UFC 274: Dana White 1-on-1 with Kevin Iole

Dana White joins Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole to preview Saturday's stacked UFC 274 card which features a lightweight title fight between champion Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje, a co-feature between strawweight champion Rose Namajunas and Carla Esparza and a three-rounder between top lightweights Michael Chandler and Tony Ferguson. The UFC president also shares his thoughts on the proposed mixed rules bout between Tyson Fury and Francis Ngannou, a recent back-and-forth between Kamaru Usman and Canelo Alvarez and what to expect from the promotion in 2022 and beyond.

Video Transcript

KEVIN IOLE: Hey, everybody. I am Kevin Iole. Welcome to Yahoo Sports. UFC 274 on Saturday at the very aptly-named Footprint Center in Phoenix because I think somebody's going to get a footprint in their face on this one.

There's a great card lined up here, two title fights. Justin Gaethje fighting Tony Ferguson on the card. It's really a good one. Joining me right now to talk about that and a lot of stuff about the UFC, of course, is UFC President Dana White. Dana, how is it going, my friend?

DANA WHITE: Justin Gaethje versus Oliveira.

KEVIN IOLE: I know, although I said they were on the card. I didn't--

DANA WHITE: Oh, got it. Got it. Got it. OK.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, so both of them on the card. Justin Gaethje versus Oliveira in the main event, Rose Namajunas versus Carla Esparza in the co-main. And of course, another fight I think is going to be an unbelievable fight is Michael Chandler versus Tony Ferguson. So let's start, I guess, with that one.

What do you expect from Tony Ferguson? We know Chandler is kind of at a peak right now, and he's just delivering a lot of exciting fights. Tony Ferguson coming off three losses. How do you expect him to react to the situation he finds himself in?

DANA WHITE: I don't know. You know, you're still looking at the number five and number seven best guys in the nastiest division of the sport. So if you look at who they've lost to, they're all killers. So I expect this fight to be awesome, like every one of their fights.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, I mean, do you think-- have you seen, like when you look, say, at the Beneil Dariush fight for Ferguson, have you seen any signs of Tony slowing down-- you know, that all the wars that he's been in over the years have caught up to him at all? Do you see any of that?

DANA WHITE: I don't know. I mean, the reality is he's still one of the top 10 guys in the world. So-- and obviously, Beneil Dariush is ranked number four in the world and on the climb. You know, he-- he was just supposed to fight Islam.

KEVIN IOLE: Right.

DANA WHITE: So you know, you've got to put it in-- into the context of who these guys are fighting, you know, and who's Tony's fought, who Michael's fought, how good the fights were. You know, everybody keeps asking me if these two are fighting for their UFC lives. They're not.

KEVIN IOLE: Right, OK. Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, I didn't see it that way. But I wondered if they were fighting for their lives as, like, legitimate title contenders, right? I mean, that's a separate thing from fighting for their UFC lives.

DANA WHITE: Well, that's a fact. I mean, you're talking about the number five and number seven ranked guys in the world. So this is obviously an important fight for the division, you know? It isn't an end all, be all for them.

KEVIN IOLE: When you guys-- you know, you're in the room that you often hold your matchmaking meetings in. And you've talked a lot about those Tuesday meetings that you have going back and forth. When you guys go over the lightweight division, I mean, what is that like? You know, you're throwing around-- because you mentioned Islam, you mentioned Dariush, you got Justin Gaethje, you got Charles Oliveira.

I mean, there are some-- Conor McGregor, I don't know what his situation is. But you have Dustin Poirier. You've got a lot of guys in that division that make great fights. What are they-- take me inside those meetings. Like, what are they like when you're running past lightweight fights?

DANA WHITE: Yeah, I mean, we're always trying to put on the best fights you could possibly put on. I mean, you just said it a minute ago, I mean, right now, we're trying to make Islam versus Beneil. I mean, we're trying to make that fight again. And obviously, the winner would be the next contender for the title.

So we're always trying to put on the best and most exciting matchups we could possibly do. I mean, Tony Ferguson versus Michael Chandler is a ridiculous fight.

KEVIN IOLE: You know, it's amazing, Dana, what the UFC has accomplished. Like, you know, I-- you know, Canelo Alvarez is fighting this week. And you know, obviously always a big story.

But I saw a lot of people on social media, they were saying, Tony Ferguson fight week, right? Not even Justin Gaethje fight week or Charles Oliveira fight week or Canelo fight week. And so Ferguson has found his way into the hearts of so many fighters-- fight fans, right? And it's incredible. And you have a lot of guys like that.

