Dana White talks UFC 278, not re-signing Shane Burgos and fighter pay controversy
Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole interviews UFC president Dana White ahead of Saturday's UFC 278. White breaks down the main event between welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and Leon Edwards in depth, shares his thoughts on the return of Luke Rockhold to face Paulo Costa in the co-main and discusses Jose Aldo's rebirth in the bantamweight division. Plus, White explains the UFC's "mistake" in letting Shane Burgos sign with the PFL and rants about his words being taken out of context after a GQ interview he did last week went viral.
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KEVIN IOLE: What is up, folks? Another UFC pay-per-view coming on and another interview with Dana White. I am Kevin Iole, that is Dana White, and UFC 278 is on Saturday in Salt Lake City. Dana, it seems like every time I talk to you you're telling me about sell-out crowds and great fight cards and arena records. Can we expect another arena record and-- and sellout crowd in Salt Lake City?
DANA WHITE: We do. We do, we do. So the streak continues, man. It's fascinating. If you look at the fights that we have coming up, it looks like, you know, we could end up selling out the rest of the year. So--
KEVIN IOLE: Wow.
DANA WHITE: Pretty fun.
KEVIN IOLE: That is fun. No doubt. The main event is, I think, a fascinating fight, Leon Edwards, the challenger in the welterweight title fight, going up against Kamaru Usman. Both of these guys undefeated since they met in 2015. Edwards lost that fight, a really good fight. I watched it again this week, a really good fight he lost.
He's won 9 in a row since then. Usman has won 13 in a row since then. Usman, amazingly enough, is going to tie Anderson-- trying to tie Anderson Silva's record of 16 consecutive wins in the UFC. Let's start right there. Do you think that is the most significant record there is, the wins in a row? Because you talked a lot about how difficult it is to win in the UFC, and you're talking about a guy that's won 15 in a row now trying to tie the UFC record.
DANA WHITE: Yeah. No, it's huge. I mean, if you look at everything that Usman has accomplished since he's been here, from winning the Ultimate Fighter to winning the title to breaking all these records, yeah, it's a big deal. I mean, obviously you can't deny he's the greatest welterweight of all time just off the competition that he's fought. Now he's lapping.
I mean, the Colby Covington fight alone. If Usman doesn't exist, Colby Covington's the champion, you know what I mean? You know, you gotta start talking after this fight about him up there with Jon Jones and Anderson and GSP and all the other greats.
KEVIN IOLE: You know, when I look at the greatest fighter of all time, you know, I think-- I really focus on three fighters, Khabib, Jon Jones, and Kamaru. And, you know, I-- I don't want to say disqualified Jon Jones, but Jon's had periods of inactivity because he had outside-the-ring trouble. And when you're grading at this highest level, right, those little things have to factor in.
So to my way of thinking, it's got to either be Kamaru or Khabib. What is it to your way of thinking? I mean, do you feel like, despite all Jon's troubles, that he still deserves that?
DANA WHITE: Well, I think what's fascinating about Jon Jones is what he's done even though that trouble is-- if you think about what he was doing during the time that he was doing it, it's insane what that guy accomplished.
KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, no doubt.
DANA WHITE: And what's going to be fascinating-- huh?
KEVIN IOLE: I said no doubt.
DANA WHITE: Yeah. And you know, it's gonna-- when he comes back, potentially as a heavyweight, and he does-- I mean, it's just-- if you look at-- at the time when Jon-- it's always hard because you have to put everybody in a time slot. If you look at the guys at the 205 Division at the time that he was dominating, the guys that he was beating and the way that he was beating them was unbelievable.
And, um, one thing that's fascinating too-- this came up the other day, that Alexander Gustafsson really hasn't been the same since his fights with Jon Jones. It's just, you know-- Jon Jones is-- for all the headaches and everything outside of the octagon, it's pretty impressive what he's accomplished.
But Kamaru Usman is the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world right now. And I look at him the same way that I look at Jon Jones. You look at the guys he's beat, how he beat them, and now he's beating them all twice.
