Dana White talks UFC 261, Jake Paul and what's next for Ngannou and Adesanya
UFC president Dana White previews the main card of Saturday's UFC 261 which features three title fights including a rematch between welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal in the main event. White also discusses the Jake Paul effect in boxing and why Francis Ngannou vs. Derrick Lewis is the fight to make for the heavyweight title.
KEVIN IOLE: Hey, folks. I am Kevin Iole. Thank you for joining me and UFC 261 on Saturday. Always a big day when it's a pay per view for the UFC, but a really big one now for the first time in, what, 14, almost 15 months. There are going to be fans in the stands. The man who made it happen is with me right now, UFC President Dana White. Dana, how stoked are you about the fact you're going to have fans in the stands, finally?
DANA WHITE: I'm beyond excited, man. I literally can't wait for this weekend, man. I can't get there fast enough, and I can't wait. And, Kevin, you know, you've managed plenty of them. But, you know, I stay in the back and watch the prelims in my room. And then I walk out for the main card. You know, hoopies will be going, and the whole thing. I just, I cannot wait. I can't wait to walk in through that tunnel and see that place packed with fans.
KEVIN IOLE: Before I get a chance to talk to you about the fights themselves, I want to ask you this. You know, you see 248 was the last fight with fans. You have said multiple times how great the companies do and how great you are doing, UFC. How did you do with no fans? I mean, that's, what, 15 months worth of gates that you lost. How can this possibly happen that-- what specifically did you guys do that let you get through the lack of fans?
DANA WHITE: Well a couple of things. First of all, because we were first, you know, shows that should have been doing 250,000 pay per view buys were doing-- one of them did 960. You know, a million pay per view buys. Sponsorship went through the roof. UFC fight pass went through the roof. Subscriptions, I mean-- we picked up on all these different areas that, you know, helped offset some of that cost.
KEVIN IOLE: That's amazing. You know, obviously, you did a great job with the bubble. And I think everybody who was in the bubble felt safe. You know, that was a concern going in. Like, hey, can you make it safe? Obviously, it was safe. Now you're on the opposite end of it. Right now we're going into the arenas and everything. What, you know, just very quickly-- I know this isn't your thing. But what kind of steps were you taking to try to make it as safe as possible without any fans in the place? I mean, excuse me. With fans in the place.
DANA WHITE: The reality is we had to create a bubble that would be safe so that, first of all, athletes wouldn't end up with and all these fights falling out. But the media would be so crazy about the whole COVID thing. You had to make the media feel safe. And I think that was where we were, you know, just as successful as keeping the fighters. Listen.
In Jacksonville, everything's opening up again. Even Vegas is going to be open, you know, Juse first, but 100% in July. We're selling that thing out. This thing's going to be-- you know, there's going to be some things that are set in place. We're still going to have a bubble with the athletes and things like that. But as far as the fans, you wear a mask, or not wear a mask. It's up to you. It's your decision.
KEVIN IOLE: And last question before we get into the fights. Have you taken any steps to get the athletes vaccinated? I know that you've been doing a good job of testing them. But vaccination, obviously, is better, given that they won't get it. So has the UFC been proactive, or can you do anything to get that done?
DANA WHITE: Well, what we did is all of our employees have been vaccinated. We make sure that all of our employees that are here that are Nevada residents got vaccinated. Problem is, state to state, these guys don't like for its Nevada. I have some employees, you know, that are in California, I mean, some of the ring card girls and stuff like that, too. They don't like giving them out to people in other states. So whatever state the fighters live in, maybe they need to go check with their local people and see about getting vaccinated.
KEVIN IOLE: OK. Good. Anyways, UFC 261 is a three title fight card. Kumara Ousman versus George Masvidal in the main event. And let's start with that one. I had a great interview with Masvidal last week, and he told me he said, my children's children will be OK now. I don't have to fight again, basically, because of USC-- what was it-- 254, I guess it was. That show was that successful. Is that why he got the rematch above Colby Covington or anybody else, because Ousman defeated him pretty handily. Why did he get the rematch, as opposed to, say, Covington? That was a very close competitive fight.
DANA WHITE: Well, those guys were talking about rematch again after that fight, because he had taken that fight on short notice. And, yeah. Ousman was like, I don't want any excuses out of this guy. So I got no problem rematching him. And, you know, I know we've tried to make other fights. Listen. Everybody knows what I thought of the Ousman Colby Covington fights, one of the greatest fights I've ever seen.
KEVIN IOLE: Right.
