The UFC is entering the second of five straight fight weekends, all taking place from Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi. UFC President Dana White rechristened the venue as Fight Island, and there are a number of significant bouts taking place, including tonight’s Irene Aldana–Holly Holm bantamweight main event.
Last weekend’s UFC 253 card was highlighted by the dominance of the undefeated Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya, which has led to speculation of an Adesanya–Jon Jones fight. There has also been considerable talk about Conor McGregor, who made himself a major talking point following last Saturday’s pay per view.
White spoke with Sports Illustrated about a host of topics, including McGregor’s future, the possibility of an Adesanya-Jones fight, and whether he believes there is any shot of another heavyweight title bout for Brock Lesnar.
Justin Barrasso: It always feels like, when Conor McGregor goes into this mode, he is preparing to make a comeback and fight again.
Dana White: This was a weird one. This was weirder and different than anything he’s done before. There’s almost a pattern here. When we’re about to do a massive fight—and Israel Adesanya broke a ton of records last week in a global, massive fight—the day before that fight, he starts announcing he’s going to fight this guy and that guy. It’s almost like stealing Adesanya’s thunder. But he does it every time there’s a big fight.
Barrasso: I know you reported to Barstool that you offered McGregor and Dustin Poirier a fight, and I know Poirier tweeted that he accepted. Are we any closer to that?
White: We offered Conor a fight. We made him an offer.
Barrasso: The main event this weekend’s card is Holly Holm–Irene Aldena. What does it mean to have two women headline this card, especially in Abu Dhabi, and how does that speak to the UFC’s overall approach?
White: Look at the Michelle Waterson–Angela Hill fight from a couple weeks ago. That’s one of the sickest five-round fights you’ll ever see. I have no problem headlining women anywhere in the world.
Barrasso: Irene Aldana’s future prospects in fighting are really interesting. In a division where Amanda Nunes has run through so many people, you always look for the next big opponent. Aldana never had that hype, but she established herself by just beating up her opponents. She’s in the cage with Holm, who is always one win away from a title shot, but is Irene the next big star of the bantamweight division?
White: It’s going to be interesting. We’ve got to see what see she does this weekend. I expect her to put a lot of pressure on Holly, really stay in her face, and throw tons of punches. We’ll see how it turns out, but Irene is tough. The problem for her is that Amanda Nunes is an absolute f—— savage. She is absolutely badass, and she’s beat everybody—and some of them twice.
Barrasso: It’s such a privilege to watch Nunes fight. And with a new baby, I know the double champ is now embracing the joy of parenthood, but if Aldana defeats Holm, will we get a Nunes-Aldana fight before the end of the year?
White: Amanda’s first fight back won’t be with Irene. I think she’ll defend her 145-pound title this year, then the 135-pound title next year.
Barrasso: With an election looming, politics is such a pivotal topic everywhere, including the UFC. There is a Fighters for Trump rally across Florida this weekend that features UFC star Jorge Masvidal at three different rallies with Donald Trump Jr. How did that come together? Were you involved?
White: No, Masvidal reached out to Don Jr. His parents came from Cuba, and he knows what’s it like to live in that type of an environment. He doesn’t like what’s going on right now in this country, and he wanted to support Trump. That was all on his own.
Much like people are all over me, saying “Colby Covington said this and said that,” or on the flip side, Tyron Woodley came out with all Black Lives Matter on, and his answer to every question was “Black Lives Matter”—I don’t tell these guys what to say. They’re their own people and they can do whatever they want. This is America. Everybody can have an opinion, and everybody can choose to vote for whoever they want.
Barrasso: Another main event on Fight Island is the UFC 254 marquee pitting Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov against Justin Gaethe. If Khabib punishes Gaethe in the same manner he has everyone else, will we ever see the seemingly cursed Khabib–Tony Ferguson fight?
White: If Khabib does beat Gaethe, you get Tony Ferguson another fight, which we’re working on right now. And hopefully that fight with Khabib happens because I know people want to see it.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fight fall apart as many times as those two. It almost scares me to make the fight again. What’s going to happen? An asteroid comes to earth? That’s the level of bad this thing is.
Barrasso: In terms of heavyweight, is the next fight Jon Jones vs. Heavyweight Champion Stipe Miocic? Stipe has had some marquee fights, but has never become a massive star in the way Jon has—if he were to defeat Jon, would he ascend into that next level of stardom?
White: I think so. And if not that next level of stardom, it would definitely help, but he’s already the greatest heavyweight ever.
Barrasso: I know there are no current plans for Brock Lesnar to come back, but if Jon Jones wins the Heavyweight Championship, does that at all entice you to get the Brock fight? Those are two once-in-a-generation athletes, and that fight could produce over three million buys. Is a fight against Lesnar a possibility if Jones wins the belt?
White: I don’t think Lesnar would come back again. Lesnar’s made a lot of money, and with his age and everything else, I just don’t see it happening. What’s a massive fight, if it ends up happening, is Adesanya versus Jones. I think that is more likely [than Lesnar-Jones].
I always say fighting is a young man’s game. Brock came in here when nobody f—— thought he could, and look what he did. He became the Heavyweight Champion. He’s accomplished everything you need to accomplish. To come back and fight Jones, it would be all about the money, and money is one thing that guy doesn’t need.
Barrasso: There are plenty of meaningful fights coming up during this stretch on Fight Island. Marlon Moraes–Cory Sandhagen next weekend is a very meaningful fight for the bantamweight division. Moraes had a title fight that didn’t go his way, but he’s one of the top athletes over the past five years in that division, and Sandhagen is on a tear, looking to show he’s operating on an upper echelon.
Plus, in two weeks, we’ll see “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung in a main event against Brian Ortega. Ortega is widely considered one of the best in the world, and he is working his way back into the title picture. Does the winner of this fight get a shot at the Featherweight belt?
White: Yes, I think so. First, this kid has superstar written all over him. He was called into the military in the prime of his career in South Korea. Then he gets out and has that incredible fight with Yair [Rodriguez]. He gets caught with one second left with that crazy elbow. He’s battled a couple injuries and had some bad luck along the way, but this is a big fight with Ortega. I’m excited it’s finally happening. Whoever wins this fight, it catapults one of these guys into a shot at the title.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.