KEVIN IOLE: Right. That's amazing. You know, the Leon Edwards fight, the first time that they fought, Usman used a very wrestling-heavy approach in that. He did have some striking in there, but certainly I think his striking was just kind of starting to develop at that point. So how do you see the fight changing now that we know that Usman is a quality striker? That's Edwards' thing. Edwards is a striker.
Usman now has developed knocked out [INAUDIBLE] had a lot of wins over other fighters who were strikers. How do you think that changed the dynamic of the rematch?
DANA WHITE: Yeah, I think that's the other thing that's fascinating about Kamaru Usman. He started off as a straight wrestler. His game is completely well rounded now. And the other thing about when you beat guys twice, you face Kamaru Usman and you weren't ready for something. The second time, you were able to go back and get ready for the holes in your game and the mistakes you thought you made, and you still couldn't beat him. That's something.
KEVIN IOLE: And you know, Leon Edwards, I mean, I think he's gotten dogged unfairly by some portion of the fan base because of what Masvidal did in that fight in England, you know, where he hit him and everything. And I said this to, I think, Hunter Campbell yesterday. I said, when you really think about it, if you look at the way Leon Edwards grew up and what he went through, he's really the guy that's the gangster. And he kind of got this, you know, reputation maybe being a little soft because of what happened with Masvidal.
DANA WHITE: I don't think-- I don't think that he got a reputation for being soft. I mean, Masvidal went over and-- and threw those punches quick. I don't think he expected it. You know, I don't think that took anything away from Edwards. Edwards has just had a string of bad luck. Everything that could go wrong with fights coming up for this kid have gone wrong.
You know, but he's going into a situation now where he has the opportunity to, uh, write his own storybook ending, man. This is the stuff movies are made of if he go in and derail Kamaru Usman.
KEVIN IOLE: I want to ask you this. I think Usman is at a point in his career that, if you're gonna win the title off him, you have to beat him twice, right? Because he's done so much that it would be unfair to him to not give him a rematch if he were to lose the fight. So I mean, that makes it really difficult on the other guy because you go, hey, edwards has enough to just beat him once. He has to beat him twice. Do you think if Usman loses there's a rematch regardless?
DANA WHITE: Yeah. I never say that.
KEVIN IOLE: I know
DANA WHITE: I never say, oh-- but yeah. The guy's the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world. He's never lost the UFC, won the Ultimate Fighter. It was a-- you know, the record to this, to that. Yeah, he deserves a rematch.
KEVIN IOLE: I mean, you're not a fighter, but you've been around fighters all your life. Do you think that puts any extra thing on Edward's mind, you know, like, hey, I have to do this twice? Or is it just-- do you think he just gonna go wild and free wheel and do what he can do to win the fight?
DANA WHITE: No, that's just-- just to do it once-- I'm sure he's not even thinking about twice. Just to do it once, you know what I mean? To be the guy rolling in here and being the guy to upset Usman with all this stuff going on is huge.
KEVIN IOLE: The co-main event I think is a fascinating fight, you know? And I mean, a couple of years ago, it would have been really Luke Rockhold against Paulo Costa, two guys that-- Luke Rockhold hasn't fought in over three years coming off a loss to Jan Blachowicz. What do you make of that fight? And where does a win leave the winner given-- both are extremely talented guys, but things haven't gone their way a lot recently.
DANA WHITE: Yeah, you never know which one's gonna show up or how it's gonna go. But if they both show up and do what-- you know, what they should do, it should be a great fight.
KEVIN IOLE: Right. What do you-- have you talked to Luke Rockhold? Have you had any kind of-- do you have any expectation on him, especially because he's going back down to 185 from 205 and it's been three years since he fought? You know, Roy Jones proved in boxing, won the heavyweight title, and he couldn't go back down. When you cut that weight after putting it on, it's difficult. What do you see out of Rockhold? Have you talked to him at all?
DANA WHITE: No, I haven't. I don't know. I mean, this is, uh-- this is a fight for him that I'm assuming would probably-- if you win or you lose-- if you win, all right, I'm back. I'm in-- I'm in the middleweight division. And if you lose, I don't know. Maybe you see the window closing.
KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, there's no doubt. I want to ask you about the third fight down on the card. And I want to specifically ask about Jose Aldo, Jose Aldo against Merab Dvalishvili-- I can't even say his name. Dvalishvili. I'm glad I'm not Jon Anik, right? I don't have to repeat that. But do you think Aldo is kind of going through another rebirth? Because it seemed like, you know, he was the title, he was the champion. Everybody called him the GOAT.
He lost and he had a little lull there, and now he seems like he's on the way back up. And it's like he reinvigorated himself in some way. Can you comment a little bit on sort of the way Aldo has gotten himself back in contention and back near the top again?
DANA WHITE: I mean, it's incredible if you look at how long this guy dominated in his division as a champion, and then now at his age with these younger guys. He's ranked number three in the world in a nasty bantamweight division. I mean, you've got Petr Yan, TJ Dillashaw, Sandhagen, Marlon Vera, Merab. And the list goes on and on of just murderers in that division, and he's ranked number three. It is very impressive.
KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, I know. It really is amazing. I want to switch back gears a little bit and talk about UFC San Diego last week. You and I texted a little bit, and you thought it was a better fight than the fight card in Vegas the previous week when you had-- what was it-- 11 for 11 finishes, right? What was your favorite fight on that card? I thought the Landwehr-David Onama fight was just spectacular. Obviously, Vera's finish was amazing, but what was your favorite fight on that card?
DANA WHITE: Yeah. I mean, that was the fight of the night. It's hard not to say that that was the best fight. It was insane. But the crazy thing was, in San Diego it was an early fight in the day, and, um, we had, uh-- it just had the energy and the buzz of a pay-per-view. Felt like a pay-per-view.
The girls fight, the two Yazmins, was unbelievable, you know? And 20 and 23 years old, and you could sit there and watch that fight and see the future, that both of these girls, even the loser, are the future in what women's fighting is going to look like a couple of years from now.
You got girls like Rose Namajunas, Weili Zhang, you know, Marina Rodriguez, Yan, Mackenzie Dern. The list goes on. Valentina Shevchenko, right? And then you see two young girls like this in a fight like that. Unbelievable. And it was just-- it was a really, really good night.
KEVIN IOLE: I thought that that fight typified-- I talked to Kayla Harrison, the great fighter from the PFL, and she talked about what she's seeing now is that fighters are coming into the sport as MMA fighters, that they have developed as MMA fighters. They didn't train in jiu jitsu or train in wrestling and come into the sport. They've trained as MMA fighters, and that makes a difference.
And I thought that going back and watching that fight between those two women. It seemed like that they had that-- you know, they were MMA fighters for a long time.
DANA WHITE: Yeah. No, it was incredible. I mean, if you told anybody in the stands that probably didn't know, these girls are 20 and 23 years old. They're babies, for Christ's sakes. You know what I mean? You get into your prime when you're 27, 28 years old as a fighter. And those two look-- look like-- I mean, the one girl-- the one Yazmin has-- I think her record was like 13 and 4. She has 17 fights. She's 20 years old.
KEVIN IOLE: Yeah.
DANA WHITE: It's unbelievable.
KEVIN IOLE: And you've got a 17-year-old, by the way, coming to fight on the Contender Series I saw.
DANA WHITE: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, the Contender's-- the Contender's gonna be a fun season, man. I'm-- I'm already having a blast on this thing. Tonight, by the way, for those of you-- Contender Series on ESPN+ tonight.
KEVIN IOLE: The Dana White and Bo Nickal Contender Series, as it's become known as.
DANA WHITE: No, it's apparently now the Bo Nickal's Contender Series. I'm OK with that.
KEVIN IOLE: Bo Nickal had a great tweet last week. He said, "I'll be fighting on September 27th on the Dana White and No Nickal Contender Series."
DANA WHITE: I love it.
KEVIN IOLE: I thought it was classic. And you know what? I feel bad for No Nickal because what else could the frickin' guy do in his fight? And he doesn't get a contract, right? A lot of lesser fighters got contracts. What are you gonna expect out of him next time if what he did last time wasn't enough?