DANA WHITE: I don't know what happened timing wise or whatever that that fight couldn't happen. But it will.
KEVIN IOLE: OK.
DANA WHITE: If he wins this weekend, Colby's next.
KEVIN IOLE: You know, the narrative that Alia Delaziz is pushing, and I think with some merit, certainly, Ousman is the greatest welterweight surpassing George St. Pierre. I mean, he's undefeated in the UFC. He's on a 17 fight winning streak. Do you buy that argument? I mean, do you think that's a manager boosting up his guy, or do you think Ousman is already in that kind of category?
DANA WHITE: I love Ousman. Ousman's on his way to being one of the greatest ever. Obviously, he's got a little more time here to surpass GFP. But yeah. I mean, look at him. Look at what he's done. Look at what he's accomplished. Look at who he's fought. Look who he's fought. I mean, and not only did he beat all these guys. Now he's coming around a second time to fight them again a second time, just to put the extra stamp on it. You know what I mean?
KEVIN IOLE: Right. Exactly.
DANA WHITE: At the rate this guy's going, he's going to go down as the greatest ever, or one of them if something crazy happens.
KEVIN IOLE: What do you-- when you look at him, in your opinion, what makes him as good as he is? I mean, obviously, he's got the terrific wrestling. But, I mean, you don't look at him and say, you know, he's got the punching power of Mike Tyson, or you know. But I mean, yet is it just because he has a little bit of everything, and he's good at everything?
DANA WHITE: Yes. He's really good and everything. And the one thing that he really has is consistency. Every time this guy comes out, it's like when Tyron Woodley was the champ, Woodley would look like, oh my God. Woodley's going to be the greatest thing ever, then Woodley would come out and not look like that. This guy is consistent. Every time this guy fights, he looks unbelievable, and he gets better, and better, and better.
And when you see a guy that does that and fights the way that he does, there's no denying it. There's people out there. I know there's some Ousman haters out there. You're a hater. If you dislike Ousman the way he fights, you're just a straight up hater. The guy is absolutely savage, man. Every time he comes out, he comes out to finish you.
KEVIN IOLE: And, you know, I had an interesting interview with Masvidal the other day. And one of the things he said that struck me, I wanted to ask you about. He said if Ousman took a fight against me on six days notice and I had to cut 20 pounds, I guarantee you I would have finished him in the first round. He said, so now, I have a full training camp. It's going to be a whole different story. What is the path that Masvidal has to walk? Because it seems like he struggled with that wrestling. And if he can't keep on his feet, then it seems like his path to victory is very slim.
DANA WHITE: Well, there you go. You asked earlier, you know, how does this play out that Masvidal gets this rematch. You know, these guys hate each other, and there's this talk. It's like Masvidal is like, if I had that type of fight, I would finish them in the first round. Ousman is saying I don't want to hear any excuses from this guy anymore. So this second fight needs to happen. And yes. I mean, obviously, Masvidal has to be concerned about the takedown. Other than that, if he can stop Ousman's takedown and stay on his feet the whole night, it's going to be interesting.
KEVIN IOLE: You had a little contract dispute with Masvidal before the last fight. Gilbert Burns was supposed to originally take that fight. Do you think he proved his point, given when he came back? You know, I mean, I remember him doing the interview with Kenny Mane on SportsCenter, and he was wearing that robe, and he was getting all that attention. And then you did over a million-- I believe it's over a million pay per view buys. Do you think he proved this point that he was deserving of that?
DANA WHITE: We always have contract disputes. You know I mean? Listen. Guys are under contract. And then they want to dispute their contract. It always happens. It's never going to go away. But yeah. Nobody in this company, especially me, was ever denying that Masvidal wasn't a star and didn't deserve, you know, anything that he could get.
KEVIN IOLE: And, you know, the interesting thing he said to me was that he's now making money, a lot of money outside the ring. He said, I used to struggle to get $1,000 to get a patch on my trunk so I could pay for my training camp. He says now he's making this. And, you know, and he appeared on-- the president had him on the campaign trail. Right?
And I think some people are saying, hey, you know what. The Cubans helped Trump win Florida, And Masvidal, a Cuban, was out there. Does that show the growth of this sport, the fact that now those kind of things were happening for you that a fighter like Masvidal, that's not even a champion, can go out there and do this kind of stuff?
DANA WHITE: 100%. And I think that's one of the things that people don't throw into the equation when fighting for the UFC. You know, all the things that come along with it, not just the money you make here, and the purse, and, you know. There's always a lot of disputes about money, because I got a lot of people that retire at very young ages over here.
