UFC 277: Dana White 1-on-1 with Kevin Iole

Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole interviews UFC president Dana White ahead of Saturday's UFC 277 featuring the bantamweight title fight between champion Julianna Peña and Amanda Nunes along with the interim flyweight title bout between Brandon Moreno and Kai Kara-France. White discusses the title fights, Vince McMahon's retirement, making the Nate Diaz-Khamzat Chimaev fight and much more.

Video transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

KEVIN IOLE: Hey, everybody. I am Kevin Iole. UFC 277 is on CAP on Saturday. In Dallas, Texas at the American Airlines Center joining me right now, as always, to talk about the fights is Dana White. Dana, I want to start this with a little bit of news last week because I want to ask you about Vince McMahon.

He retired as the CEO of the WWE. And he was so prominent in the world of promoting combat sports and fights and whatnot. And even though, I say fights with quotes. What impact do you think he had on you, and the way you promote, and just on promoting in general?

DANA WHITE: Yeah, I mean, he's an absolute legend, man-- what the guy accomplished as an entrepreneur, as a promoter, and the longevity that he had with his business. And he'd been through it all. I mean, all the bad things that can happen to you in your business, he'd been through it all.

Yeah, Vince and I have had a very unique, interesting relationship over the years. Nobody stuck the hatchet in my back more times than that guy has. But like I always say about the guy, he's a killer. And I like killers. I like killer. I mean, when I just watched that Jordan video again, "The Last--

KEVIN IOLE: "The Last Dance?"

DANA WHITE: Yeah. Now, I remember why I love Jordan. But I feel that same way about Vince and a few other guys. What he's done is incredible. And I wish him nothing but the best.

KEVIN IOLE: Any impact on you in terms of when you were starting the UFC and trying to get into this, did you look at what he did? And is there anything you took from what he did and were able to bring to what you do?

DANA WHITE: Well, I think if you look at our old style entrances and things like that, they had a little bit of a WWE to them but it didn't work. I ended up taking it out. Goddamn. It didn't work, so I ended up taking it out. The production of the UFC was always a work in progress and still is.

KEVIN IOLE: You're right.

DANA WHITE: Well, yeah. I took some things from boxing that I thought were great and some things that I hated. And I took some things from the WWE that I like and that I hated. I took some things from the NFL. Every sport, you grow up watching things.

KEVIN IOLE: Right. And you brought it all in.

DANA WHITE: 100%.

KEVIN IOLE: Interesting. You have UFC 277. Not often in pay-per-views you have women headlining. This week, you have women headlining Julianna Pena upset a man in unison-- one of the biggest upsets in UFC history. She called her shot, though. She said she was going to do it, and she did. And you have a bantamweight-- or excuse me, a flyweight interim title fight between Brandon Moreno and Kai Kara-France.

And I want to read you-- I talked to Julianna the other day. And she gave me-- Dana, I know sometimes some of these quotes, you really like. And I want to read you this quote she gave me. I was talking to her about the second round when she was going head to head with Amanda. And they were forever in the center of the ring.

And they were throwing those shots. And I said, I kept expecting at every point for you to go down because Amanda Nunes is a GOAT. And she has that great power. And she's hitting you on the chin. And this is what she said.

"Your mentality, your brain your positive self-talk, your mental state is so important in fighting. They say that it's more mental than it is physical. And I absolutely agree. You have to know you're the best. You have to know that you're going to win. You can't be deterred by these negative demons that are trying to eat your brain every single night when the lights go out. You have to have the mental fortitude to beat that and to just be strong-minded and have that mental fortitude to go through anything."

And here's the winning part. "Fight through that adversity. And I know I'm going to literally die in there if that's what I have to do. And I'm willing to do that. If you're willing to do that, then you will be successful."

What does that say to you about Julianna Pena? And hearing that, does it surprise you?

DANA WHITE: No, it does not surprise me. Many years ago, my kids were little. They were in a jiu-jitsu tournament here in Las Vegas. Julianna Pena walked across this gym, walked up to me, put her hand out and said, hey, I'm Julianna Pena. I'm going to be your next world champion. And I was like, OK, nice to meet you, whatever.

Then, she came on "The Ultimate Fighter." She won "The Ultimate Fighter." And she's always believed in herself, manifested this position that she's in now. And Saturday is such a big night. I'm so excited for that fight.