DANA WHITE: Well, the beautiful thing about this next-- first of all, the kid was 1-and-0, you know what I mean? Um, I haven't brought a guy in that was 1-and-0 since like Brock Lesnar. And to give him two dates on the Contender Series-- don't feel too sorry for him. He's gonna do just fine.
But his next opponent is, uh, somebody with a lot more experience. So he's gonna take on somebody a lot more experience, and we'll see what he does. And I will determine that night if he's ready to come into the UFC at 2-and-0.
KEVIN IOLE: You know what tells me that this guy is a good fighter? I saw other fighters talking about him. Luke Rockhold made a comment. I think it was Rockhold. I don't want to missattribute it. But I believe Rockhold said he would get destroyed if he was in the UFC right now. And that tells me, if guys like Luke Rockhold that are 37 years old and been in the UFC for a long time are talking about him, that this kid can fight and they're noticing him.
DANA WHITE: Yeah. I mean, listen, it's hard to say. You want to move people the right way. You don't want to move anybody too fast and stuff like that. But it's hard to say until they fight. When he fights-- obviously, he went in and looked absolutely phenomenal. You're absolutely right. He couldn't have done anything better. He couldn't have looked any better.
Now he'll step up in competition, and if he does the same thing to this guy, then we'll see what he does in the UFC.
KEVIN IOLE: Now to roll back to San Diego for a second, I mean, we haven't heard your public comments on Marlon Vera's win. I mean, a really remarkable win. I mean, because Dominick Cruz was just fighting brilliantly. And I don't know if you saw the tweet from Eric Nicksick that went out about two minutes before the final kick. Eric Nicksick the coach [INAUDIBLE].
DANA WHITE: I did.
KEVIN IOLE: --said-- you know, he called the shot basically.
DANA WHITE: That he leans his head that way and he should throw a head kick.
KEVIN IOLE: The keft kick that way, yeah. No doubt. What's next for Marlon Vera? Where do you see him going? And I mean, he has morphed into one of the elite guys and one-- I mean, I don't know when he fought Sean O'Malley if a lot of people considered him a championship contender, but I think for sure everybody does today.
DANA WHITE: One of the things in that fight with Cruz is Cruz was doing what Cruz does. And what was impressive is Marlon Vera dropped him like three times in the fight and didn't go crazy, didn't overextend, didn't jump on him. He was patient. He took his time. It's almost like he felt like he knew he was gonna catch-- he was eventually gonna catch up and knock him out, and he did.
KEVIN IOLE: Yeah. It just-- it was really ama-- what do you-- what did you say to Cruz after the fight, if anything?
DANA WHITE: What did I think of him?
KEVIN IOLE: No, what did you say to him? Did you talk to him at all?
DANA WHITE: No, I didn't see them after the fight. Yeah.
KEVIN IOLE: What do you think is next for him then?
DANA WHITE: He fought a great fight. I mean, Cruz is 38 years old, you know what I mean? The way that he moves, the footwork, the awkwardness that he has that he always throws at you, I mean, it was all still there.
KEVIN IOLE: Yeah.
DANA WHITE: He got caught.
KEVIN IOLE: So you're open to--
KEVIN IOLE: --coming back if he wants to. Yeah, Chito Vera hits hard. Every time Chito Vera caugh him, he hurt him. And Vera took his time and was very confident that he was eventually going to knock Cruz out, and he did.
KEVIN IOLE: I want to change, uh, gears here a little bit. Let me ask you two things. First about Shane Burgos was he announced yesterday he signed at the PFL. He's a ranked fighter, only 31 years old. Why not make an offer to keep a guy that's in your rankings, that just got in your rankings and is relatively young? What was your thought process in letting a guy like that walk?
DANA WHITE: Yeah. No, that's a good question. I don't know how to answer that question. Basically, there were some mistakes that were made here, some [AUDIO OUT] that-- you know, he should have still been here. We respect him very much, and I wish him-- I wish him the best.