KEVIN IOLE: Well, I'm still young, so maybe I'll retire too. Let's talk co-main event. The first appearance of Zhang Weili since your last pay per view with fans there. She's going to defend her title against Rose Namajunas. First of all, I guess my question is about Zhan Weili. And I think this is the best move that you could have made with her, keeping her out for a long time after that fight. Knowing how tough that last fight was, was that intentional that you held her out and didn't schedule her for this long?
DANA WHITE: Yeah. Both. That was a war, which ended up becoming the fight of the year. You know, and she came here. She was in my office after that fight, man. Her and Yovana were in rough shape, man. Those two are two bad ass warriors, man. And yes. She could use some time off. But that's the fight that I'm really excited about on Saturday night. I think that, you know, Weili Zhang is so powerful.
She comes in, hard kicks, hard punches. You know, trains like a beast. And then you have Rose who's so slick and moves so well, and gives people a punch that they don't see it coming. I just think this is going to be such a fun fight.
KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, I agree with you. I mean, I think that was the best move you could have possibly made, because sometimes fighters have a fight like that. I think of Diego Corrales in boxing had that great fight with Jose Luis Castillo. And they came back, and they fought for months later, and neither guy was ever the same. Right? And I think that, when you go through that kind of fight, you need a long time let your body recover.
DANA WHITE: I agree with you 100%. And that's the difference between us and a lot of these boxing fights. We have such a deep roster. You know? We can put on fights for a very long time and let these kids have time off, whether it's they had a concussion, or-- you know, there's no season here. So we don't need to get somebody back in a hurry before the season's over. We let these kids take the time, heal up, and when it's time for them to come back, they come back.
KEVIN IOLE: Rose is $1.90 underdog, which I was a little surprised at, given the other two fights are, you know, minus 400. And I want to ask you about that. I mean, it seems like, if Rose struggles with somebody, it's someone who is physical and has power. Like, you think of Jessica Andrade last fight. Andrade came back in that fight and had Rose in some trouble, and it seemed like her physical strength and whatnot. Weili seems like a pretty strong girl, and when she hits you, you feel it. Do you feel like that's something the Rose has to overcome in this fight, kind of the physicality and the power that Weili brings to the fight?
DANA WHITE: 100%. I mean, that's what it's all about. Weili is coming in with absolute raw savage power. And Rose is more slick and going to have to stay on the outside and try to pick her apart, like she was Andrade until she got grabbed.
KEVIN IOLE: Right. And that's always the trouble with her. Going on to the other title fight on the card, Valentina Shevchenko against Adrade. You know Shevchenko has just been on a roll. I mean, I'll tell you what. We always call a man in units to go. And then you start wondering about Valentina Shevchenko. Because what more can this woman do? You know, just, I want to first get your thoughts on Valentina. What is it going to take to beat her? Like, what kind of fighter-- what do you have to do to beat a person like that, that seems like she's so dominant in every area?
DANA WHITE: Yeah. The problem is that every time we would make a fight for Shevchenko, everybody would be like, oh, God. She's going to murder this girl. She's going to walk through them. Now we have Andrade, Andrade who is now going up the weight class, and has that raw power, the strength, the way she fights, the way she moves in. This is something that we haven't seen, and Shevchenko hasn't seen from an opponent yet, which makes this fight very interesting.
KEVIN IOLE: I threw that up to her when I interviewed her last week, and she was very dismissive. And it's nothing that she hasn't seen before, and you know. Vallentina, I mean, I think if you say anything else, like, we were talking about George St. Pierre before. If you talk about preparation, and crossing every T and dotting every I, it would be Valentina Shevchenko.
DANA WHITE: Yeah. She's so awesome in every way, shape, and form. Inside and outside of the octagon, she is a legit female badass.
KEVIN IOLE: Do you ever envision her and Amanda doing it one more time, or is the way just too big of a difference at this point?
DANA WHITE: I think what I love about these fights that are all happening this weekend is you got, should Weili win, and should Shevchenko win, those two could fight. You know? And then the winner of that fight, who knows which way it could go? If Shevchenko wins, then maybe she doesn't move up who does again. And who knows?
KEVIN IOLE: You got a lot of options.
DANA WHITE: All good stuff though.
KEVIN IOLE: Yeah. When you have fighters of that caliber, that's there. Let me run some other things. You were not at the press conference on Saturday, Robert Whitaker's performance. I thought a fantastic performance by Robert Whittaker. You know, I think the guy's underrated. I Looked before I got on with you, Dana. He is ranked 13th pound for pound in the UFC. I personally rank him 6th. I think Robert Whittaker is a phenomenal fighter, and I'm not sure why he doesn't get more love from people. But what was your take on his effort over with Kelvin Gastelum?
