Sunday, February 25, 2018
Sports

UFC president Dana White talks safety concerns, big rematches and future of the sport

We talked with UFC president Dana White ahead of Saturday's UFC on FOX 19 card at the Amalie Arena:

I spoke with you the last time the UFC was in Tampa (in 2009) and you said the UFC would be back in a year. What turned out to be the delay?

"(Laughs) As we continue to move this thing around the world and go to different places — we just went to the Philippines, we went to Korea, we did Scotland last year — there's only so many days a year we can have fights. So it took a little longer."

Saturday's card has shifted around a bit but what fight are you most looking forward to?

"I'd be a liar if I didn't say I think Tecia Torres and (Rose) Namajunas is going to be the fight of the night. I think it's going to be a great fight. I'm excited for that. Khabib (Nurmagomedov) really wanted to stay on the card even after the Tony Ferguson thing (Ferguson and Nurmagomedov were the initial main event but Ferguson withdrew due to injury). That was my fight, man. Khabib vs. Tony Ferguson was my fight. I was so excited about that fight."

Concussions are at he forefront of almost every sport and Joao Carvalho recently died following a Total Extreme Fighting 1 card in Ireland. Have you shifted any protocols for safety?

"If you look at the UFC, as long as we've been doing it for 16 years, there's never been a death or serious injury. It's all about doing the proper medical work before they fight, having the proper medical team there during the fight and making sure they get the right care after the fight. And that's really what it's all about. As long as you're on top of that, it's a fairly safe sport for a contact sport."

It seems throughout the years that stoppages have come more quickly. Is that something that has been intentionally implemented?

"The refs are better and continue to get better. What I'd like to see is guys who actually really know what it's like to be in there and fight refereeing, not guys that don't. I think we've come a long way. You used to hear me (complaining) about refereeing all the time and I haven't in a long time."

What was the thought process behind scheduling a rematch between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz rather than McGregor defending his featherweight belt against a guy like Frankie Edgar?

"That's because Conor wanted (the rematch) bad. He wanted it bad. And if you look at what Conor has done, the guy has literally saved shows. I mean he'll fight anybody. This is what he wanted to do. We're going to have Frankie and Jose (Aldo) fight. The winner of that fight fights Conor next (for the belt)."

There have been some fights recently between fighters — namely Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie — who are past their prime, but put up pretty big pay-per-view buys. Is this something the UFC would consider in order to boost PPV numbers?

"I don't think there should ever been a scenario where two 50-year-olds are fighting each other. No matter what. And I was obviously right if you saw it."

Two of the UFC's biggest names, Ronda Rousey and McGregor, recently lost. Good or bad for UFC?

"When you talk about reality, man, this sport is as real as it gets. Ronda right now is bigger than she ever was, even with the loss. And now everybody is anticipating when she's going to come back and can she win her belt back. It's all part of the drama of this sport. Even in boxing, when two guys fight, they always know who's going to win. It's very rare an underdog wins in boxing. That's not the case here. Anybody can win or lose on any given night. It's what makes the sport so exciting.

UFC has always done a great job moving forward in finding the next big thing like The Ultimate Fighter show, adding the women's divisions or taking the sport worldwide. What's next?

"We have UFC 200 coming up next and then New York. Finally getting New York done was big. I have a new show on YouTube called Dana White Looking for a Fight. We go out travelling around to different cities, taking in whatever the city has to offer and going to local fights. We found Sage Northcutt there and a new heavyweight who's fighting on the (upcoming) Jon Jones card. I'm out scouting talent again, which is something I haven't done in a long time. I didn't want to put it on TV, but it's looking like it's going to end up on TV."

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Updated: 02/25/18