Because first of all, I know what Amanda Nunes is capable of. Is she going to show up on Saturday night that girl that I know of? And the other thing is Julianna Pena, absolutely positively knows. She doesn't believe. She knows that she's going to win on Saturday night. So if you get two of those forces, this fight should be unbelievable.

KEVIN IOLE: Dana, did you have the same feeling I did? Because when I'm watching it and I saw Amanda fighting cyborg, this monster of a girl, knocking everybody out. In 51 seconds, she knocked her out when they got into that kind of firefight and so many other girls in the UFC.

When I see that the first round was mainly grappling, I see that second round turned into that slugfest. I'm going, no way Julianna is going to win this. Then, boom, she won. Did you have the same feeling I did that like, oh, this is going Amanda's way because of the big shot she was landing?

DANA WHITE: Yeah. I mean, but either way, Amanda Nunes is the GOAT. We've seen it. Kevin, she's knocked out 13 women in her career.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah.

DANA WHITE: You know what I mean? And she's submitted as many people as Julianna has knocked out.

KEVIN IOLE: You're right.

DANA WHITE: So I mean, just common sense says to you they're going to get into a firefight here. And Julianna is going to get clipped eventually, right? But no. It was just-- I mean, that's why that was one of those moments at the fight when you looked around at the arena, the whole arena, you could have heard a pin drop. And everybody just stared at each other like holy shit. And that's what makes Saturday so exciting.

So if Julianna can beat her again, it'll get rid of all the doubters and the naysayers and everybody saying, oh, whatever. And then, Juliana is on her way to start her own legacy. I mean, it took Alexander Volkanovski three fights with Holloway for people to finally say, OK, Alex, has won the fight.

KEVIN IOLE: He did it. The co-main event, I love Brandon Moreno and what he's doing. And Kai Kara-France, I talked to him yesterday about City Kickboxing and what they're doing down there. They already have two world champions. He's bidding to become the third. It's been crazy with that gym is producing.

Before we get into the fight itself, let's start with this. Figueiredo is the champion in that division. Do you know is the plan for him to fight the winner? Or what's going on with him?

DANA WHITE: No clue. You're going to get through Saturday. and then we will.

KEVIN IOLE: OK.

DANA WHITE: But I have matchmaking today too right after this call with you.

KEVIN IOLE: OK. So maybe I should have stuck in for that meeting or did this interview after. I wasn't the one to schedule the time, but OK.

DANA WHITE: So that's why I love Lanny-- always on point.

KEVIN IOLE: They fought it at UFC 245. And that was a terrific fight last time. But I think both guys have improved dramatically since then. Moreno went on to become the champion. And he could have defended that title last time in Anaheim at UFC 270. And Kai Kara-France is coming off a knockout of Cody Garbrandt, a really impressive win against Askarov. What do you make of this fight? And I know you're excited for this one as you say you are for the main event.

DANA WHITE: Yeah. Well, the main event is so different because you got this huge underdog who beat the GOAT. I mean, it's hard for any fight on this card-- and there's tons of great fights-- to have what the main event as. It's why it's the main event.

But yes, Brandon Moreno is a stud. I mean, the Davidson Figueiredo fight is another fight where you could say those guys could fight every weekend and people would want to see it.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah.

DANA WHITE: And yes, Kai Kara-France is on a run. It's the fight that needs to happen right now. Moreno versus Kai Kara-France is the fight that needs to happen. It should be action-packed. And we'll see how it plays out.

KEVIN IOLE: Are you seeing any-- obviously, in boxing, the Hispanic fan base is a huge part of the boxing demographic. Are you seeing any rise in your Hispanic demographic given the success of some of your Hispanic fighters, in particular, Brandon?

DANA WHITE: Absolutely, Brandon. Brandon, when we do signings, nobody has the turnout that Brandon Moreno has.

KEVIN IOLE: Really?

DANA WHITE: Nobody, yeah. I mean, if you had Conor McGregor doing signings. But other than everybody else, Brandon Moreno is without a doubt. And you always hope that, oh, I can get this, a Mexican kid for the Mexican fan base, whatever. Everybody loves Brandon Moreno, not just the Mexicans.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah. That's why I talked to him about yesterday. I said, you're a star because you don't have just a Mexican fanbase, but you have across all demographics.

DANA WHITE: 100%.

KEVIN IOLE: So there's another fight on the card that I'm really intrigued by. And the odds to me are way out of whack. And I wanted to get your thought on Anthony Smith as +375 against Ankalaev who is -500 at BetMGM. Thoughts on that fight. And does it surprise you that Ankalaev is coming off his last fight where he wasn't so dominant that he is that big of a favorite against a guy like Anthony?

