UFC is coming back to Madison Square Garden.
The UFC 268 card was announced over the weekend, and it is loaded. Scheduled for Nov. 6 in New York City, the card is headlined by welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, who is defending his title in a rematch against Colby Covington. The night will also feature strawweight champ Rose Namajunas against former champ Zhang Weili, as well as Justin Gaethje meeting Michael Chandler in a bout that should determine the next top lightweight contender for either Charles Oliveira or Dustin Poirier after their lightweight championship encounter.
In addition to putting together a jam-packed card for MSG, UFC president Dana White is branching out with new responsibilities in television as the executive producer of ABC's The Ultimate Surfer. Speaking with Sports Illustrated, White discussed the upcoming MSG card, his role with The Ultimate Surfer, as well as the next heavyweight title fight.
Sports Illustrated: Why is Usman-Covington the right fight to headline MSG? And what went into putting the 268 card together?
Dana White: The first Usman-Covington fight is one of the most exciting you’re ever going to see. It was incredible, and that’s what is going to happen again here.
Going into New York, the card is ridiculous. Every time I go to MSG, I want to blow the doors off the place. There is Gaethje-Chandler. Namajunas-Weili is also going to be incredible with a lot to prove, especially after everybody was shocked how easy it looked for Rose to knock Weili out the last time they fought. Then there is Sean Strickland, who said he’s going to assault Luke Rockhold when he sees him. The whole card is incredible.
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SI: The Oliveira-Poirier title fight still needs to take place first, but will the winner of Gaethje-Chandler be next in line for a title shot?
DW: The winner of that fight definitely could be next for a title shot. We have to figure out what’s next for Islam Makhachev. That division has so many exciting fights coming up.
SI: In addition to 268, Amanda Nunes returns to the cage in December at 269. Another highlight will be the next heavyweight title fight. Stipe Miocic mentioned to SI last week that he will be meeting with you this fall to figure out his future. Do you know what comes next for the heavyweight title?
DW: We have some fun stuff lined up for the rest of this year, as well as some great s--- for next year. For the heavyweights, the next fight we’re going to make is champion vs. champion.
SI: Another important project for you is The Ultimate Surfer, which airs on ABC.
DW: I’ve been working on this show for close to eight years. Me and [president of Lionsgate Nonfiction Television] Craig Piligian do a lot together. I’ve been producing shows like Shark Week and other reality shows with Craig for years, including The Ultimate Fighter. The Ultimate Surfer is one I’ve been extremely passionate about.
I’ve been a big fan of surfing since I was a kid, and I’ve always felt that surfers don’t get the credit they deserve. Look at [The Ultimate Surfer lead consultant] Kelly Slater, who is one of the most decorated athletes of all time. People don’t know enough about him. Surfing is such a beautiful sport, and this is a way for more people to understand it, and a way to bring surfing to the masses.
SI: That’s a big part of your journey as a promoter, finding an undervalued, perhaps even underappreciated, commodity, and highlighting its strength in a way that has never before been done.
DW: I like to build brands. It’s the same with [White’s whiskey brand] Howler Head. We started that a year ago, and we’re going to do 100,000 cases this year. It’s what I love to do.
SI: Are there any connections between The Ultimate Surfer and The Ultimate Fighter?
DW: This show reminds me a lot of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. If you look at who came off that first season, there was Diego Sanchez, Forrest Griffin, Mike Swick, people who went on to do some big things in this sport. We’ve got some big personalities and some people that have the potential to be the best in the world, and even shake up some s---.
SI: Is there anyone quite like Diego Sanchez on The Ultimate Surfer?
DW: That’s a loaded question. [Laughs.] I can’t give away any spoilers. But just like The Ultimate Fighter, I think people are really going to like this. And The Return of The Ultimate Fighter was extremely successful. Those two fights this past weekend were f------ awesome. If people haven’t seen it yet, they need to watch. It was a great season for us on ESPN+.
SI: Why should fight fans invest their time and watch The Ultimate Surfer?
DW: When you watch most reality shows, what’s the payoff for you as a fan? Here, you’ll have two winners. They’ll each get $100,000, which is great, and they’ll get three wild-card spots on the championship tour in the World Surf League. You can literally follow these kids throughout their entire career, like The Ultimate Fighter. You can follow the winner in the World Surf League and see how they do, and I think that’s going to be great for fans.
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