DANA WHITE: Yeah, you know what? The fight fans love warriors, guys that will come in and fight anybody and put on the type of fights that he does, like a Chandler too, you know? Any of the guys in this division-- I mean, Gaethje-- I mean, Gaethje is an absolute--

I was just-- look, and Charles Oliveira has a 91% finish rate, right? And Gaethje has an 87% finish rate. What do you think that fight's going to look like?

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, I mean, that is a crazy-- a crazy fight. Let me ask you about going up against Oliveira. You know, Gaethje's one of these guys who fights a million miles an hour and everything. What do you think the secret is to his success? Is it just the pace and-- you know, and how physically tough he is? Or do you feel like he doesn't get credit for really good technique as well?

DANA WHITE: He's got a great chin, unbelievable knockout power in both hands, vicious leg kicks, and-- and great takedown defense.

KEVIN IOLE: Right.

DANA WHITE: It doesn't get any more dangerous than that.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah. And he's one of the guys-- like, a really nice guy outside-- like, when you talk to him. I love talking to him, right? A fun guy to talk to, always gives you good stuff. But he's a nice guy away from--

But when he gets in there, he's one of the mean guys, right? He's looking to hurt you. He's not looking just to win and have his arm raised, right? And that makes him a special kind of an opponent.

DANA WHITE: 100%. No, he goes in there-- everything he throws has bad intentions on it, whether it's either one of his hands or that leg kick. He's got, in my opinion, one of the most underrated leg kicks in the sport. I mean, people don't talk about it as much as they should.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, I kind of--

DANA WHITE: You know, Khabib finished him quickly in-- in Abu Dhabi, but he had to. Those legs kicks were hard and, I'm sure, very, very painful.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, I was going to say I talked to Javier Mendez, Khabib's coach, this morning. And I said, hey, you prepared for Gaethje. What's it like, and what do you focus on?

And he said, well, with Khabib, he goes, all I talked to him about was worry about the leg kicks. He says, Khabib is so good that that was the main thing I had to worry on. But he said, he's a whole other deal for any other fighter, including Charles Oliveira.

And with Oliveira, like, you know, he is an amazing story. And I can't think of anybody else in the history of the UFC that matches that, a guy that at one point, what was he, 7 and 8 in the UFC, or 8 and 7, something like that. And then he just goes on this incredible run.

What do you think inspired that kind of turnaround? What do you see is different in him than when he was just kind of treading water?

DANA WHITE: You're talking about Oliveira?

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah.

DANA WHITE: Yeah, I mean, Oliveira was always a guy who looked like he had a ton of talent. He had some weight issues there for a little while. I don't know what it is that flipped him and turned him around.

But the talent was always there. I mean, that guy was always an absolute savage. And I mean, even Saturday night, he's going into-- he's going into hostile territory, you know?

Gaethje has the opportunity to win the title in his home state. So you can imagine it's going to be very-- Gaethje having the fan base there. So you know, Charles Oliveira's a stud.

KEVIN IOLE: And Oliveira says he's going to stand with him. So that-- he's not afraid to stand with him. That's kind of crazy, you would think, right?

DANA WHITE: That's true. And his jujitsu is unbelievable. So you know, obviously, Oliveira's dangerous on his feet, too. He throws bombs.

But Gaethje is-- is very dangerous on his feet. Both hands, his leg kicks. Oliveira wants to get this thing to the ground and submit him as fast as possible.

KEVIN IOLE: Now, in the co-main event, you have Rose Namajunas against Carla Esparza in a rematch from what was it, eight years ago now? Hard to believe. And you've gone through 10 seasons of "The Ultimate Fighter" since the women appeared on "The Ultimate Fighter." Are you surprised that Rose Namajunas is the one that turned out to be the dominant one from that series?

I mean, you go through all the women that are on there, and there was a lot of that looked like they had promise, right? You had a lot of 1 and 2's, 2 and 1's in the UFC and getting cut. And Rose Namajunas is at the top of her game. And she's beaten everybody, most of them decisively, and still around. I mean, does that surprise you, her dominance and her rise, the way it was?

DANA WHITE: Not really. I mean, she always showed signs of super talent. You know, and she's worked hard and done what she needed to do. Tightened up her stand-up game. I mean, her stand-up game is unbelievable.

But Carla Esparza's one of those women too, you know? And neither one of them are the same fighter that they were when they first squared off. It's almost like Carla, when she went into the fight with Joanna Jedrzejczyk, you know, when she had the title, almost felt like-- she felt like she didn't belong there at the time.