DANA WHITE: Yeah, that's fascinating. That's fascinating. Because if there's anything Anthony Smith is, it's durable, man. That guy is durable. He hangs in there and is an absolute threat to anybody. I mean, anybody who's ranked in the top 5 is very dangerous.

KEVIN IOLE: Right. Yeah, there's no doubt. And when I look at that division, I think Anthony Smith has improved maybe more than anybody. When he fought Jon Jones, hey, he had a great fight. But to me, it looked like he learned what it took to be a champion in that fight against Jon Jones even though he lost. And he's now at a different level. I mean, yeah, he lost to Glover. But I think Anthony Smith really to me is a dangerous guy.

DANA WHITE: Great point. And you have to take experience. You have to factor that in. This guy's fought everybody. Who hasn't he fought?

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, no doubt about it. Now, that's going to be a fun fight. I know you have matchmaking at one. But you had a chance last week to have matchmaking. And what did you decide about Prochazka when you heard that Prochazka wanted to do the rematch with Glover? I assume you like that. And is that something that you plan to do? Or do either the winner of this fight have a chance at that?

DANA WHITE: Yeah, no, we honestly like the rematch. And I have such respect for somebody like Jiri who comes out of a war like that with a guy like Glover and then says, yeah, I actually want the rematch. I don't like it. I love that shit. I love that in a fighter. So we'll see what we end up doing. But yes, I love it.

KEVIN IOLE: It's crazy because you hear you always hear the loser say, hey, I want the rematch. Not to often the--

DANA WHITE: 100%.

KEVIN IOLE: --winner wants the rematch.

DANA WHITE: Especially in a dogfight like that.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, I mean, he was 30 seconds away from losing the fight. And then, he becomes the champion-- amazing. There is a fight I talked to you about last week-- Nate Diaz versus Khamzat.

DANA WHITE: He was 30 seconds away from losing the fight like 10 times.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah. I know. I know. Nate Diaz and Chimaev are going to fight UFC 279. I talked to you about it. Last week. And I told you I love the fight. I was glad that you finally got a fight for Diaz. But I saw one prominent former fighter of yours and a current fighter, Leon Edwards. They criticized you guys for the matchmaking. And I want to get your take on it.

Leon Edwards said he's done so much for the company meaning Nate Diaz. And I wish they would have given him a veteran, a nice fight to bow out on, to give him an up-and-coming guy that's had four or five fights in the UFC and a wrestler as well. I think they fucked up. They should have given them a better fight. Are you surprised to hear people saying that? Dan Hardy made it basically the same quote last week.

DANA WHITE: Who did?

KEVIN IOLE: Dan Hardy.

DANA WHITE: Yeah, I love when fighters or other people or anybody else give us advice on this incredibly successful business that we've built. It cracks me up. So I'm looking at Francis Ngannou, Chimaev, and a couple other ones that were not good either. I'm going to take Khamzat. I can tell you this. Leon Edwards, Dan Hardy, and anybody else out there yapping has never dealt with the Diaz brothers.

It's a very unique experience. It takes a very long time. And we got through it. And here we are. It's a very popular fight that people are going to want to see that people like. And everybody's getting what they want. Dan Hardy and Leon Edwards don't have to watch it. They can go to the movies that night.

KEVIN IOLE: [LAUGHS] There's two ways of looking at Khamz. Khamz had blown through everybody. What was he? 125 and one in terms of significant strikes in his first four fights before he fought Gilbert Burns.

DANA WHITE: Wait, imagine this, Dan Hardy, Leon Edwards. You got millions of fight fans all over the world. I give fights that people want to see it. I come out and say, you know what? Nate Diaz's last fight, we're going to give him this guy that we think is a really easy fight for Nate Diaz, let him bow out.

Come on, you two. Come on. Wake up, boys. It's not how it works. Do you think Nate Diaz wants to go out like that? You think Nate Diaz wants to go out--

KEVIN IOLE: Well, they want to fight Francis Ngannou.

DANA WHITE: Exactly. I mean, come on. That's why you guys better stick to fighting and stay out of promoting. thing

KEVIN IOLE: I guess, Dana, the one thing that you should add maybe you didn't add in your defense, but I'll throw it in here. I talked to--

DANA WHITE: But I don't even have to defend myself. This is the fight that Nate Diaz wanted.

