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Dana White talks UFC 257: Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier

Dana White talks UFC 257: Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier

Dana White was fired up and in fight mode even though it was nearly midnight in Abu Dhabi at what is now known as Fight Island, which wasn’t even part of the MMA vernacular one year ago.

“I’m awesome, man. How are you?,” White said in a phone interview Thursday – and how could the UFC president not be feeling good?

The UFC’s first card of 2021, featuring former featherweight champion Max Holloway battering Calvin Kattar for five rounds, was the first MMA event ever aired on ABC and kicked off three cards in the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

White was one day removed from the second card, a daylong series of fights culminating with Michael Chiesa proving his place in the welterweight division with a unanimous-decision victory over Neil Magny.

What’s more, White was two sleeps away from the return of former two-division champion Conor McGregor, the Irish superstar and crown prince of MMA, returning to the Octagon for a rematch against former interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier.

White took time to speak with the Southern California News Group about the UFC 257 main event, as well as what he and the UFC managed to accomplish in 2020 in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and what’s in store for 2021:

Q: You have your first pay-per-view of 2021 just two days away. What has you so fired up for UFC 257?

DW: To be honest with you, the whole weekend. ABC was an awesome fight, top to bottom, we killed it. Wednesday was a great card and now we’re rolling into Saturday and everything’s been perfect here. McGregor is like the old McGregor when he first came in and was hungry. Poirier is fired up because he’s been waiting for this fight for so long. The co-main event, Michael Chandler vs. Dan Hooker, also in the mix for the title hunt. The (Marina) Rodriguez-Amanda Ribas fight, I’m excited for. I’m fired up about a lot of stuff.

Q: What does it mean to have an iconic fighter and personality like Conor McGregor back in the Octagon?

DW: It’s fun, man. Obviously, having him here, having him fight is exciting. There’s this buzz and energy, not just here but around the world about the fight. Social media’s blowing up. It’s just fun. It’s a fun week when he fights.

Q: In light of him “retiring” twice and you appearing to fire him once after the bus incident in New York and him revealing your text messages last summer, where does your relationship with Conor McGregor stand now?

DW: We’re great. He and I had a beef last summer that I didn’t think was gonna be fixable. We talked. We fixed it. We squashed it and we’re in a good place, so I’m happy.

Q: Is it fair at all to look at the first fight between McGregor and Poirier and draw any conclusions from that first-round McGregor knockout at UFC 178?

DW: I mean, yeah, I think it’s fair to do that, but at the same time, neither one of these guys is the same fighter. They’re completely different fighters. Anything is possible. But Conor McGregor hits like a truck. He caught Dustin and he has knocked him out before.

Q: Dustin Poirier is a guy who has already done so much in the Octagon, winning an interim lightweight title, and he’s on the cusp of a potentially massive victory over a name like Conor McGregor. But Poirier is more than just a fighter and I know you’ve helped with his charity, The Good Fight Foundation. What do you like about Poirier?

DW: I like everything about the kid. His back story is awesome. He’s a good person to deal with. Every time he comes in, he fights his ass off. You couldn’t ask any more of a person than the type of human being that Dustin Poirier is.

Q: The winner of this fight would appear to have a pretty rightful claim to a lightweight title shot. Khabib Nurmagomedov is the champion but seems to be in a holding pattern on whether he is retiring or not. What will the lightweight title landscape look like after Saturday night?

DW: Well, obviously, we’ll see what Khabib wants after this weekend. But yeah, either Hooker or Chandler is gonna win. Either Poirier or McGregor is gonna win. And then Charles Oliveira just came off an incredible performance against Tony Ferguson. So there are a lot of possibilities in a division that is stacked with unbelievable talent.

Q: You had a lot of critics and skeptics when you announced plans to continue with fights in 2020. I told people, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Dana White, after seeing what you and everyone at the UFC did in pulling off UFC 232 and moving it from Las Vegas to The Forum in Inglewood in six days, do not underestimate what Dana White can get done. How do you look back on what you and the UFC accomplished in 2020?

DW: I’m obviously incredibly proud of it. It was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. Not just me. I knew that my staff would go and I knew the fighters would fight. I know this sport and this company like the back of my hand. And I knew I would spend the money and do whatever it took to figure it out, and my whole crew would go. And here we are now in 2021, the sport that’s been like a rocket ship for the past 20 years is even hotter right now.

Q: Here we are in 2021 and we’re still in an age of uncertainty regarding COVID and vaccines and fans attending sporting events. What do you envision for the UFC in 2021?

DW: I’m gonna keep doing exactly what we did in ’20. I’m gonna keep my head down, keep plugging, come to Fight Island as many times as I need to. Use my own arena at UFC headquarters, The Apex, to put on my fights in the United States. I’m thinking about going to Asia this year and doing an event. If any place opens up, where you can sell out a venue, I’ll be the first one in.

Q: How do you see Saturday’s main event going?

DW: This is what the consensus is. Everybody feels like Dustin has a round and a half to weather the storm. If he can get past that round and a half, McGregor starts to gas and Poirier, who is a dog and has great cardio and has been in so many wars, can start dogging it out and possibly win the fight. I’m not sure if that’s the case. Conor is saying, “My cardio’s never been better, the training I’ve put in with my strength and conditioning coach. I’m gonna put on a masterpiece this weekend. I’m gonna finish this man in 60 seconds.” So it’s all good. It’s gonna be interesting to see how this thing plays out.

UFC 257

Main event: Conor McGregor (22-4) vs. Dustin Poirier (26-6)

When: Saturday

Where: Etihad Arena, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi

How to watch: Early prelims (3:15 p.m., ESPN+); prelims (5 p.m., ESPN/ESPN+); main card (7 p.m., ESPN+ PPV)

Press Enterprise