This Saturday’s UFC 259 undercard features three title fights: Dominant Amanda Nunes defends her featherweight championship against Megan Anderson, bantamweight champion Petr Yan faces Aljamain Sterling and, in the main event, champion of middleweight Israel Adesanya moves up the 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 based on the results. If Adesanya beats Blachowicz, then he will be undefeated with championships from two different weight classes, and he will be ready to move up to heavyweight for a highly anticipated clash with Jon Jones. Nunes is a huge favorite, although Anderson possesses knockout power, and Yan is going to have several problems with Sterling, who has a rare combination of versatility and strength.
White spoke with Illustrated Sports and discussed card 259, as well as detailed the immediate future of the UFC.
Sports Illustrated: The stakes are high in the Blachowicz – Adesanya main event, which has the potential to be a watershed moment for the light heavyweight division.
Dana White: There is a reason people are raving about this card. This is such a good fight. Champion versus champion, middleweight versus light heavyweight, an undefeated Adesanya, and Blachowicz is dangerous anywhere in the fight – he has eight wins by knockout and nine by submission. He is a former Muay Thai world champion and Israel is a former professional kickboxer. Stylistically, everything about this fight is amazing.
SI: It would be silly for someone to overlook Blachowicz, but the stakes are huge if Adesanya wins.
DW: If Adesanya wins, the light heavyweight division becomes super exciting. He wants to move up to heavyweight and fight Jon Jones too. If Jan Blachowicz wins, this is his going out party. A lot of people who don’t know who Jan is will quickly find out who he is if he wins this fight.
SI: If Adesanya wins, do you expect him to defend the light heavyweight and middleweight titles?
DW: I do not know. That is really difficult to do. If you do, you will have to defend it from some of the baddest guys in the world. There’s Robert Whittaker, who he beat but he’s extremely tough, and if you listen to what Paulo Costa said, he had a lot of trouble coming into his fight, plus he has Marvin Vettori, who’s a real beast. On the light heavyweight side, he would have Glover Teixeira, Thiago Santos, Dominick Reyes and the list goes on and on. And he’s talking about moving up to heavyweight to fight Jon Jones, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out.
SI: Another title fight is Amanda Nunes defending her featherweight championship against Megan Anderson. Nunes is so dominant and has set a standard for excellence in the cage. If he loses, is it one of the biggest upsets in UFC history?
DW: I don’t know if I would call this the biggest surprise I’ve ever seen. Megan Anderson, nine of her 11 wins came by completion: six by knockout, three by submission. They both have the kind of power to knock someone out. That’s real power, and they both have it, so no, I don’t think it’s the biggest surprise if Megan Anderson wins.
Y: The third title fight is another compelling fight, pitting bantamweight champion Petr Yan against Aljamain Sterling, who has been crying. If Sterling wins a close fight, there is always a chance that Yan will get an immediate rematch; otherwise, will Cory Sandhagen be 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 will Sandhagen-Dillashaw to find 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 advance?
DW: Khabib is playing with everyone. You are interested in seeing how this plays out. He is the most dominant guy in the division, without a doubt one of the best fighters in history, and you have to respect that he is the champion. But overall, we couldn’t be in a better position right now.
From Rafael Dos Anjos ranked number seven, you also have [Conor] McGregor, [Tony] Ferguson, [Michael] Sailboat, [Charles] Oliveira, [Justin] Gaethje, [Dustin] Poirier, and let’s not forget Beneil Dariush, who is 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 will be the next Khabib, the guy who dominates the division.
The list goes on and on. There is nothing but bad fights lined up to determine who becomes the next champion.
Y: Much of the future is based on this Saturday’s main event, especially when it ties in with Jon Jones and Israel Adesanya. Is Jones going to fight anyone before fighting for the heavyweight championship? Or does it all depend on the Adesanya fight in 259?
DW: Stipe [Miococ] and Francis [Ngannou] we are going to fight on March 27 [at UFC 260]and Jon Jones wants the winner. Izzy is sitting there thinking, “If Jones beats one of those guys, then I’m going to fight him for the heavyweight title.”
Y: If it happens, would that fight take place in 2022?
DW: It makes sense to be 2022. But we’ll see.
Y: Looking back at UFC 258 last month, Kamaru Usman’s performance against Gilbert Burns was outstanding. Usman has a chance to completely redefine the standard for 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, will it be Leon Edwards?
DW: You are absolutely right about Usman. The whole world should be talking about him. I was impressed when he beat Rafael Dos Anjos. Then go and dominate [Tyron] Woodley. Then he beats [Colby] Covington in one of the biggest fights I’ve ever seen, beats [Jorge] Masvidal, then hits Burns the way he did.
If you can keep doing what you are doing, it will be amazing. Then he has a rematch with Covington or Leon Edwards, and Masvidal wants that fight again. There are many options.
SI: Another crucial moment ahead for the UFC is the return to ABC. Max Holloway was spectacular in January when he defeated Calvin Kattar on the television network. Do we know what will headline the ABC billboard in April?
DW: We will be back on ABC on April 10th. We are still discussing some things, but we are thinking about Darren Till versus Marvin Vettori.
Y: Despite the pandemic, the UFC found a way to thrive in 2020. I know we are still at the beginning of the new year, but what has stood out to you most about 2021?
DW: We have elevated combat sports. That is what makes me most proud. Think of boxing. Boxing has been around for over 100 years. Millions of dollars of goddamn income have been created in boxing, but at the end of the day, there is nothing there. Every time they organize an event, it’s a fucking way out of the sale of the business, trying to get as much money out of you as possible. Do you know what boxing is now? F ****** Jake Paul against someone. That’s what boxing has become now. Boxing has reached a point where they’re putting on fucking displays. The sport keeps banging its head against the wall. If you look at what we’ve built and created in the last 20 years, all of it, that’s what I’m most proud of. Every day we continue to reinvest in the sport, we reinvest in the promising athletes and fighters, and we work non-stop to try to make this one of the biggest leagues in the world and the most important sport in the world.
2020 established 2021 for us and all these incredible matchups. Our business is on fire. We just announced a new deal with DraftKings – they are the official sportsbook and daily fantasy partner, and they are going to have a ton of information on UFC betting, such as prop betting, betting lines, and fantasy games. For us to finally land a sponsor like DraftKings, it’s going to add a lot of value to the brand, the sport, the athletes and the fans. Everyone wins. And wait until you see the announcements coming out in the next few months.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.