KEVIN IOLE: Right. I was going to say that. Zach Rosenfield said to me last week, he said-- I interviewed him when we went through all these different permutations. And he said the one thing I want to make sure that is known in this story is that this isn't a fight that was offered to us. This is a fight we asked for.

DANA WHITE: They also asked for Francis Ngannou.

KEVIN IOLE: So you did him a favor.

DANA WHITE: He also asked for Kamaru Usman. It's just like you know what I mean?

KEVIN IOLE: So interesting. Is your anticipation that Nate fights in another organization? Or do you think this might be the last we see a Nate in any kind of combat sport?

DANA WHITE: I don't know. Nate came in here. And we talked face-to-face. And I told Nate. Nate's been here for a long time. Nate's been in some wars. Nate's been in some massive fights. We've done some fun [MUTED] together. And I told Nate, listen, kid. Whatever you want to do, good luck to you.

You know what I mean? And when Nate goes out and goes public and goes off on all these kids, what Nate has is in his back pocket is Nate knows I'm not telling the media jack. So whatever--

KEVIN IOLE: It sounds like you. It sounds like you.

DANA WHITE: Huh?

KEVIN IOLE: It sounds like you.

DANA WHITE: Yeah, exactly. So here we are.

KEVIN IOLE: [LAUGHS]

I'm not going to get into this too much, but I'm just going to ask you this. Do you think there's a chance he fights Jake Paul?

DANA WHITE: Oh, I don't know. I don't know. He said, I would never do that.

KEVIN IOLE: He said that to you?

DANA WHITE: Yeah, that's what he said to me. I would never do that.

KEVIN IOLE: OK.

DANA WHITE: That's goofy.

KEVIN IOLE: He said other stuff.

DANA WHITE: 100%.

KEVIN IOLE: All right.

DANA WHITE: I'm telling you what he said to me.

KEVIN IOLE: I don't doubt that, so we will move on. You've got "Dana White's Contender Series" starting tonight. Obviously, it's a fun thing. I want to ask you about next week's one, though. Because next week, you have a guy on there that has a chance to be a huge star. I want to ask you about Bo Nickal.

DANA WHITE: I don't know. I don't know who's on.

KEVIN IOLE: Bo Nickal's fighting next week. Do you know Bo at all?

DANA WHITE: I don't know who's on. I know who he is, but I don't going in who's on the card. I don't look at it, I don't study anybody. I don't know what team they come from, what camp they're with. I don't do any of that [MUTED].

KEVIN IOLE: So I can't talk about Bo Nickal?

DANA WHITE: Tonight at 5:00, I'm walking in there clean slate. It doesn't matter what you've done in the past or what your fucking camp you came out of, right here, right now at 5:00 at the Apex is going to determine whether you get into the UFC or not.

KEVIN IOLE: There you go. A couple other things I'll ask you about, Dana, Sean O'Malley is going to fight Petr Yan. That is a loaded card in Abu Dhabi UFC 280 on October 22.

DANA WHITE: Fun.

KEVIN IOLE: Amazing card, I mean, you're really stacking that thing up. I was a little surprised to see the match-up. O'Malley's 13th. Yan is first. They had that little controversy with Pedro Munhoz. That fight did not play out. I gave the first round of that fight to Munhoz. So obviously, O'Malley won in the second around.

In your matchmaking meeting, what was the thought process in terms of given the obvious, it's going to be a slugfest, given that fight to O'Malley?

DANA WHITE: Yeah. Well, O'Malley is ready. O'Malley wants to take a big jump. And he's ready for the fight, so we started going through this thing. We started looking who's fighting, who's hurt, who's this, who's that. And it was actually Sean who said, I want to do O'Malley versus Petr Yan. What? He's [MUTED] 13. He's [GIBBERISH].

Everybody was giving their opinion. And we went back and forth. And finally, I said, we'll do it. And O'Malley really wanted to fight. And Yan was like, yeah, let's do it. And it'll be fun.

KEVIN IOLE: I mean, that card is really going to be a wild, wild card. I mean, so that one is--

DANA WHITE: That card is so bad ass.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah. No, Belal Muhammad and Sean Brady is going to be an amazing fight. I mean, you've got the main event, of course. It's going to be--

DANA WHITE: Dariush and Gamrot.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah. No, I know. I mean, that's what I'm saying. That's going to be an incredible card. One of the things, I guess, people would worry about on the level of matchmaking, sometimes people say you run guys too fast. Sometimes, you say you move them too slow, right?