DANA WHITE: I agree with you. I thought he was awesome. And I think a lot of it is his personality and his demeanor. You know, even when he was champion, he was very shy, and didn't love to impress, isn't a very outgoing type guy. But he's awesome, man. The kid is very talented. He's looked incredible in his last couple of fights, and I look forward to seeing him getting a shot of the title again.
KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, I mean, I texted you on Saturday and said, you know, Adesanya you said makes sense. There were some people were out there saying, well he should fight Vettori. To me it seems like the fight to make would be Vettori and Costa, and then have Adesanya and him. And now you've got the top four guys in division going at it. And, you know, I know there's people out there that love tournaments. You've got a little mini tournament going.
DANA WHITE: Yeah. I don't disagree with you at all. The problem is, in a perfect world, you're absolutely right. But in this business, it's all about timing, what do these guys have going on the personal lives, and a laundry list of other bullshit. So we'll see how this thing ends up playing out.
KEVIN IOLE: Were do you think Marvin Vettori sits there? He lost a split decision to Adesanya a couple of years ago, obviously, a different Adesanya than we see now. Where does Vettori fit in here? Do you think he's right there with him, or as whiteaker said-- I don't know if you've got a chance to watch the press conference. Whittaker made the comment, I think, you know, I'm impressed with what he's done, but he still hasn't gotten those top guys yet. Do you think he needs to do something more before he's ready for a title?
DANA WHITE: Who hasn't fought the top guys yet?
KEVIN IOLE: He was saying Vettori hasn't had the top three or top five yet.
DANA WHITE: Vettori fought Adesanya to a split decision. I mean, you know, when Adesanya was making his way up, I mean, Vettori was one of the guys that he fought to a split decision. Vettori is legit. And, you know, either guy-- if Whittaker isn't ready, Vettori could take a fight. And either guy is ready for that fight with Adesanya. It should absolutely be Robert Whittaker. But if Robert Whittaker isn't ready, Vettori is absolutely the next guy in line.
KEVIN IOLE: Yeah. And last thing on that. He made the comment after the fight that New Zealand was opening up, and he hoped you could do New Zealand in September. Would that be something you would consider, given both of their history with New Zealand?
DANA WHITE: Yeah. I mean, realistically, that fight needs to happen over their neck of the woods. But their neck of the woods needs to get their shit together and get open. I can't go over there and quarantine the entire staff and all the production people. You know what I mean? That can't happen.
So when they get up and run it again, which I hope is very soon, because I love the fights over there, whether it's Australia or New Zealand, you've got incredible fans. The energy in those places is insane. You know, when you put on the fight over there, it's just that you're such a great market. And it's a great destination, great place to visit. So hopefully they get up and running again here soon, and we can do an event over there.
KEVIN IOLE: My favorite place to visit, of course, Las Vegas, Nevada, the best city in the world. And on July 10th, you got to show here, Conor McGregor versus Dustin Poirier. Anything else, the main event, co-main event that we know what you're going to slot in there yet? Is John Jones and Ngannou a possibility for that card?
DANA WHITE: Sean just walked in here actually. Sean, what do we got? Co-main event on the Conor McGregor thing yet? We got anything?
KEVIN IOLE: Sean Shelby we're talking about?
DANA WHITE: McGregor? No? He almost cracked and then he reeled it back.
KEVIN IOLE: Oh, come on.
DANA WHITE: You don't have it yet. I was this close.
KEVIN IOLE: OK. Let's just go a different direction. Where do you stand with Jones and the potential for a fight with Adesanya? Are you talking?
DANA WHITE: Jones and Adesanya?
KEVIN IOLE: I mean, excuse me. Ngannou. I'm sorry.
DANA WHITE: Ngannou. Yeah. You know, it's probably going to be, you know, the black beast.
KEVIN IOLE: Derrick Lewis?
DANA WHITE: Yeah.
KEVIN IOLE: It might be the first time I ever went, oh. And I'm sad when you say a Derrick Lewis fight is coming up. That might be the first time. OK. So we'll see.
DANA WHITE: At the end of the day, Derrick Lewis and Ngannou is the fight. That's the fight to make right now. Derrick Lewis is a heavyweight, he's a fighting heavyweight. He's earned this shot. He's got to win over him. It's the fight to make.