KEVIN IOLE: So the mistakes were made on your side and the administrative side?
DANA WHITE: 100%. 100%.
KEVIN IOLE: OK.
DANA WHITE: Yeah, big mistakes were made over here.
KEVIN IOLE: Interesting. So that-- asking you that leads into my next question. You did a thing with "GQ" where you answered questions on tweets, and the question-- one of the questions from Twitter was, why does the issue of fighter pay come up? And you said what you often say, but you said one thing that I think got a lot of people-- and maybe it was misinterpreted or whatever.
But I just want to read you this quote because I want to get your take on this. You said, "Fighters all want to make more money. Boxing has absolutely been destroyed because of money and all the things that go on." So nobody has an argument with that. But then you said, "It's never going to happen while I'm here."
And I know ESPN for sure took that, and a lot of people took that, as pay raises are never gonna happen. 'cause that was the headline on ESPN, Pay Raises Never Going to Happen. The rest of it was, "Believe me, these guys get paid what they're supposed to get paid. They eat what they kill. They get a percentage of the pay-per-view buys and money is spread out amongst all the fighters." So are you really--
DANA WHITE: So wait a minute. What you're telling-- wait a minute. What you're telling me is some scumbag media guys out there watched an interview that wasn't even theirs, took it out of context, and wrote stories about it saying the fighter pay is never gonna go up. I'm [AUDIO OUT] shocked! Come on. Get the [AUDIO OUT] out of here. You shouldn't even be writing a [AUDIO OUT] story about anything unless you do the [AUDIO OUT] interview. You're gonna watch a fun, ha-ha, "GQ" [AUDIO OUT] Q&A and write a story off it? You're [AUDIO OUT] You're a piece of [AUDIO OUT] journalist.
KEVIN IOLE: You're not a piece of [AUDIO OUT] for doing that.
DANA WHITE: You're a piece of [AUDIO OUT] journalist because if that's the question you wanted to ask-- if you had a question about that, then [AUDIO OUT] call me and ask me, because that's not what it meant. You're-- you're a typical scumbag piece of [AUDIO OUT] journalist if you [AUDIO OUT] write a story off some [AUDIO OUT] goofy fun "GQ" [AUDIO OUT] interview, right, and you write a [AUDIO OUT] serious figher pay story about it. [AUDIO OUT] you. [AUDIO OUT] you.
[AUDIO OUT] you, and you should never [AUDIO OUT] be able to write for anybody ever again. So what I said was boxing has absolutely been destroyed because of guys being overpaid, corruption, and all this other [AUDIO OUT] You know what I mean? I'm never gonna let the things that happened in boxing happen here while I'm here. That's what it meant.
And if you were any kind of real [AUDIO OUT] journalist, you'd call and ask. So I don't give a flying [AUDIO OUT] who wrote it, even if it was ESPN. You're a [AUDIO OUT] piece of [AUDIO OUT]
KEVIN IOLE: And it was ESPN. Let's be honest here.
DANA WHITE: Well, there you go.
KEVIN IOLE: And I don't-- I don't-- I'll disagree with you on that. Let me tell you why, because--
DANA WHITE: I can't wait to hear it.
KEVIN IOLE: A lot of times, you know, fighters or you, somebody may comment, and it's newsworthy comments. A lot of times, it's, hey, so-and-so is gonna fight so-and-so, right? And that-- and that becomes a newsworthy comment. And you're not available to reporters 24/7 to be talking about every little piece of news that comes out. So they took a-- they took a video that you said, and they wrote a story.
Now, I asked you the question just now because I kind of felt like you did not say what was reported. I kind of felt like--
DANA WHITE: Oh, you know why? Because you have [AUDIO OUT] common sense. OK? Now, I'm gonna tell you why you're wrong. So I'm doing a fun "GQ" piece. I wasn't sitting down with "60 Minutes" talking about fighter pay. It's a fun, edited [AUDIO OUT] video piece.
KEVIN IOLE: Right.
