked so sharp and so fast, patient, took his time, and literally picked Cruz apart. Yeah. I mean, there's been guys-- I didn't think Figueiredo was going to get beat for years. You know, there's guys that come in and look incredible and you're like, Wow, this guy is the future. And then the next fight or two fights later, this is a crazy sport man. It's a hard sport to stay at the top. That's why when you have somebody like an Amanda Nunes, like an Usman, a Jon Jones, who are so dominant for so long, I don't think people appreciate how special that really is in this sport because it is hard to do.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, I know. Pretty amazing. You know, I went back and I found an article I wrote in 2011 about a fight on the UFC 125 card, Poirier fight on that card. And I wrote about Josh Grispi as this huge prospect, and everybody thought he was going to be this big guy. And Grispi, that was the first of four consecutive losses. Do you remember Grispi? And is that kind of a cautionary tale for fighters? He had this huge reputation, people were talking about him being a big thing, and he flamed out and Poirier kind of went the other way.

DANA WHITE: During the Ultimate Fighter, I thought Uriah Hall was going to be the next Anderson Silva. I thought he was going to be the next big thing. You just never know.

KEVIN IOLE: Right. What is it that you think separates the guys that make it? The guys like Khabib, the guys like Dustin, the guys like Charles, that overcome whatever troubles they have and they make it compared to the ones like we're talking about that don't make it? Like what do you think is the differentiator in those guys?

DANA WHITE: It's such a combination of so many things from, obviously, you have to start with talent. You have to be talented. You have to be incredibly driven. You have to be lucky enough to not be injury prone and not get a bunch of injuries. You have to not lose your mind once you start getting famous and making some money. There's just so many different variables in becoming great in the fight game, and so many things that can ruin it.

KEVIN IOLE: We're getting close to 2022, Dana, so I want to ask you a little bit about that. And the one thing, Ciryl Gane versus Francis ngannou, I love that match-up, you know. And that's coming up, what is it, 271. Is that what it is?

DANA WHITE: Yeah. January.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah. I love that fight. I kind of like Ciryl Gane in that fight, you know. It's still a little early, but I like his style and the way he fights. But in that fight, do you think the winner looks at Jon Jones? Will the winner see Jon Jones?

DANA WHITE: Well, I agree with you 100%. That fight is so awesome. And it's one of the most exciting heavyweight fights we've ever had, with the storyline and how bad ass both of these guys are. You know, Francis with that one punch knockout power, Ciryl, undefeated, they used to train together, the whole deal, they're both champions. So yes, I'm very excited for that fight.

And I don't know. We'll see. John didn't want to fight till next year. We're rolling up on next year and we'll see how that whole thing plays out.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah. I mean, I think Jon Jones against Ciryl Gane-- I mean, not that Jon Jones against Francis wouldn't be a great fight. But Jon Jones against Ciryl Gane from MMA standpoint, to me, would be almost the ultimate. That would be an incredible fight.

DANA WHITE: I agree with you.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah. So that's going to be fun. What else going down the road? What changes? You know, every year you always say, you're like a cliche, we know you're going to say it. Wait till you see what we're doing next. So I know you're going to say it at some point. So before you say it, I'm going to ask you, what are we going to see in 2022 that changes from 2021?

DANA WHITE: Well, I was hoping to announce it in 2021, but I haven't got the deal done yet. I'm still working on it. A lot of the things that we're doing in Abu Dhabi are very exciting. So I'm very excited about the future with them. And obviously, they played a huge role in 2020 with us, and the last 10 years. Being with them has been incredible. So I'm looking very forward to that.

And yeah. I mean, here-- I don't know when we would announce it. We have so much stuff going on, Kevin.

KEVIN IOLE: Give a man a little piece of bread here, come on.

DANA WHITE: Here's the problem. Here's the problem. We're a public company now. So I can't just shoot my big fucking mouth off like I used to. I'll get in trouble. You got to play a whole different game when you're a public company now, and I'm a public company nightmare, you know what I mean?

KEVIN IOLE: I'm going to talk to Ari about going private so Dana can talk again.

DANA WHITE: I can't shoot my mouth off like I used to. But let me just say this, and obviously, you know, you nailed it. I say it every year, and every year we do what I say we're going to do. We've got some big, cool stuff coming like just completely next level, man. When you think about the growth of this sport and how much room there is still for growth, it's mind boggling.

KEVIN IOLE: A lot of question, you know, and I'll tie it back to the first question I asked you. When you talk about the growth and everything, and I know you get bombarded by all these questions about fighter pay. And I think I understand the fighter pay issue pretty well. But do you think we're going to see a day when when, on an average routine basis, UFC fighters get paid more than the elite boxers?

DANA WHITE: Yeah. Oh, definitely. Listen, when you talk about the elite, I'm putting on 44 fights a year, right? And people are buying these pay-per-views 13 or 14 a year, watching all the other ones, building whatever. Then you look at what most of these guys make. Most UFC fighters make more than boxers, OK? Most UFC fighters make more than boxers, especially at a lower level. Then the guys, the Khabibs, the Connors, the Rondas, even the John Joneses, these guys make more than most of these guys that are fighting for big title fights.

KEVIN IOLE: Right.

DANA WHITE: Don't believe the bullshit. Don't believe all the stuff you hear, you know. These guys make a lot of money.

KEVIN IOLE: I don't know if you can hear this. I bought a grandfather clock and I talked to my editor. And I said, you know what it's going to happen one day? This grandfather clock is going to go off while I'm doing an interview. And the first time it went off, it had to be with Dana White.

DANA WHITE: I definitely can't hear it.

KEVIN IOLE: I'm not very good at hearing, but I heard it going. So hopefully nobody else heard it. Dana, I appreciate you, brother. I will see you at the show on Saturday. Good luck to you.

DANA WHITE: Thanks, buddy. I appreciate it.