KEVIN IOLE: Were you at that last fight that they had?
DANA WHITE: Well, that fight didn't do what everybody expected it to do. But, you know, it can't go back.
KEVIN IOLE: So one or two other things. Khamzat Chimaev, still haven't heard from him. He's back training, I guess. Where does he stand in terms of coming back?
DANA WHITE: We're going to try to get him a fight in August.
KEVIN IOLE: In August. OK, good. Top 10 guys, is that the plan?
DANA WHITE: I don't know. We'll see. We'll see.
KEVIN IOLE: All right. And before I get--
DANA WHITE: The guy came out of the gates hot as hell. You know, three fights in a month, and then now I can't get him a fight in freaking eight months.
KEVIN IOLE: It's crazy. I know. And I want to see him fight almost as much as anybody. I love the guy.
DANA WHITE: I know. Me too.
KEVIN IOLE: And lastly, I just want to get your take on what Triller did on Saturday, what Ben Askrin did on Saturday. And there's top UFC, you know, Tyron Woodley is begging for a fight with Jake Paul. And Jake Paul wants to fight DC, and all this crazy stuff going on. What is your stance on-- Yeah. You didn't see that?
DANA WHITE: No.
KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, and Cormier said go fight Tyron Woodley. Now, what is your take--
DANA WHITE: Why don't you go fight a fucking boxer? The fuck are these keep taking to UFC guys for?
KEVIN IOLE: An Oscar De La Hoya turned down Anthony Pettis.
DANA WHITE: Another fucking legal letter to these fucking idiots. Yeah. Go talk to a fucking boxer. What are you doing?
KEVIN IOLE: You are like me. You thought Askrin was going to win that fight the other day. What was your take when you saw what happened?
DANA WHITE: I don't even want to say it. I don't even want to say what I think happened in that fight. But I can tell you this. I don't owe Snoop $2 million. OK? I never bet. Let me make it clear right here to everybody. I have never made an illegal bet ever. I did not make an illegal bet on Saturday night. I did not bet $2 million with Snoop or anybody. Did they-- the guys-- Javier Mendez called me. Right? Right after I did the--
KEVIN IOLE: Habib's coach. Yeah.
DANA WHITE: Yeah. You know. He's the head coach at AKA. And he said these guys, from Triller, I guess-- I don't know if it's from Triller or who they're from-- they want to take that bet. They want to bet you $2 million. I said it's fucking illegal. First of all, I'm not going to make an illegal bet, number one. And number two, why would I bet them a million or $2 million when I could do it legally in Las Vegas?
KEVIN IOLE: Plus 190.
DANA WHITE: And get two to one.
KEVIN IOLE: Well, I think I know where it came from. Right? Because I was interviewing-- they had a press conference here, and you were texting me and making fun of me for asking questions. And I was up there asking Snoop a question. And I said, that was when you came out on the Mike Tyson podcast and said you were going to bet a million on Askrin. And I said, hey Snoop, your buddy Dana White says he's going to bet a million on Askrin. And then that's when he says, well, I want to him $2 million.
So I think I kind of egged him on maybe. I don't know. So anyways, I'll wrap up with this. I mean, do you think at least what they're trying to do with the way they're promoting, putting concerts on, helps the fight gamer at all? I don't like the fights themselves. But do you think that having this kind of stuff, Justin Bieber playing, that it might bring a crowd that you don't ordinarily get in the fight game? And do you think it helps at all, or do you think you're better off just sticking to fights and nothing else but fights?
DANA WHITE: It's not my thing. It's not my thing, but that doesn't mean it's not other people's things. And when you look at this whole Jake Paul thing that's going on right now, right, boxing continues to go like this. This is the right guy with the right shtick at the right time. And, you know, this guy is playing this thing perfectly. And, you know, boxing is in such a bad place. They're doing a really good job at sucking in people to buy into this thing. And good for him.
KEVIN IOLE: And before I let you go, I just want to run this past you. What are you doing with fights at Apex? So after you have 261, are you coming back to Apex, or are you going to go on the road now and just be on the road?
DANA WHITE: Yeah, no. We're going to do Jacksonville, Houston, Vegas, and the other fights can be at Apex.
KEVIN IOLE: They will be at Apex. OK.
DANA WHITE: Yes.
KEVIN IOLE: Dana, UFC 261 on Saturday in Jacksonville, Florida, VyStar Area, live on pay per view. Appreciate you joining me, as always. Good luck on Saturday, man.
DANA WHITE: Thanks, buddy. See you later.