DANA WHITE: Edited! That wasn't the full [AUDIO OUT] interview. It wasn't a serious interview. It was a fun, edited [AUDIO OUT] piece, and ESPN, the leader in sports, is gonna write a [AUDIO OUT] story based-- about fighter pay based off that [AUDIO OUT] video? Give me a [AUDIO OUT] break.
KEVIN IOLE: You know what I'm really happy about your answer? My guy Armando is gonna be having to hit that beep button a million times with that answer. I'm gonna put him to work.
DANA WHITE: Yeah. Get to work Armando!
KEVIN IOLE: OK. So here's the-- just to clarify, and I think you did clarify--
DANA WHITE: And that's why you're wrong. Admit you're wrong.
KEVIN IOLE: I'm not gonna admit I'm--
DANA WHITE: Admit you're wrong!
KEVIN IOLE: No, I'm not wrong.
DANA WHITE: You're wrong! I didn't sit down with "60 Minutes" and do a full interview--
KEVIN IOLE: No, I agree with--
DANA WHITE: --where you're getting the whole thing. It's an edited, funny, fun piece. You're gonna write a [AUDIO OUT] story based on-- about fighter pay based off that [AUDIO OUT] piece on "GQ"? Are you [AUDIO OUT] kidding me?
KEVIN IOLE: Well, you notice that I didn't write that, right? So--
KEVIN IOLE: I'm not saying you.
KEVIN IOLE: No, I--
DANA WHITE: You're saying, I understand why-- no, you're wrong, Kevin. Admit you're wrong. And so is [AUDIO OUT] ESPN.
KEVIN IOLE: Just like I was wrong when I said you didn't need title fights to be the head of pay-per-views, right?
DANA WHITE: I didn't-- I didn't-- I didn't see the story. I don't even know who wrote it. But you're not a journalist. You're a [AUDIO OUT] scumbag. So there you go, whoever wrote it.
KEVIN IOLE: So here's what I--
DANA WHITE: And you're [AUDIO OUT] with ESPN. All you got to do is pick up the phone and call me. Like we're not gonna respond to ESPN asking, hey, you said this about fighter pay, what does this mean? Admit you're wrong, Kevin.
KEVIN IOLE: I can't. I'll never admit that.
DANA WHITE: Yeah, of course [INAUDIBLE].
KEVIN IOLE: I'm like your buddy Trump.
DANA WHITE: No wonder you guys [INAUDIBLE].
KEVIN IOLE: I'm like your buddy Trump. I can never admit.
DANA WHITE: Yeah, ever.
KEVIN IOLE: So here's-- I just want to clarify this last thing. And I think you did a pretty good job, but I want-- so you were not saying, which a lot of people interpreted you were saying, that the fighter pay is never going to increase. That's not what you were saying.
DANA WHITE: Fighter pay has gone through the roof since the sale of 2016. Fighter pay continues to go like this. Yeah, so you think I'm gonna to sit there say, fighter pay will never go up while I'm here? That's the dumbest [AUDIO OUT] thing that I have ever heard. And you know how [AUDIO OUT] stupid you have to be to think that that's what I said in that interview when I was talking about boxing?
KEVIN IOLE: Well I'm glad I didn't think that, so there I am.
DANA WHITE: Well, but-- but-- but the bottom line is this. We live in this world today where all these [AUDIO OUT] lazy sacks of [AUDIO OUT] who aren't real journalists watch other people's-- especially when you're watching an edited piece that's supposed to be a fun, funny piece. And you're gonna write a [AUDIO OUT] story on fighter pay on that? Give me a [AUDIO OUT] break. You're a [AUDIO OUT] zero. You're a zero.
KEVIN IOLE: Armando's gonna hate me now because now we're past the point of bleeping. He's gonna kill me.
DANA WHITE: Well, stop talking to me then!
KEVIN IOLE: Well, I'm gonna let you go because you've been talking a lot. That is UFC President Dana White. I'm Kevin Iole from Yahoo Sports. UFC 278 on Saturday in Salt Lake City. Dana, have a good show. Thank you very much.
DANA WHITE: Thank you, my friend.