This Saturday’s UFC 259 card features three title fights: the dominant Amanda Nunes defends her featherweight championship against Megan Anderson, bantamweight champion Petr Yan meets Aljamain Sterling and, in the main event, middleweight champion Israel Adesanya is moving up in weight class to challenge light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz.
UFC president Dana White has high expectations for Saturday’s card, and there are significant ramifications depending on the outcomes. If Adesanya defeats Blachowicz, then he will be undefeated with championships from two different weight classes—and will be poised to make the move to heavyweight for a highly anticipated clash with Jon Jones. Nunes is heavily favored, though Anderson possesses knockout power, and Yan is going to have a number of problems with Sterling, who has a rare blend of versatility and strength.
White spoke with Sports Illustrated and discussed the 259 card, as well as detailed the UFC’s immediate future.
Sports Illustrated: There is so much at stake in the Blachowicz–Adesanya main event, which has the potential to be a defining moment for the light heavyweight division.
Dana White: There is a reason people are buzzing about this card. This is such a good a fight. Champion versus champion, middleweight vs. light heavyweight, an undefeated Adesanya, and Blachowicz is dangerous anywhere the fight goes—he has eight wins by knockout and nine by submission. He’s a former Muay Thai world champion, and Israel is a former professional kickboxer. Stylistically, everything about this fight is awesome.
SI: It would be foolish for anyone to overlook Blachowicz, but the stakes are massive if Adesanya wins.
DW: If Adesanya wins, the light heavyweight division gets super exciting. He wants to move up to heavyweight and fight Jon Jones, too. If Jan Blachowicz wins, then this is his coming out party. A lot of the people that don’t know who Jan is, they will very quickly realize who he is if he wins this fight.
SI: If Adesanya wins, do you expect him to defend both the light heavyweight and middleweight titles?
DW: I don’t know. That’s really tough to do. If he does, he’ll have to defend it against some of the baddest dudes in the world. There is Robert Whittaker, who he beat but is extremely tough, and if you listen to what Paulo Costa said, he had a lot of problems going into their fight—plus he has Marvin Vettori coming up, who is an absolute beast. On the light heavyweight side, he’d have Glover Teixeira, Thiago Santos, Dominick Reyes and the list goes on and on. And he’s talking moving up to heavyweight to fight Jon Jones, so it’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out.
SI: Another title fight is Amanda Nunes defending her featherweight championship against Megan Anderson. Nunes is just so dominant, and she has set such a standard of excellence in the cage. If she loses, is it one of the biggest upsets in UFC history?
DW: I don’t know if I’d call this the biggest upset I’ve ever seen. Megan Anderson, nine of her 11 wins have come by finish—six by knockout, three by submission. These two both have the type of power to knock someone out cold. That’s real power, and both of them have it, so no, I don’t think it’s the biggest upset if Megan Anderson wins.
SI: The third title fight is another compelling bout, pitting Bantamweight Champion Petr Yan against Aljamain Sterling, who has been on a tear. If Sterling wins a close fight, there is always the possibility that Yan gets an immediate rematch–otherwise, is Cory Sandhagen next?
DW: If you look at how good Sandhagen was in his last fight against Frankie Edgar, he’s a contender. And TJ Dillashaw is back. We’re going to do Sandhagen-Dillashaw to find out the next contender for the belt.
SI: On the subject of the next contender for the belt, with Khabib Nurmagomedov still the reigning lightweight champion, how does that division move forward?
DW: Khabib is toying with everybody. He’s interested in seeing how this plays out. He is the most dominant guy in the division, without a doubt, one of the greatest fighters ever, and you’ve got to respect that he is the champ. But overall, we couldn’t be in a better position right now.
From Rafael Dos Anjos ranked at number seven, you’ve also got [Conor] McGregor, [Tony] Ferguson, [Michael] Chandler, [Charles] Oliveira, [Justin] Gaethje, [Dustin] Poirier—and let’s not forget Beneil Dariush, who’s ranked No. 9, another dangerous guy. And Islam Makhachev is on the card this Saturday, and all the guys around him are saying that he’s going to be the next Khabib, the guy that dominates the division.
The list just goes on and on. There is nothing but bad ass fights lined up to determine who becomes the next champion.
SI: So much of the future is predicated on the main event this Saturday, especially when it relates to Jon Jones and Israel Adesanya. Is Jones going to fight someone before he fights for the heavyweight championship? Or is that all dependent on Adesanya’s fight at 259?
DW: Stipe [Miococ] and Francis [Ngannou] are going to fight on March 27 [at UFC 260], and Jon Jones wants the winner. Izzy is sitting back thinking, “If Jones beats one of those guys, then I fight him for the heavyweight title.”
SI: If it happens, would that fight take place in 2022?
DW: It makes sense to be 2022. But we’ll see.
SI: Looking back at last month’s UFC 258, Kamaru Usman’s performance against Gilbert Burns was outstanding. Usman has a chance to entirely redefine the standard of greatness in the welterweight division. What, or more specifically who, comes next for him? Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson? Or, if he defeats Belal Muhammad next weekend, is it Leon Edwards?
DW: You’re absolutely right about Usman. The whole world should be talking about him. I was blown away when he beat Rafael Dos Anjos. Then he goes and dominates [Tyron] Woodley. Then he beats [Colby] Covington in one of the greatest fights I’ve ever seen, beats [Jorge] Masvidal, then beats Burns the way he did.
If he can continue to do what he’s doing, it will be incredible. Next, he either has the rematch with Covington or Leon Edwards, and Masvidal wants that fight again. There are a lot of options.
SI: Another pivotal moment coming up for the UFC is a return to ABC. Max Holloway was spectacular in January when he defeated Calvin Kattar on network television. Do we know what will headline the ABC card in April?
DW: We’re back on ABC again on April 10. We’re still kicking some things around, but we’re thinking Darren Till versus Marvin Vettori.
SI: In spite of the pandemic, the UFC found a way to thrive throughout 2020. I know we’re still early into the new year, but what has stood out most to you about 2021?
DW: We’ve elevated combat sports. That’s what I’m most proud of. Think about boxing. Boxing’s been around for over 100 years. Zillions of f****** dollars of revenue have been created in boxing, but at the end of the day, there’s nothing there. Every time they put on an event, it’s a f****** going out of business sale, trying to get as much money out of you as they can. You know what boxing is now? F****** Jake Paul vs. somebody. That’s what boxing has turned into now. Boxing has gotten to a place where they’re doing f****** exhibitions. The sport continues to beat its head against the wall. If you look at what we’ve built and created in the last 20 years, the whole thing, that’s what I’m most proud of. Every day we continue to reinvest in the sport, reinvest in the athletes and the up-and-coming fighters, and work nonstop on trying to make this one of the biggest leagues in the world and the biggest sport in the world.
2020 set up 2021 for us and all these incredible matchups. Our business is on fire. We just announced a new deal with DraftKings–they’re the official sports book and daily fantasy partner, and they’re going to have a ton of UFC betting info, like prop bets and betting lines and fantasy games. For us to finally land a sponsor like DraftKings, it’s going to add so much value to the brand, to the sport, to the athletes, and to the fans. Everyone wins. And wait until you see the announcements we have coming out in the next few months.