She's got some time under her belt. She realizes she belongs here now. She's-- she's tough, she's gritty. She grinds people out and beats them up. And it's not like-- this is a fun fight now at this time, with both these girls being so much more matured here in the UFC.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, there's no doubt about it. And then moving on to a couple of other topics I wanted to ask you about-- and I guess the first one a lot of people have asked me about it. I am not a big fan of these boxer versus MMA fights. But you had Francis Ngannou show up, and-- there goes his head. Francis Ngannou show up in London to-- when Tyson Fury fought.

Why was he there? And what is your-- what is your take on that?

DANA WHITE: I'm assuming he's a boxing fan, and he wanted to see a boxing match. I don't know, man. Listen, you're a smart dude. You've been in the game for a long time. You know the answer to all these questions. Silly.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, I mean, I wrote that. I wrote that in the aftermath of the fight that night. But you know, I saw Frances did an interview recently. And he said, there's no new UFC contract if I can't fight Tyson Fury, you know? And-- and I--

DANA WHITE: Hey, how'd the Ciryl Gane fight go?

KEVIN IOLE: How did the Ciryl Gane fight go? I think he won the fight, didn't he?

DANA WHITE: How did he win?

KEVIN IOLE: I think he used his wrestling, didn't he?

DANA WHITE: He did.

KEVIN IOLE: So?

DANA WHITE: Guess what he can't use against Tyson Fury.

KEVIN IOLE: Right. [LAUGHS] I mean, how do you get rid of this? Because you've got Usman talking-- I mean, I hate it. Like--

DANA WHITE: You-- you don't. I guess you don't get rid of it. It's just-- it's silly. Usman is the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world. He's the best welterweight of all time. He's lapping, I mean, vicious, really bad-ass dudes.

And you know, there's no need for him to even be mentioning Canelo. You know, Canelo is in a completely different sport, who is also the pound-for-pound best fighter in his sport, you know? It's just-- it's silly. [AUDIO OUT] We're all grown men. They can stay and do whatever they want.

KEVIN IOLE: Let me ask you-- I don't like this topic, but I'm going to ask one other question because I had a lot of people ask me about it. Stephen Espinoza from Showtime, the president of Showtime Sports, put a tweet out last week. And I think he was referring to something that Usman had tweeted.

And he said, you want the boxing payday, but you don't want the boxing self-determination of being able to fight who you want to fight. And I want to get your reaction to that. I mean, basically, he's saying the boxers can determine their career and they can fight whoever they want to fight. And by inference, then, the UFC fighters can't do that. And I want to get your reaction to that comment.

DANA WHITE: Yeah, how's that working out for Espinoza? How's his business going?

KEVIN IOLE: I don't know. You tell me.

DANA WHITE: I know-- tanking. Can't even believe that guy still has a job. You should probably stay off Twitter.

KEVIN IOLE: [LAUGHS] OK. I don't want--

DANA WHITE: If I-- if I was running my business like Espinoza is, I'd stay off Twitter, that's for damn sure.

KEVIN IOLE: OK-- you know, staying off Twitter is not that bad of a thing, I have to say, Dana, right? You know--

DANA WHITE: I agree. I agree.

KEVIN IOLE: So-- so maybe--

DANA WHITE: He should probably do it.

KEVIN IOLE: OK. You mentioned Ciryl Gane. I saw a report he's going to fight Tai Tuivasa. Is that accurate? And do you have, you know, that tied down yet?

DANA WHITE: No, not done yet.

KEVIN IOLE: Is that kind of what you're targeting, or was that a mistake?

DANA WHITE: I don't even know right now off the top of my head.

KEVIN IOLE: OK. You had said at one point, I think before Gane fought Francis, that France was on your radar. You wanted to put a show in France. Is that-- is that looking like it may happen?

DANA WHITE: Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, we're definitely going to France, absolutely.

KEVIN IOLE: And will that be this year, Dana?

DANA WHITE: Yeah.

KEVIN IOLE: And can I-- I assume that it would be Paris and nowhere else that you go first?

DANA WHITE: It'll be in Paris.

KEVIN IOLE: OK. That's-- you're in most of the major media markets around the world, right? That's one that you know, you're just-- you haven't been in yet. I know Bellator's had a couple of shows in Paris. What do you think that'll do for you, getting a big city like that in Europe, you know, and adding that to the mix of what you already have now? You know, I think then at that point, of all major cities, I think Rome might be the last really big metropolitan area in Europe that you don't have access to.

DANA WHITE: Yeah, yeah, that's true. We've got to do a fight in Africa, too. We've got to fight in Africa. Yeah, fighting Rome would be fun. I went to Rome a couple of years ago. What an incredible--

I had never really had any interest in going to Italy or any of that. And then I went to Italy. And holy [MUTED], one of the greatest places on Earth. So yeah, it would be fun to do a fight in Rome.