In O'Malley's particular case, do you feel like, technically, is there any concern that he's not-- at some point, he's going to be ready for this level. He's fast. He's an accurate striker. He has a lot of good things. But was there any concern in your debate when you were talking about putting the fight together, is he ready for this level of opposition?

DANA WHITE: There's only one way to find out. Everybody can speculate. Everybody can talk. Everybody thinks that I'm a matchmaker. There's only one way to find out.

KEVIN IOLE: Well, I'm in. Two other things, then I'll let you go.

DANA WHITE: And when you think about it, if you think about O'Malley, O'Malley is 27 years old. O'Malley has been fighting for a long time. This kid is in his prime right now.

KEVIN IOLE: Right.

DANA WHITE: This is the time. This October, he's only a couple of months away. He'll be 28.

KEVIN IOLE: Time to go.

DANA WHITE: Who's saying he's not ready? I mean, we're going to find out.

KEVIN IOLE: I'm not saying he's not.

DANA WHITE: No. I'm not saying you did. I'm saying these other people. Find out.

KEVIN IOLE: Interesting.

DANA WHITE: Kid's got 17 professional fights, right? He's going to be 28 years old in October.

KEVIN IOLE: Right.

DANA WHITE: He's already, aren't you?

KEVIN IOLE: Two more updates, though. One, I wanted to ask you about--

DANA WHITE: He's in the top 15.

KEVIN IOLE: He's number 13.

DANA WHITE: Go ahead, Kev. What else you got?

KEVIN IOLE: Two other ones. The last two main events, obviously, were disappointing in terms of they didn't play out as natural finishes. Brian Ortega injured his shoulder against Yair Rodriguez. Tom Aspinall, last week, blew out his knee. So I wonder, medically, do you have any updates on either Brian or Tom, what their prognosis is, when we might see them back?

DANA WHITE: I don't yet, no. I don't. And yeah, like I said at the press conference, that stuff sucks. But it's a rough sport. And it happens. Man, both fights, Ortega and Yair was just heating up to be a great fight. And the Blaydes-Aspinall fight was just getting good too. It's just--

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah.

DANA WHITE: --it happened, though.

KEVIN IOLE: What did you think of Curtis's response? At the post-fight press conference, Curtis was asked by one of the British media members. Will you run it back? And he says, no, I'm protecting my ranking. I've been in the top five since 2018. And I haven't fought for the title yet. I'm protecting my rank. And he wants to fight the Tuivasa gone winner.

I mean, normally, I say, hey, you should do the rematch. But in this case, I empathize with Curtis. He's been there for a long time. He's been near the top for a long time. He's pretty much fought whoever you've asked him to fight. How did you see? What was your reaction to his comment?

DANA WHITE: Yeah, and I don't hate the idea of him fight fighting one of those guys either. But go back throughout the history of the UFC. Guys who've said, you know what? I'm going to wait. And see how that's worked out for the guys who waited.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah.

DANA WHITE: That's never really the right attitude to have that I'm going to wait, but who knows? Maybe that is how it plays out.

KEVIN IOLE: All right. And lastly, CCC Henry Cejudo, obviously, he's been making a splash. He's been showing up at the shows. He's eligible to come back in October. Have you had any talk about booking him and when might we see him? And more importantly, what division might we see him in?

DANA WHITE: I know, not yet. A few months ago, whenever it was, I'm bad with time. But he was talking, talking, talking. I'm like, stop fucking talking and actually do something if you're actually thinking about fighting. And the word is he's been training hard and getting ready, so we'll see. When he's actually ready to fight, we'll decide where he's going to go and what he's going to do.

KEVIN IOLE: Very good. Dana, UFC 277 on pay-per-view on Saturday from Dallas, Texas. I wish you the best of luck. Thank you so much.

DANA WHITE: You're coming to the "Contender Series" tonight?

KEVIN IOLE: I might be there.

DANA WHITE: You should do it.

KEVIN IOLE: Bye, bro.

DANA WHITE: How would you not? You're a fight man. How do you not want to be at the "Contender Series?" That's the best fight in the world.

KEVIN IOLE: I'm going to be there. I'm going to be there for Bo Nickal. That's for sure.

DANA WHITE: Tonight live on ESPN+.

KEVIN IOLE: All right. If I can get a credential, I'll be there.

DANA WHITE: All right. You got one.

KEVIN IOLE: We'll see you. Thanks.

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