KEVIN IOLE: What is it-- you've said this before, but I want to get you to kind of discuss it again a little bit. What is it about taking the show on the road that it helps the business, right? Why does where you put the event-- like, if every fight was at Apex, or every fight was at T-Mobile Arena, why is it better to move it around as opposed to just stay in the one spot and have people be able to watch?

DANA WHITE: Because we have the best live-- the best live show in all of sports. So when people come out and come to the live events, you know, like, you're a fan and you bring three of your buddies with you that have never been, nobody walks out of it and says, yeah, I don't ever want to come to one of these again. They're blown away.

It's an energy that you've never experienced before, and you know, this buzz and feeling that you've never had before. And it instantly turns people into fans. And they become addicted. That's how the sport's growing so fast.

I mean, when we first bought this company and started traveling around the country, people thought we were nuts. Boxing only did-- they do Vegas, Atlantic City. And every once in a while, you do Madison Square Garden or Staples or The Forum or something. They didn't go anywhere else.

And we traveled this thing around 44 times a year to all these different places around the world and around the United States. And that's how the fan base grew so fast.

KEVIN IOLE: What about talent? Does it have an impact on the talent?

DANA WHITE: As far as what?

KEVIN IOLE: In terms of developing-- helping develop talent, like in-- like for instance, do you think there'll be an influx of French fighters if you put a show on in France?

DANA WHITE: Yeah. So yeah, no, that's a fact. So when we put on a-- look at Australia. When we first went into Australia, there was Elvis Sinosic. Now there's world champions from there, you know what I mean?

KEVIN IOLE: Right.

DANA WHITE: And the list goes on and on. When we went into the UK, there were a couple of schools in the UK. And now look at all the talent out of the UK. The list just goes on and on. The answer is yes, there's an explosion after we leave a city.

KEVIN IOLE: You know, one of the things I know you've talked a lot about crediting your success is the PI, right? And you know, I think what people forget a lot is when you first put them on, you had that crazy stretch of injuries. And you brought the PI on to try to help with that.

And it seems to me like it doesn't get talked about, but that has made a huge difference. We don't have as many crazy injuries. You know, can you discuss that and sort of explain how you think the PI has impacted that problem?

DANA WHITE: Huge difference. I mean, yes. And there still are injuries, but we have the best physical therapists literally in the [MUTED] world working at the PI. And they fix these kids that are hurt. I mean, it's-- off the top of my head, I don't know what the PI costs us a year. Whatever it does, it's worth every penny of it. I mean, what-- the work that those guys do down there is incredible.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, that's--

DANA WHITE: Game changer for us.

KEVIN IOLE: And so it leads me to wonder, you have two of them built. And I know at the last press conference, after UFC 273 I guess, you were talking about it. But when do you get the other ones online? Like, it seems like that process has slowed. And I thought it would have sped up given the success you've had with the ones that are already there.

DANA WHITE: Well, I don't know if you knew this or not, but there was just a global pandemic. And--

KEVIN IOLE: I did hear about that.

DANA WHITE: --it slowed things up a bit for us. Had that not happened, the one in Mexico would be up and running right now. And I don't know which one I'd be working on next because I love the idea of doing one in Africa. And I definitely want to do one in Puerto Rico. So--

KEVIN IOLE: Wow.

DANA WHITE: Yeah.

KEVIN IOLE: That is crazy. And one or two little things-- this is something that you said offhand. And I think, you know, you don't say things that you don't mean, but you mentioned about building a hotel. And I wonder, is that still on the market for you? And why would the UFC want to run a hotel?

DANA WHITE: Yeah, so ever since the pandemic started, we've been renting this hotel out over on Tropicana. And if that was our own hotel, we would have saved a ton of money. You know, there's fighters coming in and out of here all the time with the PI. We do fights, you know, five to six fights a year here in Vegas. Yes, we're building our own hotel. It'll be right here on property. And yeah, it'll save us a ton of money.

- I know a lot of people are going to be watching us not in Las Vegas. So if you're looking at the other PI in the headquarters here, and then you have the Apex over here, and there's a lot between, is that where-- the lot between is where you're going to put the hotel?

DANA WHITE: Well, we're doing an expansion on the PI-- I mean, I'm sorry, on the Apex. The Apex, doing a huge expansion there.

KEVIN IOLE: Oh, fill me in on that. What's going to happen there?

DANA WHITE: We're building it out bigger. There's going to be more storage space, more-- bigger green room, more seating. Yeah, we're blowing that out and building it out. There's going to be a hotel. I think the hotel will actually go on this other side--

KEVIN IOLE: OK.

DANA WHITE: --where the dirt is over here, across-- so if you pull into our main gate at the headquarters here, the hotel will be there as far as--

KEVIN IOLE: Right, kind of by where the Pepsi business is there?

DANA WHITE: No, no, no, the other way.

KEVIN IOLE: Oh, the other way? OK.

DANA WHITE: Right along-- so you see-- if you're driving down the freeway, there'd be the Apex, our headquarters, then the hotel.

KEVIN IOLE: Got it. OK, gotcha, OK. Now, from expanding Apex, is that for putting more fights in there and leaving that there? Or are you-- you had talked originally about putting other events into Apex, which I don't think you have done up to this point yet.

DANA WHITE: What's the question?

KEVIN IOLE: Have-- are you expanding Apex for your own fights being in there, to have more people--

DANA WHITE: Yeah.

KEVIN IOLE: --or is it because you're going to put other events in there like you had talked about--

DANA WHITE: Yeah, no, more-- we literally-- that place was built for Fight Pass. We built that place for Fight Pass. As soon as the last screw went in the place, the pandemic started. So it was like, you know, it was meant to be.

But you know what's funny? I'm sitting here thinking about you telling me some stupid [MUTED] that Espinoza's saying. And I'm sitting here talking about expanding our arena and building a hotel here. And I got to listen to [MUTED] dumb [MUTED] this idiot's tweeting. You know what I mean? It's like--

KEVIN IOLE: Stephen, I didn't mean this.

DANA WHITE: --we're so not even on the same [MUTED] level, you know, that-- that I got to listen to some dumb [MUTED] this idiot's saying.

KEVIN IOLE: Look, again, Stephen Espinoza, that's Dana White that said that. I didn't say it. I just asked the question.

DANA WHITE: But you agree.

KEVIN IOLE: [LAUGHS]

Oh, man, you are rough. Well, let's see-- now you threw me-- threw me for a loop there. So I don't know where to go. Final question for you-- International Fight Week. How is that shaping up, that July 2 in Las Vegas? Do we know anything about main events yet?

DANA WHITE: Yeah, no, I don't have anything to announce. We're going to make some announcements this weekend on-- on International Fight Week.

KEVIN IOLE: OK, so you can watch pay-per-view, and you will catch that. Lastly, any concern-- like, this is the second time that Canelo's fought that you fought on the same night. Any concern? Does it hurt your pay-per-view when you go up against another event that you know is going to sell a lot of pay-per-views itself?

DANA WHITE: Yeah, no, I think what happens is, you know, I'm watching the Canelo fight, you know what I mean? And I think that's the way a lot of fight fans feel. So I think they'll watch both. I think they'll watch us, and I think they'll watch Canelo.

KEVIN IOLE: I think last--

DANA WHITE: It's a great night for fight fans.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, last time, I mean, it was kind of a similar situation last time. Because Rose Namajunas was in your co-main event before and-- when that happened. And just as Canelo's walking, Rose is in the first round of her fight with Weili. And now I think you're going to have this kind of same thing coming up. So it will overlap with your main event and your co-main event.

DANA WHITE: Yeah. Get your two TVs ready.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, we're going to-- iPad and TV. And hey, you know, the other thing I-- I saw the TV ratings. You mentioned that, it was a great night for fighting Saturday. So NFL Draft was number one on cable. Top Rank Boxing had a really big show, Shakur Stevenson and Óscar Valdez. That was number two on cable.

Your show was number three. What do you think that says about combat sports, that two of the top three shows on cable on Saturday-- all three were sports, and two of the top three were fighting? I mean, you have to like that.

DANA WHITE: Yeah, I love it. Yeah, it's awesome. And just for the-- we were number one in all the key demos. We were number one on all-- all network and cable television in the key demos.

KEVIN IOLE: I was just talking about the total viewership, was what I had seen. So that's what I-- OK.

DANA WHITE: Yeah, that doesn't matter.

KEVIN IOLE: OK.

DANA WHITE: Key demos matter.

KEVIN IOLE: All right. Well, there you have it. That is Dana White, UFC 274 at the Footprint Center in Phoenix. You can catch that on pay-per-view on Saturday.

Dana, as always, it was fun. And Stephen Espinoza, I didn't say a thing. Thank you.

DANA WHITE: But he'd agree with me.

KEVIN IOLE: [LAUGHS] We'll see you, bro.

DANA WHITE: Later.